Mortar, Mining and Bumblebees

What do they look like?

There are two main groups of bees in this country; social and solitary.

Solitary bees are by far the largest group with over 200 species. In this country they have such a varied lifestyle that it would not be possible to cover them all in this page. Therefore, we will try to explain the life cycle of mortar, mining and bumblebees only.

Mortar / Mining Bees

Both these species of bees vary in size and colour and are generally hairy. They look much like Honeybees.


Bumblebees differ form other bees because they lead social lives, with many adults living and working in a single nest. Bumblebees seen in the garden in early spring have been hibernating during the winter. They are all young queens who spend the subsequent few weeks eating pollen and nectar before seeking nesting sites.

How do I spot them?

Solitary bees nest close together giving the impression of communal life, however, each female lives alone. Mortar bees excavate a chamber approximately 20mm deep in soft mortar joints in brick walls, whereas mining bees excavate chambers in the soft sandy soil of lawns and gardens. The chamber is stocked with pollen and nectar and eggs are laid. The chamber is then sealed.

Most bumblebees make their nests on or under the ground taking over old nests of mice and voles. South facing hedge banks are favourite sites.

How do they affect me?

Bees are regarded as beneficial insects. Their collection of pollen from flowering plants is of great value by assisting in the evolution and distribution of flowers by transferring pollen from one to another. Many bumblebee and mining/solitary bee species are rare or endangered and actually have Biodiversity Action Plans to try to maintain and restore populations.

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