I receive a number of queries about bumblebees with damaged wings. Usually, the bee has been found, and a kind person is concerned, and wants to know whether it is possible to assist the bee in any way.
Bumblebees have 2 sets of wings, as all bees do. During flight, bumblebees twist their wings using their flight muscles, to help them gain lift. You can read more about bumblebee flight, and watch a video here.
Bumblebee wings often become damaged and ragged with aging 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 in such a condition bees 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.
The usual query I receive is along these lines:
"I have found a bumblebee with a damaged/broken wing. It can't fly. I brought it into the house and gave it a little sugar water, but now what should I do?"
If you have found a bumblebee in a similar condition, my advice to you would be to take it outside and place it on some flowers where it can spend the remainder of its time in its natural environment, and allow nature to take its course.
Do not 'beat yourself up' - you have done your very best. Bumblebees only last a season - only the new queens survive, and they are the ones which mate, then hibernate and create new colonies the following year. Usually, the rest of the bumblebee colony dies, and hence it is quite natural that most bumblebees will live only for a few weeks.
And finally, thank you, for caring about the bees! If you'd like to help bees, however, there is still much you can do to assist bees for the rest of this year, and to help future colonies:
- cut out the pesticides, and include lots of plants for bees in your garden!
Another query I have usually involved a bumblebee with a "deformed wing", and a kindly person who is trying their best to look after it.
Here is one such query I received:
"Hi I have a bumblebee in my care for the last few days. I found it thinking it was dead at first but it's became quite lively. I gave it sugar water placed it on a plant on the sill and after I fell asleep for an hour (I do crazy shifts) it was nowhere to be found. 2 days later I find it crawling about so I've put it in a box with sugar water and a wee fabric hut to get in at night. It's the third day now and at a loss what to do as it has deformed wings and can't fly (but bless it its trying!) Should I let nature take its course and find a suitable garden to put it in or gather some flowers and foliage to make it as comfortable as possible? Thanks"
My response was as follows:
"Thank you for your very kind email about your attempts to help a bumblebee. I have come across similar scenarios, and all I can say, is you have absolutely done your best to help this little creature, but you can do no more. If the bumblebee 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 how to help a bumblebee, and in particular, whether acrylic glue could be used to stick the 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, I'm not aware of
anyone attempting this on bumblebees. I think it would be trickier with
bees than with butterflies, as getting the bee to be still, and avoiding being
stung would already be a challenge (butterflies can more easily be held by the
wings that are conveniently away from the body too).
I imagine it would be impossible to prevent the glue soaking through the delicate bumblebee wing onto the furry coat of the bumblebee, thus the wing would then be stuck to the body, which would be worse.
It may be possible to use a very delicate pin to ‘dot’ the tiniest amount of glue on to the wing, provided that the bee would keep still. Then I would be concerned that the bee would begin to groom, and get glue onto its legs, and elsewhere.
In short, this is not something I would personally attempt. I can't think how it would be possible to achieve this successfully.
I always appreciate the kind concern some people have for bees, although in these cases I’m afraid I don’t have any further suggestions.
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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