The first question to ask yourself is this: Must you actually move the bumble bee nest? Is such a drastic measure really necessary?
- Bumble bees in many parts of the world, including species endemic to the United States and Great Britain, are threatened with extinction. Some species are already gone.
- A bumble nest lasts only one season. Some species are done nesting by the end of July; some persist until the first freeze. After that, only newly mated queens survive the winter, and they do that by digging a small hole in the ground and hibernating alone until spring.
- Bumble bees are not aggressive and tend to sting only if their home is threatened. Most people most of the time can peacefully co-exist with bumble bees.
- Bumble bees are excellent long-tongued pollinators and key players in a healthy environment.
- Unless there is some compelling reason to move it, please leave it alone. After it dies off at the end of the season, you can clean up the area so that another queen doesn’t choose the same location the following year. Sometimes the entrance can be re-routed which solves the immediate problem without moving the nest.
That said, some situations require us to move a nest. Nests are usually in the ground but may be found in places such as bird houses, mail boxes, compost heaps, trash barrels, and outdoor upholstery. Although different situations require different handling, some basic guidelines apply to all.
The Basics of Moving a Bumble Bee Nest
- Before you try to move a nest, study it closely so you know exactly where it is and what has to be done.
- Know exactly where you will put the nest after you take it from its present location.
- If the nest is underground or in an immovable object, you will need to make or purchase a nesting box in advance.
- Assemble all the tools and equipment you will need beforehand. You want to interfere as little as possible and complete the job quickly. You don’t want to start looking for a screwdriver when the job is half complete.
- Wear protective clothing, especially gloves and a long-sleeved shirt.
- Only attempt the move at night when all the bees are home. Bumbles will not fly in the dark, so night is the best time to work.
- Use a flashlight with a red beam. You can cover a flashlight with red plastic or use a red bicycle lamp. Like most bees, bumbles don’t see the color red. By using red light, you prevent the bees from flying toward your beam.
- The job goes easier with two people, one to hold the light and the other to move the bees. (If beekeepers are involved, it may take more because of all the opinions to consider.)
What Will I Find in There?
In the spring, a queen bumble selects a location for her nest. She often picks a place that is pre-furnished with nesting materials such as an abandoned rodent burrow, an empty bird nest, or maybe even some cotton batting. On top of this soft mat she builds a wax cell where she will lay her first eggs and, nearby, she fashions a small waxen pot where she will store nectar.
As time goes by, the queen will build more brood cells and more nectar pots. After the first batch of workers is hatched, they begin to take over the job of building cells, caring for the young, and foraging for food. The nest increases in size as the workers expand the nursery with even more cells and nectar pots.
The size of the nest you find will depend on how far along in the process the colony has come. In temperate climates, bumble bee colonies usually contain less than 100 workers. When moving the nest, care must be taken not to crush or tear the delicate brood cells and not to spill the nectar pots.
Rerouting the Entrance
Sometimes the nest entrance can be rerouted by attaching a piece of hose or pipe to the opening and forcing the bees to fly through it. For example, if the bees are exiting their home between the steps of your porch, you may be able to run the pipe to the side of the house instead. Sometimes this can make all the difference.
- The hose, pipe, or conduit should be at least 2 cm in diameter.
- Measure in advance, to make sure you have enough length.
- After dark, approach the nest and install the tube. Depending on how their entrance is built, you may have to improvise a way to make the connection between tube and hole. Mud can be used to “glue” it in place.
- Look for other entrances and stop them up as well. The bees must have no choice but to leave through the tube.
- Secure the far end of the tube so it doesn’t wiggle around. Orient the opening so it sheds—rather than collects—water.
- Check on the bees the next day to be sure they are coming and going. If no bees appear, check your connections the next evening.
Moving a Colony in a Birdhouse
- After dark, stop up the entrance hole. Also plug any extraneous cracks or loose joints that the bumbles could get through.
- Take down the birdhouse, being careful to keep it upright.
- Move the birdhouse to its new location and install it.
- Leave the birdhouse closed up overnight. The next day you can remove the plug and the bees will reorient themselves.
Moving Bees that are Underground, in Compost or Trash, or in Immovable Objects
This is the hardest situation and also the most common.
- Prepare the nest box by adding cotton batting, moss, or grass clippings to the inside, and plugging the entrance hole from the outside.
- After dark, carefully excavate the original nest by gently removing the surface layers of soil or compost. Move a little at a time until you uncover the wax structures.
- Slide a shovel or spade underneath the nest in such a way as to lift the entire thing with one scoop.
- Gently place the nest in the box, being careful to keep it upright.
- Cover the nest box with the lid and move it gently to its new location.
- Leave the entrance hole sealed overnight.
- The next day, unplug the entrance hole and watch the bees orient themselves to their new home.