Bumble bees hibernate, honey bees do not

Although honey bees and bumble bees are closely related, their winter behavior is very different.

A colony of honey bees will live throughout the entire winter, actively keeping the nest warm and safe. Although a winter colony is much smaller than a summer colony, it will nevertheless contain thousands of individuals. They eat and work all winter long–activity which requires a large cache of stored food.

Bumble bees do not maintain colonies throughout the winter. Instead, the last brood of the summer colony will contain a number of queens. Each of these queens will mate and then find a nest in which to overwinter. She alone will hibernate until spring.

While the bumble bee queen hibernates she is neither eating nor working. Her depressed rate of metabolism allows her to live for long periods while burning very little fuel.

In the spring, she must work hard. She begins by finding a suitable nesting spot. Next she builds a “honey pot” from wax and will use it to hold a small store of honey. She will also collect pollen, and make a pile of pollen mixed with honey called “bee bread.”

Here is where it gets weird. Much like a chicken, the queen bumble bee will lay her eggs on the pollen and then sit on them to keep them warm. During the development of the young bumble bees, the queen will eat the honey she stored in her pot.

The first batch of young bees will be mostly workers—bees who can take over the household chores and foraging while the queen continues to lay eggs. Later in the season, she will lay some eggs that become queens and drones. These bees will be the ones that are responsible for the next generation.

This life cycle is found in bumble bees throughout the temperate regions of the world. Some tropical bumble bees may have small colonies that survive for several years since there is no need to hibernate.

Not sure if you are seeing a honey bee or a bumble bee? This page my help!

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Bumble bee on clover. Photo by the author.

Comments

Emily
Reply

The information is good, but I want to know is there a certain place for the bees to hibernate.

Rusty
Reply

Emily,

Only the queen bumble bee hibernates over winter and she does it in a small nest in the ground, often in a hole made by a mouse or vole. In the early spring, she begins to lay eggs in there and starts a family of many (female) worker bees and a few (male) drones.

Michael
Reply

I’m here in Chignik, Alaska and we have bumble bees buzzing around, and I had to find out if they hibernated, they would have to here, the winter is long and brutal. Thanks for the info

Paul brimicombe
Reply

Walked into a lot of honey bees and learnt something new. They don’t hibernate.

Linda
Reply

I’ve found 4 large queen bumblebees on my bedroom window sill, obviously have come out of hibernation early due to the mild spell and probably been feeding on my winter flowering honeysuckle. It’s now freezing outside… I’d hate them to die….what is the best thing to do? At the moment I have them in a large jar with some sprigs of the honeysuckle in it, in a cool place in my house.

Rusty
Reply

Linda,

This is so, so sad. The problem is these queen bumble bees need to forage, build nests, and start to raise brood. But the warm weather brought them out when there is little food available—not much pollen or nectar—and while there is still the danger of freezing. Once out of hibernation there is very little chance of them surviving under these conditions.

Bumble bees are unique in that they have internal thermoregulation that allows them to forage in very cold temperatures. But still, if it is too early for the bulk of the flowers, they will die.

You can probably keep them alive for a few days, but they are wild animals that need to do what nature intended. Without that chance they will probably succumb.

I’m glad you wrote about this; people need to know what is happening to the environment worldwide. I’ve heard more “warm weather” stories this year than ever before.

Linda
Reply

I know! :( I’ve had to make the hard decision to give them a chance to return to the wild…..obviously living indoors in a jar is no answer and if they lived on and laid eggs I’d have worker bumblebees everywhere in my house lol!

I’ve found a very big plastic container and lined it with polystyrene and shredded paper, and put the jar inside with the opening facing inside. Put some dry soil and leaves in there plus a sponge soaked in 50/50 sugar/water mix and more sprigs of the honeysuckle. It’s in a very sheltered spot on my garden under the winter flowering honeysuckle and covered with cardboard and more dry soil. My theory being they may be able to find their way back to where they came from, but if not, at least they will have some protection to at least give them a chance. I’m still hoping I may see some offspring later in the year.

Rusty
Reply

Linda,

I’m impressed. That’s about the most someone could do to give them a fighting chance. You obviously know a lot about bumble bees. Best of luck and please let me know what happens.

Linda

I don’t! I just googled to try to find out what the best thing was that I could do . . .it said they usually use holes left by mice etc. and the sugar water mix was the nearest thing to their natural food, so I just tried to simulate that and add a bit more insulation as the weather has suddenly turned extremely cold. (I’m in Southern UK BTW.)

Once the cold spell is over, they will have plenty of food from that bush . . . it swarms with bees and birds from Feb onwards; it’s joy to see them enjoying it so much . . . Maybe I should have put a coloured mark on “my” bumblebees to see if they make it!

I’ll be checking their hideaway though so will let you know if they stay or go.

Thanks for your support!

Rusty

Linda,

I knew you were in the UK based on your ip address, but I didn’t know which part. Everything you read about bumbles is correct. I’m glad to hear your spring starts early (at least by my standards). That means if you can get them through the cold snap, they have a fighting chance.

On behalf of the bees, thank you so much for making this effort! We need more of you.

Linda
Reply

Thank-you Rusty!

I’d read a few years ago that bumble bees are rapidly falling in numbers, so I was very surprised to find 4 of them all at the same time, so had to try to do something.

I’m now thinking that the mass of small bees (they are shaped and coloured like bumble bees but much smaller . . . also make a lot of noise!) on my bush in the spring are the worker females, would that be right? I’m normally wary of wasps and bees if they fly at me as I’m hypersensitive to wasp stings, but these little ones took absolutely no notice of me when I was in the garden right next to them pegging out the washing!

I reckon they have a nest nearby due to the early spring food source, now I think about it I have noticed an odd bumble bee hovering around there on the milder days in winter.

In case anyone else is interested this is the bush I have:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lonicera_fragrantissima

Now just need to keep my fingers crossed for them!

Rusty
Reply

Linda, if they look like bumble bees they probably are. The queens are much larger than the workers and I have read that there can be a great variability in bumble bee size, even from the same nest.

Nancy
Reply

Rusty, and Linda – what a fascinating story. Any chance of pictures? I’d like to know how to recognize a bumble bee queen.

Also, about your winter-flowering honeysuckle – do you know the species name? And Rusty, any thoughts about whether it would be a good idea to plant one here? My thought was that if it is warm enough for them to fly out, I could have something blooming near the hives. But we have roadsides covered with Amur honeysuckle and it is definitely crowding out native growth, and we do not need any more invasive species.

My bees have been out and about in our warm spell, which is ending today. At least it is raining, so they won’t be caught away from the hive. My greatest fear was that the water maples would start blooming, and they would start harvesting, and either be caught out when it turns cold, or bring in nectar that they’d be unable to condense when they went back into cluster.

It is going from near 70, down to 30 by night. And luckily, the maple buds are still tight. Best of luck to your bumble bees: they are among my valued pollinators, for tomato and eggplant.
Nan

Rusty
Reply

Nan,

Oddly enough, Linda anticipated your request. I haven’t checked it out yet, but I will.

Linda
Reply

Thanks Nancy!

The queens just look like bumble bees but are much bigger and chunkier’ my ladies were all a good one and a half inches long. Not sure how I first thought they would be queens but when I checked out the life-cycle I read that only the queens over winter so that confirmed it.

There is some blurb about the bush on the link. Left to grow wild, it can be a pain, but I cut mine right back in the spring after it’s flowered and it’s stayed manageable. I get a lot of tits nesting in it too, as the branches grow quite intertwined and they seem to love the nectar or sap from the flowers . . . they spend a lot of time looking as if they are running their beaks up and down the stems anyway!

It’s very easy to propagate. A friend of mine gave me a stem which he just stuck in a pot and it rooted quickly, but it was about 4 years before it started flowering. The flowers come out before the leaves and the scent is amazing! Mine has been flowering now since just after Christmas . . . that’s about a month earlier than usual.

I had a quick peek in my “bumblebee house” today, couldn’t see them so they may have gone home, but it was very cold last night so they may have buried themselves at the back in the soil . . . I wasn’t going to risk disturbing them, so will just wait and see.

Sharon
Reply

Just want to know what to do with a bumble bee that we found on our hearth, looks like she’s come from out of the chimney we guess, we know she should be in full hibernation, in a jar at mo with lid with holes in, and paper, shes resting on that, but not practical, was going to put her in a nest box in garden thats got a nest in for her to hide in, but not sure, we love all wildlife so want to do the right thing, any suggestions please.

Rusty
Reply

Sharon,

Another reader had four bumble bees arrive on her porch and this is what she did:

“I’ve found a very big plastic container and lined it with polystyrene and shredded paper, and put the jar inside with the opening facing inside. Put some dry soil and leaves in there plus a sponge soaked in 50/50 sugar/water mix and more sprigs of the honeysuckle. It’s in a very sheltered spot on my garden under the winter flowering honeysuckle and covered with cardboard and more dry soil. My theory being they may be able to find their way back to where they came from, but if not, at least they will have some protection to at least give them a chance. I’m still hoping I may see some offspring later in the year.”

I would do something along that line. Put some nesting material in the jar and bury it sideways in the soil and cover with leaf litter. Leave a small entrance tunnel and perhaps a little sugar water. It’s hard to know what to do when they come out of hibernation early.

Sharon
Reply

Thanks Rusty, we will try that, hope snow gone a bit more for tomorrow, thanks again.

Jeff
Reply

Hey there,

Seattle Wa, here. I have noticed that when I bring wood in for my fireplace that an odd bee or two will wake up from hibernation. Does that make these queen bees? Is there any saving them at this point?

Jeff

Rusty
Reply

Hi Jeff,

It depends on what kind of bee it is. In bumble bees, only the queen overwinters. But in many other species of native bees both the males and the females overwinter in the pupa or adult stage. In most cases, the males emerge first and hang around waiting for the females so they can mate. When bees emerge early there is little to be done for them. There is probably insufficient pollen and nectar for them and, even under the best of circumstances, the average active life span is only a few weeks.

Once they leave their burrows, they don’t go back in; and even if they did, there is no food for them in there. Unusually warm weather in late winter is hard on the wild bees.

terry
Reply

Do all bees make honey? If I find a nest this year will it still be in the same place next year?

Rusty
Reply

Terry,

Honey bees are the major producers of honey. There are several different species of honey bee in different parts of the world, and they all make honey. Bumble bees actually make a little honey, but a very tiny amount, just enough for the baby bees. In tropical areas, stingless bees also make honey.

If you are referring to a bumble nest, it probably will not be in the same place next year. If you are referring to feral honey bees, the nest might be in the same place the next year.

Linda
Reply

Just a quick up-date, as you asked me to let you know…..we’ve just had 3 milder, sunnier days and today my bush is swarming with little bumble bees! So even if they are not from my “ladies” I rescued….the bumble bees live on in my garden! :)

Rusty
Reply

That’s really good news, Linda. Thanks for letting me know.

Megan Hollingsworth
Reply

I am in Livingston, MT and swear I have not yet seen one bee of any sort! ?!?!?!?! I am missing them…and so troubled in their absence this year… ???

George J Gruen
Reply

Hi Rusty. It is a nice article you put on your HP, just write what you know, not what you think you know. Her honey storage is not made from wax; it looks brown like a small potato and tears like paper. Her larva hatches in that small honey filled paper ball. As a child I stoll their nest ball :-(

Best regards,
George.

George J Gruen
Reply

Did you know that a drone has no father? There isn’t one in the colony. Only the mother of the bees and drones are there. It not only sounds strange, but it is a true fact that a male bee has no father. He has only a grandfather. But don’t get this wrong. It’s not the way you may think. Nature has many surprises. This is one of them.

The queen collects the sperm in her body. It’s her option to choose which egg gets fertilized. The queen bee lays and fertilizes all female eggs. Male eggs don’t get fertilized by her.

All female honeybees have stingers just for fending off intruders. Male bees (drones) have no stinger. The queen uses her stinger only to fight a rival queen to death. If you are holding a queen loosely in your fist she will not sting your hand, but honeybees will sting you.

Bees are not complicated, but have more unimaginable surprises,

Best regards,
George J Gruen

shaun
Reply

I have a bee’s nest in my loft. The hole where they come in and out is at the back of the house. The house is having work done on it and is empty apart from the builders in the day. The hole is roof height, so not sure which bee this is. Can someone please advise on what action needs to be taken?

I am in the UK . . .Derbyshire

Rusty
Reply

Shaun,

The very first thing you have to do is figure out what it is. It could be a bee; it could be a wasp. Get a net and catch one, then show it to a beekeeper or send me a photo. There is no best way to handle it unless you know what it is.

Rebecca
Reply

My 6 year old wants to know how bees know their jobs?

Lee wod
Reply

What is it with bees? They sting and are all over my garden—big bumble bees. I can’t park properly cos of them?

Rusty
Reply

Lee,

Maybe your inability to park properly has nothing to do with bees. Just saying. At any rate, bees are what make your garden work. Gardens without bees do not prosper. By they way, did they really sting you? Or are just afraid they might?

Beverly
Reply

Rusty

We have a large bee’s nest in a bush in our back yard the size of a very large football that small children and pets play around and we need to know how to get rid of it before someone gets hurt.

Rusty
Reply

Beverly,

Based on your brief description, it sounds like wasps, not bees. The first thing to do is identify for sure what it is.

kelly
Reply

Hi.

For the second year running when digging up a very late patch of veg (mostly potato both years) I have found at least 4 – 5 very large bees. They are all curled up and when disturbed in the soil they begin buzzing and don’t look very happy. (I have tried to recover them.) I managed to get a good look at one and can only describe it as a larger than a regular bee about an inch or so, with quite a fat bottom which was pulsating?

Can anyone advise me what they are, why they are there and what is best to do?

Thanks

Rusty
Reply

Kelly,

You don’t say where you are writing from, so I can’t narrow things down (Although, I would guess Great Britain, based on English.) Anyway, just for starters, there are about 20,000 species of bee worldwide, so it’s hard to know which is the “regular” one.

I can tell you that of those 20,000 species, at least 70% of them live underground. When you dug them up, they were probably in a resting or hibernating phase preparing for emergence next spring. Many hibernate as pupae, but some as adults. They “don’t look very happy” because they probably cannot survive being dug up at this time of year.

There are also many wasps that live in a similar fashion, and look very much the same as bees, and they don’t fall in the same group with the 20,000 bee species. In fact, I recall there are about 100,000 wasp species. Because of the vast numbers, I can’t even guess what you might have.

There is really not much you can do except re-bury them in the same soil type and the same depth and hope for the best.

Derek
Reply

I’ve been growing bee attractors in my garden in KANSAS (zone 6)… Things like passion fruit vine and sun flowers… Something I have noticed recently are that the bumble bees occasionally stop and rest on the passion flower for five to ten minutes… They just take a nap or relax on the flower… The ones I see doing this usually have huge loads of pollen on their backs and backs of their legs.

I have seen a dramatic decrease in the honeybee population in the past two years. So, I am hoping to keep my bumble bees, parasitic wasps, and feral bees happy (because hand pollination really sucks).

Rusty
Reply

Derek,

Here’s a short article about how honey bees sleep: http://www.honeybeesuite.com/do-honey-bees-sleep-of-course-they-sleep/. I’m sure it is similar with all bees. Also, I often find bees asleep in flowers in the early morning, covered with dew. These are usually males because in most native bee populations, the males are not allowed back into the nest.

Toni
Reply

I have a bees nest in my roof. They have entered through a small hole where wasps got in to form a nest 3 years ago. I want the hole filled in and have been told that they should now have died but how can I be sure? I am afraid of more bees being hatched there next year and finding an exit into the house.

Rusty
Reply

Toni,

You don’t say where you live or what kind of bee lives there. If they are honey bees, they will probably stay there until you take them out or until the colony dies. If they are a type of wasp, and if it will soon be cold where you live, they will die when the weather turns cold. The same is true for bumble bees. Are insects flying in and out of the hole? That would be a good clue. Other than that, I don’t have enough information to give you an answer.

karen
Reply

Hi, Rusty. I live in downtown Toronto on a ravine and I recently have noticed quite large bumble bees frequenting my terrace for the tall purple flowers I planted this summer and they absolutely love them. The flowers are nearing their end and I would love to put out more for the bees. Are there any particular fall plants/flowers that would be of interest to the bumble bees? Thank you!

Rusty
Reply

Just about anything in the Asteraceae family, including goldenrod. Heirloom species are better than hybrids for attracting bees.

Heather
Reply

Hi, lovely blog/site thank you. I have what I think is one bumble bee queen crawling in my conservatory, I think she is looking for somewhere to hibernate indoors. I am in Milton Keynes England and wondering if I should find somewhere to help her sleep.

Many thanks

Rusty
Reply

Hi Heather,

She really needs to find a place outside in the ground. Bumble bee queens spend the winter by themselves in just a small tunnel. The best you can do for her, I think, is to put her outside in a protected spot. Even though the conservatory is protected, it is probably not the best environment for her. You can even poke some holes in the ground with a pencil or similar item and see if she is interested.

Linda
Reply

I agree, I think she has probably just lost her way. Luckily it’s not too cold yet here in the U.K. so probably the best thing is to encourage her to find a safe spot in the garden. You could try putting a small blob of cotton wool soaked in sugar and water to entice her into the hole…..she should be able to do the rest. Good Luck!

Heather
Reply

Thank you Linda and Rusty. She warmed herself up in the sunshine yesterday along with some sugar and water and went out and into a little hole in my raised bed. She is safe for the winter now and as I know where she is I will be careful when clearing the bed. We had a hive of bumble bees in our eaves this year and am really hoping they come back next year.

Juliet
Reply

Hi :)
I was curious to know what will happen to two little bees that have built a small hive under a cement ledge near my garage. I am in the Georgian Bay area of Ontario. The hive is only maybe two and a half inches long. Will they remain there for winter? It doesnt seem to be in a very sheltered spot. They havent moved much in the past few weeks. Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

Juliet,

Without seeing the nest or the builder, it’s hard to say. However, it sounds like it may be the work of a solitary potter wasp. They build mud nests, often oval, on exposed surfaces. Inside, the eggs hatch into larvae that eat the provisions (insects if it is a wasp, pollen if it is a bee) and then overwinter as either a pupa or adult. Some bees build similar nests, but usually they complete them earlier in the spring or summer. The adult bees or wasps that built the nest will not survive the winter, only the offspring will survive. They will most probably be just fine, even in the unsheltered spot.

Lorna
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I’m really pleased to find you! I’ve been fascinated all summer by a hive of bumbles in one of my stables. The problem now is that I may need that stable for its rightful owner who won’t be impressed with his visitors! The hive is under the pallets where I keep the hay and straw and I’m a bit scared to move it in case I disturb a bee’s nest.

Will it be really obvious? What do I do once I have found it? Presumably it will just be the queen? Any advice you can offer will be gratefully received. Thanks, Lorna

Rusty
Reply

Lorna,

The nest it most likely empty by now. Only the new queens overwinter; the old queen and the workers die off at the end of the season. The new queens will each find a small hole in the ground somewhere to hibernate over the winter months. Then, in the spring, they will each emerge and look for a place to build a new nest. It is unlikely any of them will reuse the old nest, although it is not impossible.

If you dig down, you will probably find empty wax cells and empty honey pots but nothing more. I don’t know how cold it is where you are, but I suspect you won’t find anything alive down there now.

Linda
Reply

Hi Lorna,

I’d like to echo Rusty in not worrying too much. I’ve been lucky (and proud!) to have had bumble bees choosing to nest and over-winter in my garden for the last 3 years. (I’m in U.K.) I can honestly say that they have never been a problem. They keep themselves very much to themselves and really are only interested on a safe place to hibernate and a food source for their young in the spring…I’ve never found them aggressive and even if the queen overwinters in the stable, I doubt very much that she will bother your new resident horse. You could try planting some spring flowering bulbs which produce quite a lot of nectar…snowdrops, crocuses, tulips are all good…somewhere nearby but not in the stable and chances are the new queen will choose to nest near there instead. Hope it all turns out well and you, your horses, and the bumbles can all live happily together!

AJ
Reply

Hi, I’m in UK northeast, I have a honey bee nest on/in my chimney. In July/August when it was very hot, there was a swarm of honey bees on the outside of the chimney. I’m not sure if the swarm flew away or took up residence in the chimney. I used to have a lot coming into the house through the fire (not in use) but just last week I had another just one come through. I was wondering if I have a bees nest inside the chimney or would most of them be gone? I got advised that once the queen flew away that the rest would die within 2 weeks. Not good for fans of bees, but it seems they stayed and sort of got smaller and smaller. Will they come back next year? And is there a nest? I don’t mind bees but I’m very frightened of them. Thanks for your help. Hope I’ve explained ok!

Rusty
Reply

AJ,

Impossible to say from here, but it sounds like a swarm landed on your chimney during the summer and left again. That would be normal. It sounds like you had them coming through the chimney, but not anymore. They may have been looking at the chimney as a potential nest site, and then decided against it. If they had chosen the chimney, I think you would have seen many, many bees in your house–not just a few–plus you would have seen hundreds around their outside entrance.

It’s possible for another swarm to come by next year, but not very likely. I wouldn’t worry about it before it happens.

AJ
Reply

Thanks Rusty! There was quite a few flying about the chimney coming and going but they just seemed to become fewer over the weeks. Maybe they were left behind and tried to create their own nest.

Thanks again for your help

Bee man
Reply

The bees have brought me into their nest and are telling me that I am going to become bee man! I cant believe it! I’m growing wings and chatting with the hot queen bee. She says she is ready for a serious relationship.

Give some advice please!!!!!!!! I want to make this work :)

Jason
Reply

Hi,

I am in the uk, I was up in my loft yesterday and saw a large honey bee just sitting on the side of a box up there, with its tail pulsating. I have always been a bit of a wimp with bees and wasp so got out quickly, it was flying around the light bulb as I left.

Never expected to see one in January right in the middle of winter but it has been very mild so far, was about 9-10 degrees yesterday. Am very curious as to why it may be there and does it mean there could be a hive up there or is it likely to just be a stray bee found its way in there?

Thanks for any help

Rusty
Reply

Hi Jason,

I can only speculate, but I would say you probably saw a bee that left her colony to go out on a “cleansing flight,” which is beespeak for potty break. It happens on warmish days in the winter and it helps keep the hive clean inside during the long winter months. Sometimes one goes astray, gets lost, gets trapped, or for some unknown reason doesn’t make it home.

On Monday of this week we had some warmer weather here, and I found several bees on the sunny wall of my house. I assume they went out for cleansing, and then spotted the nice warm wall and just hung out for awhile. In fact, a number of beekeepers have reported to me that they found bees outside this winter.

Anyway, that is my guess. I doubt you have a colony up there because, if you did, you would probably have seen a bunch, not just one.

BEVERLY
Reply

LAST YEAR I HAD A NEW ROOF PUT ON MY HOUSE AND THE ROOFERS FOUND A BEES HIVE WITH HONEY AND LARGE COMBS IN BETWEEN TWO x FOURS.COMB AND HONEY WAS REMOVED BY ROOFERS AND ROOF PUT ON. MY QUESTION IS WILL THEY RETURN THIS YEAR?

Rusty
Reply

It is highly unlikely that a new colony of bees would move in where the old one was, especially with a new roof. I don’t think it is something to worry about.

Shelly
Reply

It is early spring here in southern Oklahoma. My daughter discovered a little butterball of a bumblebee in our flower garden. At first it seemed a bit weak/sluggish, so I was worried it was hurt from the storm and high winds the day before. She took it to blooming flowers and it began to just bury its little face in every one. When we ran out she brought picked flowers from the pasture. As she was trying to let the bee know she had fresh ones he jumped onto her finger hanging on tight and shoved its face into the blooms over and over.

After much nectar slurping, the bee finally seemed strong enough to fly, and flew around, then came right back to us. This was last evening. The bee is still here tonight. Why isn’t it leaving? It can stay, we don’t mind. We are just concerned for it. Hope its ok. We took a few pictures too. 😉

Thanks Shelly

Rusty
Reply

Hi Shelly,

It is hard to say, but it may be at the end of its life. Some bumble bees, depending on the species, don’t live very long. It may just be old and about to die, or it may have been blown off course by the storm, or it may be ill from consuming pesticides. It would be impossible to say. Feeding it flowers and looking after it is fine. It may suddenly disappear one day, or it may die, but you shouldn’t feel that you did anything wrong. Their life cycles are very different than what we humans consider normal.

If you want, you can e-mail a photo to me: rusty[at]honeybeesuite[dot]com, using the regular e-mail notation.

linda
Reply

Awww such a lovely story! The bumble bee is hanging around because it knows there is food and shelter there with you. You did all the right things; sometimes it’s just nature and that’s the one thing even we as humans have no control over x

Shelly
Reply

Hi, Thanks for the reply. My daughter has found the bee every evening except tonight and made sure it had enough flowers to be satisfied. Maybe the bee has moved on? She has decided to name her Iris as she found her near the iris bed, and there was a lone iris trying to bloom. Hopefully its a she…lol. She didn’t seem to have a stinger, or even try to sting us.

Thanks,
Shellyt

Rusty
Reply

Shelly,

It could be a male. Ivan? Males have no stingers.

Julie Allen
Reply

Hi, I am situated in northwest area of the UK. For weeks now I have been watching the antics of some bees which seem to have made their home in a small bird box under the eaves of my shed. I have never known bees to do this before and I am wondering how long they will be living here. My husband moved the box slightly and a mass of bees flew out buzzing round before they re-entered the box. I do know that a family of blue tits used the box last year and there is some moss type plant still in there, slightly covering the entrance so the bees have to squeeze through it to gain entry. Do you think there might be a queen bee inside still hibernating? We need to re-paint the shed and I hate to disturb them. thanks j

Rusty
Reply

Julie,

I can’t say for sure without a good photo, but my guess is they are some type of bumble bee. Certain species of bumble bee just adore abandoned bird houses because the bedding is already there for them; it saves a ton of work over having to collect all that.

Assuming it’s a bumble, the queen overwintered in the soil somewhere then, early in the spring, went searching for a home. When she found your birdhouse, she began making wax combs in which to lay her eggs and others in which to store minute amounts of honey.

Depending on the species of bumble, they may be active for a couple of months or the colony may persist into the autumn. At the end of their active period, newly mated queens will find a hole in the ground in which to hibernate until next spring.

Many species of bumble are endangered in the UK and many groups are doing their best to protect them. If you must disturb the nest, I recommend you contact someone like the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to help you out.

lindy
Reply

Can you not just paint the shed and leave the bird box as it is?
Then you may learn more…..just a thought.x

Julie Allen
Reply

Hi, I am situated in north west area of the UK. For weeks now I have been watching the antics of some bees which seem to have made their home in a small bird box under the eaves of my shed. I have never known bees to do this before and I am wondering how long they will be living here. My husband moved the box slightly and a mass of bees flew out buzzing round before they re entered the box. I do know that a family of blue tits used the box last year and there is some moss type plant still in there, slightly covering the entrance so the bees have to squeeze through it to gain entry. Do you think there might be a queen bee inside still hibernating? We need to re paint the shed and I hate to disturb them. thanks j

Julie Allen
Reply

Thanks for your great informative reply; we have now decided to leave the shed painting until our visitors have left. I never thought a few bees living in our garden would open up a whole new fascinating world of the lives of bees. Your website is brilliant. Many Thanks x

Kat
Reply

Hey, so I saved a bumble bee that was in water and put it on the grass and went under a bit, so I left and that was 2 days ago. I came back and it was still there. I put the poor thing on a couch I don’t use in my garage, got some sugar water, mixed it, and the bee ate some of it, and walking and stuff can’t seem to dry off and get there wings working. Its really cold and rainy out right now and can’t release the poor thing I keep checking on it and its still on the couch with the mix got some flowers to hopefully help, its suppose to rain all day tomorrow to will it survive? what else can I do, I cant keep feeding it water and sugar!!

Rusty
Reply

Kat,

All bumble bees, except for newly mated queens, die at the end of the season (unless you live in a climate that stays warm all year). So it could be that you can do nothing for it. If you want to try something different, you can bury it in a little tunnel in the ground, which is where a mated queen would go. In any case, I doubt it will survive.

Tess
Reply

Fascinated by all the caring people out there! Was searching for info regarding bumbles, now armed with a few over-wintering ideas, as the weather has taken a sharp cold turn and it upsets me to see them warming in the sun only to be facing a very cold night somewhere! They look like they need a good cuddle, and if a hole and some sugar water is the cuddle I can do my bit!

Out of interest, had a fair few leaf-cutter bees (solitary) creating “homes” in fence post countersunk drill holes, they seem to go in backwards and plug up but this was in August. Are they likely to be still in there, the leaves are still in place?

For 2 years had solitary ground bees building mound nest with the grass thatch, didn’t make mowing easy, but sparked my interest! Thanks so much … off to excavate holes … lol (Ips, Suffolk Uk)

Rusty
Reply

Tess,

I love it when people are interested in wild bees.

So the leafcutters are usually active for about 6 weeks or so in the spring or summer, and the rest of the year is spent inside the hole. Depending on the species, they may be in a larval or pre-pupal stage for most of the winter, but you probably wouldn’t recognize them.

When they are active, the adult female prepares her nest in the hole, provisions it with food for the larvae, lays an egg on each provision, and seals up each egg chamber with leaves or petals. She goes in head first to build and prepare the nest, then she backs out, turns around, and backs in to lay an egg. Then she goes for leaves to seal up the chamber and comes in with these head first. At night, she often backs in and spends the dark hours face out. From that position, she can see when it is light and time to get back to work.

Ilanna
Reply

What I am trying to find out is this: I have a bee home made of small tunnel-like holes. Recently many wasps have been collecting plant petals, and leaves and have filled these holes up. Now that it is beginning of winter the holes are finished, are my wasps in there? If not what are in there? Was this pointless? Those are the questions that have been buzzing through my mind. I would love an answer. Thanks 😀 :) xx

Rusty
Reply

Ilanna,

Are you sure they are wasps? They sound like leafcutting bees that build their nests in tunnels and line them with leaves and petals. If they are leafcutting bees, then yes, the larvae are in there and they won’t hatch out till spring. Now, there may be wasps that use leaves and petals to line a nest, but I’m not aware of any.

john mantova
Reply

Some years ago I had a small colony of what appeared to be a dark honey bee. No trouble from them even when taking off the roof they were hiding under (extension about 15 inches deep) tapering off to the edges. I found that they were using the roof insulation to burrow into but they did not build any kind of hive or nest. Instead they had made tubular honey pots on a little circular base. Very like Champagne flutes… about 8 inches tall, and about 1 to 1-1/4 inch across filled with a very dark and tasty honey. Very dark and thick. Has anyone an idea as to what variety they were? They were about 3/4 long with rounded bottoms and no sign of a sting. Curious to say the least.

Rusty
Reply

John,

Where was this? The only thing around here that builds honey pots is bumble bees, but certainly not 8 inches tall! South American stingless bees also build a type of honey pot, but they are tiny bees. Bumble bees like insulation for sure, but I can’t picture the rest of it. Anyone else have an idea?

john mantova
Reply

This was in Liverpool about 10 yrs ago . They were not very big as I said dark in colour and certainly not in the least aggressive. The pots appear to have been made from a wood pulp paper or similar. They varied in size from about 4 inches up to about 8 inches in parallel to the slope of the roof if you follow my drift. They had an almost perfectly round base a short stem then straight sides up to the brim. No wax seems to have been used in their construction ODD.

Rusty
Reply

John,

Well that’s cool. I will definitely try to figure it out. Wasps of various kinds are known for using wood pulp to build with, and they are into perfectly round structures, but they don’t collect nectar. I’ll take what you’ve given me and so some research. Thanks!

john mantova

Thanks and good luck. BTW the honey was really rich and tasty almost as though concentrated somehow. Cheers john

Harold D. Houfek
Reply

We have a new home of 7 years with a large fenced in back yard and we planted a lot of trees and shrubs. From day one I have had two bumble bees that hang out in the back yard and follow me around when I do my yard work and gardening. As a move around the house and into the front
yard they always follow me there also, where ever I go. They are not a
nuisance or try to sting me, just hanging out. It is really nice for a 74 year
old man to have such nice friends.

Have a beesy day !
ha

Georgina
Reply

This morning there was a bee sitting on the bathroom window sill. I’m not sure how it got in, but it wasn’t looking very well. I identified it as a queen buff tail.

I put a empty loo roll there for her to crawl in and a big drop of sugar water which she drank. I found it fascinating watching her so up close. I opened the window and I gave her some more as she drank it all and she just sat there. About 2 hours later I checked her and she had flown onto the open window so I hope she survives and manages to fly off :)

Rusty
Reply

Georgina,

I’ve watched bumble bees in the spring for years, and it seems to me they spend a lot of time sleeping. Or maybe resting, but hardly moving in any case. I think she will probably be okay. I’ve seen lots that I thought were dead and then suddenly take off. Fun to watch, though.

Darren
Reply

Hi. I live in the east of the UK and am most certain I have honey bees nesting in the walls of my flat roofed extension. Firstly, is this possible for honey bees? Secondly, what should I do? If I leave them be will they leave for another nest? Or will they just get bigger in colony size

Rusty
Reply

Darren,

First, yes living in the walls like that is very possible (and common) for honey bees. Second, if you leave them alone they might leave, but more probably the colony will just grow. I suggest you call a local beekeeper and see if they would take a look. He or she can tell you whether it is possible to retrieve them by looking at the structure.

Darren
Reply

I called my local bee keeper he told me to leave them as they cause no damage and will swarm out in autumn/fall then to fill the holes in!! I’m confused… I don’t want the bees harmed in anyway if they are to be removed! HEELLLP!! Lol

Rusty
Reply

Darren,

Interesting. I wonder why he says they will “swarm out in the fall”? No wonder you are confused. I don’t believe they will go anywhere in the fall. Anyone else have an opinion?

linda

I’m still enjoying my queen bumble bees and their offspring nesting below the winter flowering honeysuckle bush within 5 ft of the patio door to my lounge. They never swarm, just buzz around and feed on the blossom. At times there are a lot of baby bumble bees, but they’re sole interest is the food they get from the bush. I’ve never known a bumble bee to be aggressive, and I for one welcome them into my garden.

Darren

Don’t get me wrong rusty I am quite happy for them too be their for now as my whole garden has been designed for the wildlife ( I live directly in front of a vast woodland) I am just worried that the nest could get out of hand (size wise). My main concern is mine and the bees safety! I will keep doing research and see what I can uncover and keep y’all updated. Thanks for you’re advice so far Rusty! X

Beno
Reply

Hello, we live in Manchester England, I came home the other day to find a large wasp type insect I the house. Naturally I tried swatting the little bugger and after I stunned it o decided not to kill it but let it out. Presuming it was possible dead because it hasn’t moved I left it. Later that day I opened the front door and it has gone. The next day a Bumblebee had appeared in the house!? Soft round fury bumble bee with white bum. I was slightly confused at this point because there were no open window or doors for access. The new looked tired and sleepy so I scooped it up and let it out the back garden. Over the next few days more and more bees have been appearing in the kitchen. Usually 2-3 at a time! All very lethargic hanging around the windows and not seeming aggressive at all. We have let them all out into he garden and a few have died on the window sills when we have been out. A bee keeper came round and confirmed them as bumble bees and said he could do much. I can’t figure out how they are getting into the kitchen from the inside? Outside there are a few holes with access to cavity walls and this is my worry! What will happen if they’re in the walls and what shall I do? Will they turn aggressive? They are coming I the house on large numbers each i.e. 4-6 bees a day! Any advice would be great. Thanks Beno

Rusty
Reply

Beno,

It is hard to say. They could be coming in through the basement or crawlspace, through drainage holes around windows, down through a chimney. They are small and find ways. I get lots and lots of questions like this, so I can tell you many people are totally perplexed about how bees get inside, but they do. I don’t imagine the problem will get worse. They don’t want to be inside, so they are likely just looking for a way out.

John Mantova
Reply

Block up all the holes inside and out with particular attention to places where pipework passes through the walls. Expanding foam is ideal for this. Just trim back with a sharp knife (saw blade type is best) when it is fully cured. A common entry point is around the sink waste pipe. You should then find that the number should reduce until any bees remaining in the wall emerge. They will be a bit torpid as you have found already. Cover with a glass, slip some paper or card underneath the open end, then let them go outside. gG on block those holes

Rusty
Reply

Good advice. Thank you, John.

Beno
Reply

Thanks John,
I will use the expanding foam, the entry point I presume they are coming from is around the inboxed in area for the heating pipes in the corner of the kitchen, as this area is the open pipe, dry wall and internal brick. So they must come in there, the foam should do the trick. Will the heating pipes affect the foam? I.e. Fire hazard or possible damage?

I may also lead the external holes for a while so they can get out 1 way.

John Mantova

No the pipes won’t do any harm to the foam and it is non-flammable anyway. The pipes will only reach about 85 F. Leaving some empty holes sounds like a plan. Good luck

Ronald Inman
Reply

I have a bee hive in a hole in my tree about 30 feet up. Is it okay just to leave them be if they don’t get in the way?

Rusty
Reply

Ronald,

Sure. That’s what I would do.

Kate
Reply

OOPS, just noticed my email address had a typo.

I have bumble bees nesting under our garden shed. I’m not sure yet what genus they are.

A worker, which I found dead on the grass this morning, is about 2 cm long, has a yellow face and a yellow stripe on her fourth abdominal segment. I love bumbles and they are a welcome addition to our wild cottagey garden. I am in the garden every day, watering, pottering around, picking blueberries and raspberries, etc.

I was trying to hang out the washing about an hour ago, and was being bombarded by one particularly pesky bumble. Usually they buzz by, I say hello and they go on their way. This one was literally in my face, she grazed my cheek twice. I didn’t have my hat on and I was wearing an orange top, but I often do. It is hot out (31 C) and I am perspiring, but I am not a smelly person, :0D I am at a loss to explain it. Any ideas?

I do have another idea, as dotty as it may sound…

I had a plant support pole leaning against the shed, adjacent to their nest entrance/landing spot. Just before I started hanging the washing, I removed the pole so that I could stake a tomato plant with it. Do you think she saw me and took umbrage? Perhaps I inadvertently removed a navigation aid? I’ve put an identical one in its place, just in case. I even went indoors, changed my top to a white one and put on my straw hat. Then I went out again to resume hanging the washing. Back she came! I surrendered and am now writing to you.

When you’ve stopped laughing, I would appreciate your insight. :0D

Many thanks.

Rusty
Reply

Kate,

Maybe, since you took away the pole, she thought you were the replacement pole. You know, vertical and in about the same place, like a tree that suddenly leafed out. But seriously, I don’t know. Bumble bees do that a lot. Circle, I mean. When I go hiking, one will often circle me for a quarter mile or more. I’ve always wondered about it.

I don’t know where you live but your description sounds like the yellow-face bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii. If it is a true bumble bee (not a cuckoo bee) it will always be in the genus Bombus.

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