I receive a number of queries about bumble bees with damaged wings every year.
Usually, the bee has been found by a kind person who is concerned, and wants to know whether it is possible to assist the bee in any way.
All bees have 2 sets of wings. During flight, bumble bees twist their wings using their flight muscles, to help them gain lift. You can read more about bumble bee flight, and watch a video here.
Bumble bee wings often become damaged and ragged with age and exposure to the elements, and this is one of the ways in which older bees can be distinguished from younger ones. Despite this, they can usually continue to forage for some time.
Though you will understandably want to help, it's generally best to leave the bee alone.
If the bee is moving around, it may well at some point fly off if it is still able to do so.
A bee that is not moving may be resting, or may have an internal parasite. There may not be any connection between the bee's stationary state and ragged wings.
At the most, it's acceptable to drip a little sugar water close to the bee to see if it will feed.
However, my advice to you would be to leave it outside, and if you have already taken it into the house, take it back out again and place it on some flowers where it can spend the remainder of its time in its natural environment.
Then allow nature to take its course.
Do not 'beat yourself up' - you have done your very best. Bumble bees only live for a few weeks - only the new queens survive for longer, and they are the ones which mate, then hibernate and create new colonies the following year.
If you'd like to help bees, however, there is still much you can do to assist future colonies, in particular, include lots of plants for bees in your garden!
One query I had concerned a bumble bee with a "deformed wing", and a kindly person trying their best to look after it.
Here is the query I received:
My response was as follows:
"Thank you for your very kind email about your attempts to help a bumble bee. I have come across similar scenarios, and all I can say is that you have absolutely done your best to help this little creature, but you can do no more.
If the bumble bee is still alive right now, I advise you to place it outside on some flowers - if possible, whilst it is still light - or very early in the morning (I don't know what your shifts are) and allow nature to take its course.
The kindness people such as yourself obviously feel
is very touching, but we can only do so much."
I received a query asking whether acrylic glue could be used to stick a bee’s wing back together, as the wing was split.
This method has been used in special circumstances to assist butterflies by people who work with butterflies specifically.
Again, I was very touched by the kindness in this person’s email, but whilst I am aware that glue has been used to repair the wings of Monarch butterflies, it would not be possible to use this method with bees.
Monarch butterflies have large wings that can be held carefully by persons experienced in this method.
With bees, the wings are smaller and closer to the body, so it would not possible to prevent the glue soaking through the delicate bumble bee wing and onto the furry coat of the bumble bee. Thus, the wing would then be stuck to the body, which would be worse.
In any event, getting the bee to be still, and avoiding being
stung would already be a challenge.
I always appreciate the kind concern some people have for bees.
However, as stated, we can thankfully still help the rest of the bees in our gardens, by ensuring we include lots of plants they love, and also by spreading the word about the need to help bees and other pollinators.
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