"How do I rescue a bee from a spider's web, without damaging the wings and legs? What's the best way to do it? We have lots of spider webs in our garden, and bees get trapped all the time, but when I try to help, the wings and legs are covered in cobweb. What is the best way to help and to free the bee, and will the bee survive?"
"I rescued a bee from a spider's web, and now it's covered in cobweb. Help, what can I do?"
I receive such queries every now and then. Often, the visitor will have read my account of rescuing trapped bees, however, that particular page is more about the dilemma I feel: whether it is fair to deprive a spider of its meal, whether I should let nature take its course, or whether bees are so in need of help, I should follow my instincts (which are to help the trapped bee - I'm sure many conservationists and arachnid fans will be horrified and appalled!).
In addition to which, in my experience, it's also true that sometimes I have seen cobwebs directly around the entrance of bumblebee and solitary nests - yet the bees have continued regardless. However, there are times when bees get trapped, especially around bee-friendly plants!
Anyway, the page I wrote previously gives no instructions about how to rescue bees from cobwebs. At the risk of upsetting spider fans, I'm afraid I'm going to provide some guidance here.
Please note, this is only based on my own personal experience, and my general thoughts about what it's best to do.
When approaching a bee trapped in a web, try to approach from the underside of the bee, if that makes sense, as if you were scooping it up and out of the web.
I have found that a
'scooping' action from the underside, helps the bee to become less tangled.
At the end of the day though, you can only do your best.
Sometimes, a large spider may get the better of our pollinator friends too quickly. I was too late to save a marmalade hoverfly the other day - a large spider dashed out of the web, and bit into the hoverfly. There was nothing I could do. This can happen with small bees too, but I think bumblebees often stand a better chance. If you see a bee completely wrapped up in spider web, with a spider right by it, leave it.
One particular email I received concerned a bumblebee which had managed to get its legs entangled in cobweb - I suspect, partly during the rescue attempt!
Best thing to do is not to try and remove the cobweb from the bee, because limbs and wings can become accidentally damaged. The bee will clean the web off itself if freed from the web. I have observed this plenty of times.
It is tempting to think that the bee can't manage, because it may start buzzing furiously. We might panic and think "The bee can't free itself" and that's when it's tempting (albeit with good intentions) to interfere a little too much. On the other hand, the bee may quietly get on with grooming itself. On the other hand the bee may 'rest' a little, before removing the web - this is also okay. Just leave it alone and it will sort itself out.
Sometimes, you may notice that there appears to be a piece of cobweb which is especially troublesome. RESIST the temptation to panic, and 'help' the bee. It can manage on its own. Remember also that their legs and bodies are covered in a fine trace of oil. This will also help them to groom away the cobweb.
If you try to help, though your intentions
are very good, this will be more stressful for the bee, and could harm
delicate wings and limbs - especially with too much pulling and dragging.
If you have used a stick or something similar to free the bee from the cobweb, and the bee is still attached to the stick by a little piece of web - then place the stick on the ground out of danger (ensure legs are not trapped beneath the stick), and the bee will get on with cleaning itself, then fly off.
Or keep hold of the stick and observe the bee as it grooms itself clean - but resist the temptation to interfere!
About 2 days after I received the latest query about this issue, I was in the greenhouse, pruning the tomato leaves with a pair of scissors, when a buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) flew in. Very quickly, it got itself entangled in a piece of web attached to a tomato leaf. I clipped off the leaf and took it outside.
The bumblebee had cobweb on one of its wings and 2 of its legs. I was keen to double check that yes indeed, my advice is correct, so I stood and observed the bumblebee, resisting all temptation to "help" it remove the cobweb from its limbs, even when it would have seemed easy to 'break' a piece of web attached to the leaf.
All in all, it took about two and a half minutes for the bumblebee to clean itself up, and fly off.
It's a tricky thing, because ordinarily, I'm always in favour of allowing nature to take its course, and spiders perform their own important role in the ecosystem, but I must admit, I find myself rescuing bees from garden spider webs every now and then. I don't think our local spider populations are suffering.
It's also true that I find spiders can be fascinating to watch, and their webs are a work of art, especially appreciated when decorated with droplets of dew. I have often been amused to watch a very fine strand of cobweb floating toward me on a gentle breeze, with a teeny tiny spider at the end of it. It's how that particular type of spider manages to extend its web in the first place. But I must admit to feeling the creeps when I see very large garden spiders in webs, or huge house spiders in the bath!
Nevertheless, I find my actions following the direction of my heart: I rescue bees from spider webs, and so if you find such situations irrestible yourself, I hope this page has been useful.
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