Sunday 17 May 2009

YABeeP - Bumble Bees

What is a Bumblebe?
If it's bee-like - round, short, fat and hairy, basically the kind of bee children would draw, then it's a bumble. There are many types though there are 6 particularly common types in this area – see Identification below.

Where do they live?
Most bumbles live in the ground either in holes they make themselves, under sheds, paving stones, etc, or by occupying a discarded mouse hole. Some will use above ground nooks and crannies, an empty bird box being a popular choice.

Are they a problem?
Absolutely not. They do no damage to your garden or property. They can sting but won't unless their nest is attacked. They will happily fly over, under or around you getting on with their business. Whilst some children can be frightened of the bumble (some ignorant adults too!) their fear is unfounded, probably generated by a politically correct culture where they are taught to fear the unknown especially anything that may be thought to be a potential problem. Once taught about them kids often show a keen interest and ask to keep a bumble bee nest box in the garden. They can even help in national research by completing on line surveys.

What should I do if I find a nest?
The best thing to do if you find a nest is absolutely nothing – consider yourself privileged that they have joined you, watch them, learn and enjoy. If you don't disturb them, then they will completely ignore you. They will only be there for their very short season (see below), most have left by late summer, then they will leave you seeking a new nest next year.

Very occasionally they can set up home somewhere inconvenient and you may need to move them. This is a simple operation best done at night when all the bees are home but you need to move it at least 3 miles away or the bees may return to the previous site. If you live in the North Somerset area then call YABeeP and, provided that it is accessible, we will gladly move your nest - see our Bumblebee Rescue Programme page

If you plan on doing it yourself then the Bumblebee Conservation Trust recommends that you use a sturdy shoe box or old drawer lined with grass or dry moss. Make a ¾“ (2cm) entrance hole which you need to temporarily cover whilst you move them. Use a shovel to gently pick up the nest in one piece without tipping it as this would spill their honey which they need. Place the nest in the box which you need to cover with a close fitting lid. You must then move it to your alternative sheltered site. Cover the box with a waterproof cover to keep any rain out then uncover the entrance hole and leave alone to settle.

Bumblebee Identification
Some of the common species of bumblebee are difficult to tell apart. However there are several websites that can help you:

Bumblebee Life cycle
Bumblebees follow an annual life cycle with most species dying off each year with the exception of the queen who overwinters alone. The queen emerges in spring with some species rising as early as January. She finds and kits out a nest site then gathers enough pollen and nectar to start off her first brood of baby worker bees. Once hatched these workers forage so the queen can concentrate on laying. As the colony builds up males are bred. Once it has reached its maximum of around 150 to 200 bees some of the worker larvae develops into new queens. Once mated the workers and males die off and the queens disperse to find a different site to hibernate before the cycle starts all over again. For a more detailed and fascinating explanation of the bumblebees life cycle see these pages on the excellent website.

How do I encourage bumblebees into my garden?
1. By making a bees nest to attract bumbles - You can either make a nest site from simple materials (see this page to make one from a recycled pallet) or buy one ready-made. To make an an even simpler flower pot or paving slab nest see the Bumblebee Conservation Trust's nest box page.

Bumbles also love to nest in piles of old wood so leave a stack of rotting wood undisturbed in a sunny corner of your garden. As well as bumbles this will provide an home for many other useful invertebrates.
2. Planting for bumbles - see these pages for information:
3. Refusing to use Insecticides and other toxic chemicals - By not using insecticides, weed killers and other chemicals in your garden. You should also ensure that any seeds you purchase have not been systemically treated and coated by the producer. Not only will this ensure that you keep a healthy environment for bees and other garden wildlife but it will reduce the risk to yourself of poisons build up in both yours and your children's bodies.

Bumblebee Links:
Probably the best bumblebee information on the web can be found here:
Other bumblebee web sites:
Bumblebee Forum - Ask questions and get answers here:
And don't forget to see YABeeP's own Bumblebee Rescue Programme page.


Juley Howard said...

Removing a Bumble Bee Nest
I have just come home from removing a bumble bee nest from a vulnerable spot in a local garden. First I found a wooden box, about 10" square alround, and made a tight fitting lift, drilled a hole in one side (near the base) and fixed a piece of wood over the door with a screw. I took some parcel tape to make sure no bees flew out and string.
At dusk - would have been better to do it a bit later - I quickly uncovered the nest and carefully shovelled the nest into the box, which I had 1/4 filled with nesting material as above. I managed to get about 80% of the nest in the box in one go, and quickly picked up the remaining bits.
About 20-30 bees had escaped, I managed to catch a few of them with a net, the rest were searching for the nest. We set up another box and I put a bit of spilt bumble honey inside.
When its dark the bloke who didn't want the bees in his garden will shut the lid. Tomorrow he will take the box for a walk down to the local nature reserve and let them go.
I have put the box of bees at the end of a flowery meadow, covered with an old feed sack (sorry Robin best I could do) and some grass branches etc so I hope that they will feel a bit underground. I have left the door open, having checked that it isn't blocked with nesting material. They are a long way from sheep and other marauding creatures.
The string? Yes this was the vital bit - to tie round the box so I had something to hold onto when I was cycling through the village!!!
I have to say it is really important to be well covered up - the bees really would have tried to kill me had they got the chance.

YABeeP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
YABeeP said...

Well done Juley, sounds like a job really well done, isn't it great having a bumble bee nest to compliment your honeybees. I too have removed a couple of nest boxes referrd to me via North Somerset Council.

You are right to be covered up. When I moved a Buff Tailed nest I wore my suit and veil but only had trainers on and got several stings through my socks - bumbles don't have barbed stings therefore don't die and can sting several times! The pain is nowhere near as intense as the honeybee's but the itching lasted a couple of days - ouch!