Pests from A to Z

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Bees & Wasps

Bumble Bees

Bumblebees are social insects: they live in a colony with a queen and her daughters (the workers). Bumblebees have an annual lifecycle, with new nests being started each spring by queens. The queen bumblebees are very large, and from February onwards can be seen feeding on flowers such as willow catkins, bluebells and lungwort, or flying low over the ground searching for a nest site.

Some species prefer to nest underground in abandoned burrows of rodents, while others nest just above the ground in dense grass or leaf-litter. The queen stocks her nest with pollen and nectar, and lays her first batch of eggs. She incubates them much as a bird would, sitting on the eggs while shivering her flight muscles to produce warmth.

When the eggs hatch the legless grubs consume pollen and nectar, grow rapidly, and pupate after a few weeks. A few days later the first workers hatch from their pupae and begin helping their mother, expanding the nest and gathering food. By mid-summer nests of some species can contain several hundred workers. At this point the queen starts laying both male and female eggs.

The females are fed extra food and become future queens. Both males and new queens leave the nest to mate, and the new queens burrow into the ground to wait until the following spring. The males, workers, and the old queen die off in the autumn, leaving the nest to decay.

Honey Bees

Providers of honey and almost universally viewed with affection by the public, honey bees are one of the most well known insects. Many species of bee are found in the United Kingdom. Some produce honey, some do not. Some live in highly organised colonies, some on their own. Some sting, some do not.

Bees rarely present problems as pests. However, feral swarms can set up home in undesirable places such as chimneys and wall cavities. Bee keepers may be reluctant to take such swarms due to a parasitic mite which many swarms carry. Control may, therefore, be necessary. Bees are not protected and control is best left to professionals; honey bees have a barbed sting and die once they have used this.

They will sting when provoked. Attempts to kill them will provoke them.

Once the nest has been killed, efforts must be made to remove it or seal it in.

The honey within it will attract bees from other hives which may then themselves be poisoned, as well as their nests, by the pesticides used. When treating a nest with insecticide, the operator must ensure, as far as possible, that insecticide residue is not left behind or used haphazardly and inactive nests removed if possible.

Whether removal is achievable or not, the entrances to the nest site must be sealed off. This will prevent potential robber/other bees from becoming affected by the insecticide. Insects and mites will also thrive on the honey and dead grubs within the nest and may cause problems.

Masonry Bees

They may occasionally cause problems. Unlike honey bees these are solitary insects. They nest in a wide range of cavities some of which they excavate themselves. The nest is constructed of sand grains and other particles glued together with saliva. Masonry bees are normally harmless, their sting seemingly unable to penetrate human skin.

On occasions though they can present a problem due to their ability to build nests by tunnelling through soft brick mortar, generally in older properties. Only rarely do large numbers occur together but due to the fact that vulnerable buildings tend to be repeatedly attacked, quite severe damage can occur over several seasons.

Modern houses are not immune either. Small gaps left in otherwise sound mortar may be colonised. Although this is not a problem from a structural point of view, some householders are distressed by such activity. In the long term, re-pointing with sound mortar is the only answer. This must be thorough however, as bees hunting for a nest site will soon locate areas that have been missed.

Small individual holes are easily filled. Treatment with insecticides is not normally necessary but where damage is serious or great distress is being caused, insecticides can be used. Application of an insecticide to the entry hole will quickly kill the occupants.

European Hornet (Vespa crabro)

The European Hornet is one of the largest wasps in the UK, with a distinctive appearance featuring a yellow and brown abdomen, reddish-brown thorax, and a characteristic face pattern. Queens can reach lengths of up to 35mm. Twice the size of the common wasp and brown and yellow instead of black and yellow, hornets builds nests in hollow trees and similar sites and individuals only occasionally enter houses.

While European Hornets are generally not aggressive unless provoked, they can become a pest problem when their nests are located near human habitation. Nests are constructed in sheltered spots like hollow trees, wall voids, or roof spaces. Unlike common wasps, hornets are less likely to scavenge around human food sources, reducing the likelihood of encountering them in picnic areas. However, their presence near homes can be concerning due to the potential for stings, especially for individuals allergic to insect venom. It's important to address hornet nests promptly and professionally to avoid conflicts and ensure safety.


Large, conspicuous buzzing insects with yellow and black striped, wasp-waisted bodies, 10-15mm long. They have a sweet tooth at one end and a painful sting at the other.
The queen wasp is larger (20mm) and she hibernates over winter, making a nest in the spring in which to lay her eggs. She feeds the grubs on insects until they develop into worker wasps, three to four weeks later. Workers, all sterile females, forage for over a mile in search of food. One nest may produce 30,000 wasps in a year.

At their peak in August and September with the youngsters reared, the workers turn to the sweet food they prefer and become a nuisance wherever this is available. If annoyed or threatened, wasps will sting and the best remedy – after removing the sting with a clean finger nail – is to apply an anti-histamine. Some people react violently to being stung with several dying each year.


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