Bee Nests FAQs

Updated: 26th February 2021


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.  For those who come across a bee nest, one of the most common questions is:

"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, and the angle from which this question is asked, i.e. 'how do I help' or 'how do I remove it'.  

Bee Nests - FAQS

Below is a Q&A with links to help you decide which route to take if you have found a bee nest, plus further information about bee nests generally.  If you are urgently needing assistance with a particular scenario, please see the 'Help' section at the bottom, which covers my answers to specific queries received over the years - e.g. what to do about a bee nest in the compost heap, house eaves etc.

Hope the information below helps!


Bumble bee nests


Q: I have found a bee 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?

sign by a wall highlighting the location of a bumble bee nest in the soil

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.


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?



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. In addition, you may see a bumble bee flying about with phoretic mites - you can read more about this subject here

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 wax 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.  Others will use crevices in walls.

Bumble bee nest in the ground and 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 bees prefer to nest in aerial situations, such as crevices and holes in tree trunks, or even roofs or eaves of houses,  or inside bird housesor even the compost heap.

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


A: Not necessarily, so if you can avoid moving it, the colony will have a greater chance of success. 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.


It is time and resource consuming for bumble bees to have to start a new colony and nest, with reduced time available in which to begin the process, 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 new queens.

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



Honey bees


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


elongated Honey bee (Apis mellifera) swarm hanging from a tree branchHoney 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 - many are on social media.   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.

Photograph of a tree in which there is a wild honey bee 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.

Answer:

If the honey bee 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. Honey bee nests need careful handling so as to ensure no honey comb is left behind, 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.  


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, where it seems to be living.  Was I seeing things? Won’t it damage my plants?


graphic explaining that neat, circular or crescent shaped holes in leaves are likely to be caused by leafcutter bees.   The plant should be fine.

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 bonus 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.


Help With Bees

click here




bumble bee on lavender - links to page about why bumble bees fly against windows

Why do bumble bees fly into windows?

Read



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