Sunday, 23 May 2010

Bumblebee Rescue Programme

Being interested in all species of bee YABeeP will often attend calls as part of our swarm collection duties where the householder has a problem with bumble bees. Most beekeeping groups don't do this as bumbles don't produce honey in sufficient quantity or of a taste acceptable to the human pallet. 

Moving the humble bumble
Buff tail - Photo © Wikipedia
Bumbles nests are quite small building up to only a maximum size of around 200 bees in high summer - compare this to the 50,000 plus bees in a summer honeybee colony. The bumble is an annual species where the nest dies out each autumn and only the newly hatched queens, around 10 - 15 of them, survive the winter. These new queens leave the nest and hibernate in the ground ready to start a new nest afresh next year while all the males and female workers die off. Another good reason to leave your garden tidying to spring when the hibernating bumbles have safely emerged.

Typical bumble rescue box
When on a bumble call-out we always try to educate the caller to try and persuade them to keep and enjoy the bees, in the knowledge that they won't sting and will be gone come the winter. Please note I said that they don't sting - bumbles can sting, but they won't unless their nest is attacked or you violently antagonise them by flailing your arms around in an attempt to knock a curious bee away. In fact bumbles are probably the most passive stinging insect and will just fly around a person who takes up camp in immediately front of their nest. Most of the 250 species of bee in the UK don't have stings, it's only the bumbles and honeybees that do. The best advice if a bee, or wasp for that matter, flys around you is to stand still and ignore it. It has no interest in attacking you but is just checking you out to see whether you are a source of pollen or nectar. Once it has finished checking it will fly off.

Photo © Wikipedia
Sometimes, however, the householder  for their own personal reasons will be too worried and insist that the nest goes - what a shame that our modern excessively health and safety concious society means that folk are brought up to fear these charming gentle creatures that are responsible for so much of the pollination of our crops and flowers. Did you know that commercial glass house and polly-tunnel growers import bumble nests to pollinate their crops and kill the bees when the job's done - what a crazy world!

A nest of Red tail bumbles in a rescue box
Provided the bumbles are readily accessible YABeeP will remove them and relocate into a safe location, usually our member's gardens. The main species we get called to around North Somerset are ground nesting Buff-tailed, White-tailed and Red-tailed which prefer to nest in old mouse nests - these are easily relocated by placing them in a purpose built bumble box and moving them to their new location. Amazingly they immediately learn where their new home is and come and go quite happily. The other less common species we sometime have to move is the Common Carder which lives in the open in plant mass and is far harder to relocate successfully.

Examples of bees moved

May 2010 - Milton Buff Tails
One of the calls we attended in mid-May 2010 was to a garden in Milton where, following advice seen on a CBBC programme, they had successfully attracted a Buff-tailed bumble queen to nest in a very small nest box which they had hung on the wall. Unfortunately, the box was too small to contain a full nest of Buff-tail's and they had nowhere in their small garden to re-site them into a bigger box so we relocated them.
23 May 2010 - Milton bumbles moved into their new home

The original nest box now inside the new one.
As the nest outgrows the smaller box it
can expand into the larger box which has
 a perspex viewing window on top
Returning Buff-tail bumble (Bombus terrestris) forager lands at entrance

May 2011 - Clifton Tree Bumble Bees (Bombus Hypnorum).
The owners of a house in Clifton were having extensive building work done, so rang YABeeP. The Bristol Museum's Etymologist had confirmed that these were rare so the owner asked that they be moved. Jo and Ali were happy to oblige.

Tree Bumble Bees are quite rare at the moment, having colonised Britain in 2001. It is suggested that they prefer to live in holes in trees. However, this colony decided upon a disused, rather large wasps' nest in a loft in Clifton. Link (scroll down to 'Rarer Bumble Bees' section). They are now safe and rehoused at Ali's.

Bombus Hypnorum, the Tree Bumble bee
taken residence in old wasps' nest.

At a guess, they started nest-making at the bottom of an old
 wasps' nest and the weight of their honey cells made the bottom break off.

They made their nest from the roof insulation!
There is a lot of nest unseen under this little lot.

Boxed and ready for relocation.
Bye bye Bristol, hello Yatton.

For more information on this species see the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website.

See also YABeeP's main Bumblebee page.