Wasps and bees

Wasps and bees

In spring, bees and wasps become active again. People are not often able to tell the difference between wasps and bees and you may not need a pest control officer.

How to identify a wasp or bee

Many people report sightings of wasps (particularly in April and May). These are actually honey bees or solitary bees (mortar and mining bees). If the insect is going into holes in the brickwork, you should look carefully to see if they are going in or out of a single hole or air brick or investigating several holes over an area wider than one foot.

Wasps will use a single hole, but mortar bees will investigate several. A further test is whether or not the activity continues on cold overcast days or just warm sunny days. Mortar bees will only be active on sunny days.


Wasps (above) are small with sharp tapered abdomens and are black and yellow striped.


Honeybees (above) are similar in size to wasps but are mainly black and sometimes with a tan banding.


Bumble bees are large and furry. They are black or brown with wide stripes of yellow or white. They have very small nests and are relatively harmless and normally do not sting unless their life is under threat.

Masonry Bee

Mortar or masonry bees look much like honey bees but are generally a little hairier and smaller. Like all bees they are important pollinators of plants, but unlike honey bees and bumble bees they have no workers and have no collective nest. Mortar bees excavate chambers in soft mortar joints in brick walls (approximately 20mm deep) and mining bees will excavate chambers in soft or sandy soil. Although they are solitary, they do excavate their chambers close together and thus give the impression of being a colony and occupying the same habitat.

These solitary bees:

  • are harmless (do not sting) and are beneficial
  • do not pester people
  • do not damage buildings

Find out more information about bees.

Swarms of bees

A swarm of bees is quite easy to identify:

  • a large mass of bees hanging in a tree, hedge or post
  • about the size of a football
  • the bees are small and uniformly brown

Only honeybees swarm; bumble bees, solitary bees and wasps do not.

Swarms in Derbyshire normally occur from late April until mid-July. Bees usually swarm between 11am and 4pm. They will swirl in the air and then settle on a fence, tree or bush temporarily, before finding a new home. The noise of a bee swarm can be alarming, but the level of danger is not high.

We do not routinely deal with bees, as they are a protected species and are valuable to the environment. We will only treat where there is a significant risk to human health and as a last resort. Honey bees are beneficial to the environment and we are committed to saving swarms and re-homing them in safe locations.

The Derbyshire Beekeepers Association or the Chesterfield and District Bee Keepers Association may be able to help move the swarm to a new hive. There may be a financial charge for this.

Wasp nests

It may not always be necessary to destroy a wasp nest. If they can be left undisturbed, wasps will often not become a pest. Before you consider destroying a wasp nest, please take into account the following.

  • try filling a jar with beer or jam to attract wasps away from certain parts of the garden
  • when the colder weather comes, the nest will be abandoned and not reused
  • any remaining wasps will die naturally in colder weather - this means that you can avoid using insecticides

Find out more about wasps.

Nuisance wasps

Wasp nests cause a nuisance during the summer months due to their location. The council offers a pest control service to treat wasp nests. Find out more about the cost of this service.

The types of wasp encountered in this country normally nest in the ground, but quite often will make their nests in trees, shrubs and in buildings. The access to the nest is usually in a position where it is unlikely to be subject to interference. On a building, therefore, it is often found at eaves level.

The nest is formed in the spring by a queen who has hibernated over the winter months and who eventually gives rise to numerous workers and a few new queens throughout the summer until the colony dies in the late autumn. It is very uncommon for the same nest to be used more than once.

Finding a wasp nest usually causes a feeling of panic and signals a call for immediate action. It may be possible to deal with the nest yourself using a crawling insect or ant powder, which can be bought fairly cheaply. Care should be exercised if the nest is high. Our operatives carry long lances to reach nests avoiding the need to use ladders and means they can keep their distance from the nest.

If the nest or its entrance is readily accessible, you can dust the powder liberally around the entrance. This means that the returning workers will carry the insecticide into the nest. Remember that powders do not have an immediate knockdown effect and it may take more than one treatment to control the nest.

Any treatment should be carried out in the evening and you should wear clothes that fit closely around the neck, wrists and ankles. Approach the nest slowly and carefully and leave slowly after treatment.

Wasps will generally only sting in self-defence or in defence of the nest.

If the nest is out of harm's way (such as at the bottom of the garden, high up in a tree or in the eaves of the house), then it may be best to leave it alone as the wasps will die out in the autumn.

Bee and wasp stings

For advice about bee and wasp stings, please visit the NHS website.

Some people can have an immediate allergic reaction to being stung. This is known as anaphylactic shock. It is quite rare, but it can sometimes be fatal. Dial 999 immediately for an ambulance.


Hoverflies look like bees and wasps from a distance. They hover and only have one pair of wings like all other flies. They eat many pest insects and are very useful in the garden. They do not sting and are nothing to worry about.

If our documents are not accessible to you, you can request a different format here.
Bees Factsheet PDF (PDF 144 KB)
Wasps Factsheet PDF (PDF 159 KB)

Last updated on 11 November 2021