A lot of people have contacted us, concerned about various bees and other flying insects around their house and garden. Ireland has 98 species of bees (one third of which are threatened with extinction), wasps and flies and sometimes it can be difficult to identify which is which. One thing they all have in common is that they are all pollinators, i.e. they pollinate flowers and blossoms, so without them we would have no strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, apples, pears, cherries, etc.
At this time of year, honeybee colonies are thinking about swarming. If a swarm is sitting on your apple tree or somewhere outside, as in the picture below, please contact your local association as quickly as possible. They are easy to catch and take away while sitting on the tree branch but will only stay there a short time and possibly move into your roof which can lead to an expensive and awkward removal.
If honeybees do move into your roof or chimney, it’s more difficult to remove them. There are beekeepers who specialise in this so check with your local association to see if they know someone who can help. Worst case, you’ll have to contact a pest removal company: they are never happy to kill off honeybees, but if the swarm has established itself in the fabric of the building there may be no alternative. Note that honeybees are not really interested in stinging people and will only do so in defence of their hive. A honeybee dies when she stings since the barbed sting remains in the victim: remove it carefully by scraping with a fingernail since squeezing will pump more venom into the sting. For most people a honeybee sting is no worse than a nettle sting, but there are a few people who are allergic and who may need urgent medical help if they are stung.
Another common insect is the wasp. Like the honeybee, they live in large colonies but they go in search of sugary foods in late summer, which brings them into conflict with people. In early summer, they do good around the garden by eating aphids and other small insects but in late summer they go in search of sugary foods which brings them into conflict with people. They tend to be more aggressive than honeybees and can sting multiple times so they are much less popular than bees. They are readily recognisable with their yellow and black stripes.
If you need to remove wasps, you can either hire a pest removal company or you can kill the nest using a spray you can purchase from most hardware shops.
Often they move into an old mouse nest on the ground. If you find one in your garden, simply cover it with an upturned flowerpot. Bumble bees can sting but you really have to attack the nest before they react.
This year we have seen red mason bees in many houses. These are actually solitary bees but they hang out together, building their nests in the same area, sometimes in a roof. They are only slightly smaller than honeybees and have fuzzy orange abdomens.
They are quite harmless: like all bees they do have a sting but you will have to work really hard to make them sting. They are only active from April to June.
Mining bees are also solitary bees but build their nests near each other in an earth mound. Again, these are pretty much harmless – the sting of some species can’t even be felt and cannot even penetrate the skin.
Finally there are the hoverflies: some pretend to be bees, even buzzing similarly. These cannot sting so there is no need to worry about them. In fact their ability to hover in the air without moving is quite fascinating. These vary enormously with stripes, without stripes, brown, yellow, black and so on as you can see below:
For those of you with children, you should encourage them to identify the various bees they see and submit the sightings on the Biodiversity Ireland web site. This can be a good distraction while we’re still restricted in our activities and can occupy them during school holidays.