Disturbed A Bee Nest?
A Damaged Bee Nest?
What Should You Do?

One of the the most common requests I receive concerns bee nests, and especially bumblebee nests that have been damaged, disturbed, or are in an inconvenient place.

I have several pages about bumblebee nests, covering topics such as the challenges bumblebees face generally, and in finding suitable nest sites, plus other useful information such as the fact that bumblebee nests only last a season anyway, and they are not aggressive and rarely sting.  Finally, if it is an absolute necessity (and it rarely is) then I offer information on how to relocate a nest.

However, if you simply find an active bumblebee nest, it is preferable to leave it alone if you can.

But....

  • What if you disturb or accidentally damage a bumblebee nest, what should you do then? 
  • What if bumblebees return to the site of a previous nest, and...
  • How long will a bumblebee colony be in place?


Here are a couple of queries I have had recently, along with my replies, in the hope that this information will prove useful to others.

In the right hand margin there is also further information regarding honey bees and carpenter bees, for which the advice is different.


Bumblebee nest disturbed in a compost heap

Bumblebees nesting in a compost heap is quite common.

In this query from a visitor, the nest has been damaged and exposed:


Query:

"Hello, I am buying a plot of land and we knew there was a bumble bee nest in an old compost bin.

I had arranged for the nest to be left until the winter and then I would move the bin, however, the bin has been tipped over and the nest disturbed.

 

The bees are milling around and I would like to save the nest. What should I do?"

My response:

"Sorry to hear about the accident with the bumblebee nest, and thank you for caring about the bees.

I suspect the most immediate threat will be predators, and potentially being destroyed by some other means e.g. being trampled on, or something falling/blowing on to them.

Bees are quite persistent, however, and I imagine they'll be working hard to save the nest.  By now, they may have salvaged their nectar pots.  If you try to move the nest, there is a risk they'll be tipped over, but you can try.

Personally, in this situation, just for now, I would try to provide some protection from predators (birds, badgers, other insects/invertebrates etc) and the risk that they'll be stepped on - e.g. perhaps use wood or similar, to erect a temporary 'wall' to provide some protection, but ensure the bees can get in and out in the short term. 

Return to the nest in the evening with a large plant pot with a hole at the top.  If the bees are around the colony, place the pot over the top, so they can get in and out of the hole. I suggest not covering the nest completely until the evening when foragers have returned to the nest.  This is to reduce the risk of confusion for foragers returning to the nest during the day.  


My only concern is that the pot can be knocked over, again by predators, (foxes, badgers), so if you can find a way to protect the plant pot and nest further, this would help."


Found a bumblebee nest in the garage

Bees will often turn up in places where we are not expecting.  I find people want to help, but they just want to know how long they need to wait for the bumblebees to have finished with their nest.  It is never possible to say exactly, but one thing is certain - their nests are short term only, and even if 2 colonies are reared, they will usually be gone by November at the latest.  Only queen bumblebees hibernate and emerge the following year, although there is evidence of  winter active bumblebees, but this is not common.  See Where do bees go in winter?


Query:

"Hi, today I opened my garage to find that some bees had made a nest in an old kitchen cabinet that I intended to take to the skip. After reading your site I can confirm that they are bumblebees and I'm more than happy to do my bit and let them stay there until they move on. However if you could tell me when they are most likely to move on, I'd be very grateful" -  (May).

My response:

"It really depends on the species and stage of the colony, but I suspect it will be finished by the end of August, possibly a little sooner or later. If you are able to check every now and then, you'll be able to see whether there are any bees tending the colony.  Queens and males will be the last to be reared and emerge from the colony.

Thanks for caring about the bees - it really helps".


Bees in the shed - using an old nest

I am sometimes asked if bumblebees will return to an old nest site.  Since colonies die at the end of the season, what is really being asked is whether the nests are used repeatedly - i.e. by new colonies.

I understand that this can happen, but is not especially common because bumblebees are fussy, and the nest would need to be free of parasites etc.  However, it can and does happen.


If this is inconvenient for you, the best thing to do is remove the old nest and block any entrance holes to stop new queens from making a nest there in the future.


Query:

"Hello, I had a nest of bees in my shed last year, made from rolled up hanging basket liner. I read your advice and thought that they would go of their own accord so left them alone. I cleared the shed and moved the liner (now stuck to a box) and there was a very loud buzzing so must still be there. What should I do?"

My response:


"Thank you for your email - and for caring about the bees!
Without seeing your situation directly, I cannot be too sure, but possibly:

  • a new nest is now establishing itself
  • you have awoken a queen taking shelter (lots of buzzing or a single buzz?  Lots of buzzing would indicate a colony, a single buzz may mean you have disturbed a single queen).

If you believe you have a 'single buzz', you could first carefully take a look to check whether there is a nest. If not, you may simply have a queen bumblebee taking shelter, in which case, leave her undisturbed for a little longer if you can (hibernation will be over soon) and simply clear away and tidy the area that appears to be attracting the bees.

If you have a nest, you could leave it for now, until the season has finished.  Wait until October/November, or when it appears there is no more buzzing and the bees are gone.  Then tidy away the area that is attracting bees, and block any holes allowing them to get in.

If it is not a single queen, then what has happened here is that you have a new colony.  It won't be the old colony - the old colonies do indeed die off.  You can resolve the matter for the future by clearing away the 'ideal nest conditions' for the bumblebees at the end of the season, to discourage future nests.

I hope this helps.  Again, thank you for caring and allowing them to thrive last year - much appreciated!  Bumblebees are not deliberately aggressive and are so important as a species.  You might have seen this report about the decline of bumblebees, so your help really matters:  http://www.iucn.org/?14612/Bad-news-for-Europes-bumblebees "



If you have found a honey bee nest or swarm, I recommend you contact a beekeeper - see this page.

If you are in the US and have large carpenter bees, do see this information.



If
you have found a bee and don't know what to do, click here






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Help with honey bees
and
Help with carpenter bees

If you find a bedraggled bumblebee needing help, feed it sugar water, NOT honey.
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There is very rarely a good reason to remove bumblebee nests.  They only last a season.

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