Bee Nests FAQs


Many people automatically assume that all bees live in hives. However, bee nests vary greatly, and as far as hives are concerned, they are of course a man made contraption designed specifically for keeping honey bees, and to enable access to the combs and honey for beekeepers.



Throughout this feature, and at the bottom of this page, you’ll see links to other areas of the site about bumble bee, honey and solitary bee nests, and what to do if you need to move a bee nest.

However, one of the most common questions I get it:

"I have found a bee nest, what should I do?"

It all depends on whether it belongs to bumble bees, honey bees or solitary bees. 

Also, people have different reasons for asking this question (ranging from 'how to help' to 'how to remove'), so I have devised a simple Q&A with links to help you decide which route to take.

If you are urgently needing assistance with a particular scenario, please see the 'Help' section in the navigation bar right.

Hope the information below helps!


Bumble bees


Q: I have found a bees nest with a colony of bumble bees.  I’ve heard bees are having a hard time.  Is there anything I can do to help the nest to be successful?

Answer:

There are some general ways you can help:

    - Keep children and animals away from bee nests.

    - Avoid using pesticides in your garden – even the ones that say they are safe to use if bees are not foraging. In any event, the foraging times of different bee species (as well as that of other pollinators) are not well understood, and may not only depend on the types of bees but also the species of flower.

    - Take a look at the resources on this site. Perhaps you could supplement your garden with more bee-friendly plants to provide a long season of pollen and nectar sources?

However, the most important thing is to try and leave the bumble bee nest alone, because if you interfere with the nest in any way, this may backfire.





Q: I have found a bumble bee nest, and it appears to be infested with some form of parasite. Is there anything I can do?


White-tailed bumble bee - Bombus lucorum (male) on white clover.White-tailed bumble bee - Bombus lucorum (male) on white clover.

Answer: 

Not at this point unfortunately. There may or may not be any harm to the colony. For example, some mites cause little problem, and some are believed to be beneficial, although a very heavy infestation may hamper the colony to some degree.

There is some debate about the larvae of a type of hoverfly – Volucella bombylans, which perform the beneficial task of eating debris inside bee nests, although they may eat a few bumble bee larvae too. Generally, however, it is thought that bumble bees can rear their colonies in any case.

Wax moths, however, are a different matter, and are bad news if they manage to get into bee nests. Wax moths burrow silky tunnels through the clusters of bumble bee brood cells. Although it will be too late for this colony, an interesting tip I have heard is to place mint plants near to bee nests. This is believed to deter wax moth, although whether or not it works for bumble bees, I do not know. Certainly, beekeepers sometimes rub hives with natural mint scented oil diluted with water in order to deter was moths.


Q: Where do bumble bees make their nests?


A. It depends on the species.  Carder species may nest openly on tufts of grass.

Some bumble bees use holes in the ground - perhaps abandoned rodent holes or holes and crevices naturally caused by formations of tree roots.

This bumble bee nest is occupied by the white-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lucorum). The pink circle highlights a bee entering the nest.This bumble bee nest is occupied by the white-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lucorum). The pink circle highlights a bee entering the nest.

Some bumble bees will use crevices in walls and rocks.

There was actually a bumble bee nest in this wall!There was actually a bumble bee nest in this wall!

Other bees prefer to nest in aerial situations, such as crevices and holes in tree trunks, or even roofs or eaves of houses.


Some bumble bees are very adaptable, and will inhabit bird houses..... 

This tree bee (Bombus hypnorum reared a colony in this old bird house.This tree bee (Bombus hypnorum reared a colony in this old bird house.

…...or even the compost heap.


Q: I have found a bumble bee nest and would like to move it.  Surely, if I just move it out of its spot, it will build a new nest somewhere else and will be okay?

A: Not necessarily. Please note, fewer than half of bumble bee nests are successful, and good nesting sites are hard to come by for bees due to reduction in suitable habitat (e.g. clearing of old hedgerows).

In order to be considered a success, a colony MUST produce new queens, because they are the only bumble bees to survive the winter (following mating, they then hibernate, whereas the rest of the colony will not usually survive). The bumble bees will only be around for a season, and they provide an excellent "bee pollination" service

It would also be time and resource consuming for bumble bees to have to start a new colony and nest, with less available time in the season, and quite possibly fewer suitable flowers for foraging.  To explain further, when a queen establishes a colony, there are many considerations:

  • finding a suitable site
  • construction of egg cells with wax
  • gathering sufficient pollen & nectar to equip the larval cells.
  • then there is incubation and larvae development time, and the need to gather more food, and produce workers, males and queens.


However, if you really feel you must move a nest, please visit this page for further help and advice.


Honey bees

Honey bee - Apis mellifera foraging on hardy geraniumHoney bee - Apis mellifera foraging on hardy geranium.


Q: There’s a great big clump of bees on my fence.  They arrived yesterday, and I’m worried they’ve decided to nest there.

Honey bee (Apis mellifera) swarm.Honey bee (Apis mellifera) swarm.

Answer:

Sounds to me like it’s a honey bee swarm. To learn more about this fascinating natural phenomenon, read this link about swarming bees.

For advice follow this link about bee swarm removal.  

Alternatively, contact your local beekeeping association. 

In the meantime, note that honey bee swarms are only aggressive if they feel threatened or provoked (in actual fact, a swarm is relatively docile), but keep your distance anyway. Also, keep pets and children away from the bees until you have implemented the advice given on the link.


Q: I’m concerned about a honey bee nest on my property.  I don’t know how long they have been there, and I don’t know what to do.

This photograph was taken in winter.  There is a wild honey bee nest in this tree.  The arrow points to a pale 'vertical' line - this is one of the entrance crevices to the nest.This photograph was taken in winter. There is a wild honey bee nest in this tree. The arrow points to a pale 'vertical' line - this is one of the entrance crevices to the nest.
This is a close up photograph of the nest entrance - with honey bees.This is a close up photograph of the nest entrance - with honey bees.

Answer:

If the nest is in a natural setting, such as a tree crevice, are you able to leave the nest alone and allow it to remain?


If the nest is in a building and in an inconvenient place, ask a beekeeper to take a look at the situation for you. Without a doubt, beekeepers are the best people when it comes to honey bee nest removal, since nests need careful handling so as to ensure no honey comb is left behind.  

Why?

Simply because this could attract more bees and wasps after the original honey bees themselves have moved on. A beekeeper will be able to assist in a way that is humane.

If you have difficult locating a beekeeping, you may have to call in a specialist.  Try to find one that can remove the nest humanely.  Some can perform relocations and some have developed means to remove bees via a special suction mechanism.

You may also find the link on bee swarm removal highlighted in the paragraph above of benefit too.

Try not to worry. Although it may be an inconvenience until the beekeeper arrives, in the meantime they'll help pollinate your flowers and garden plants. If you are concerned about stings, read this informative link about bee stings (including how to prevent them) and treatments.


Q: I asked a beekeeper to remove a swarm of bees, but he wouldn’t. Surely, it’s his/her duty?

Answer:

Not necessarily,  the beekeeper in question may have their own reasons for not being able to assist. Find another beekeeper. There’s some advice about how to find a beekeeper on the link highlighted above with regard to bee swarm removal.


Solitary bees


Q: I’m concerned about the carpenter bees in my garden furniture. I want to get rid of them. What should I do?

Answer:

I have several pages about carpenter bees.  Please click my link for more information about carpenter bees.


Q: I found segments of leaf cut away from my roses. To my surprise I found the culprit – a bee appeared to fly off with a piece of leaf. I then saw it entering one of the hollow garden canes in my border. Was I seeing things? Won’t it damage my plants?


Answer:

Lucky you! You’ve got lovely leafcutter bees nesting in your garden, providing a pollination service for your border plants.

Does it damage your roses when you dead head or prune them? No! Of course not!

This little bee should cause no long-lasting harm to your roses or any other plants.

Leafcutter bees will use the leaf segments to construct egg cells. They only make a few cells, and will only survive a season.

Many people in the know are purposely trying to attract these wonderful little pollinators, so it’s a real advantage to have attracted leafcutter bees and this little bee nest into your garden without having made any special effort!


Q: I've seen just a few bees nesting in the brick work of my garage. What should I do?

Mason beeMason bee

Answer:

Could be mason bees, and they are quite harmless. To learn more about mason bee nests and help you identify them, follow this link about mason bees.


In summary...

Bee nests are generally a welcome site in any garden. The bees themselves will pollinate your plants, and most will only last a season.

Take a look at the available information about bees on this site to learn more about these important little pollinators.


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