Feeding Sugar To Bumble Bees

Date: 21st April 2021


If you have found a bumble bee, you may be concerned about its survival and whether you should feed it with sugar water.

Question: 
Should I feed a bumble bee with sugar water?  How do I feed sugar water to bumble bees?

The short answer is:
Preferably no.  It is better to place bees onto flowers where they can feed properly.  If you are thinking of feeding the bee, please read this advice first.  Please remember that bees have existed and managed for thousands of years without human interference.  The best way to help bees is by having bee-friendly plants in your garden.  Thank you.

Whether to feed bumble bees with sugar or not

Bumble bees have existed thousands of years without the 'assistance' of humans capturing them and giving sugar water, which is not without risk.  The best thing we can all do to help bees is have lots of plants and shrubs for bees in our gardens, and cut out insecticides.

It is true, however, that some people are able to feed bees without mishap.  However, there is rarely a need to help bees in this way.  It is better for them to be free to forage for the nectar and pollen they need.  Nectar offers nutrients not present in sugar, pollen provides essential protein and fats.

Feeding bumble bees with sugar water

It is admirable that so many people wish to rescue and help bees.   When I first started this website years ago, far fewer people were trying to take an active role to preserve the lives of our buzzing furry friends.  In fact, the first time I saw the tip about offering sugar water, it was mentioned in a certain bee conservation news letter.  In theory, it can be harmless - after all, honey bees are sometimes given sugar by beekeepers.  However, with the increasing awareness of the plight of pollinators, bees are on the radar for many.

Due to this, it is very common for people to find an inactive bumble bee, and for them to try and help it, even when the bee doesn't need it.  What I have noticed is:

  • There are genuine cases where a person has been able to assist a bumble bee, and they have quite possibly prevented it from dying, usually in very poor weather.  

  • There are times when the person simply wanted to do something, but the bee itself was always fine. It is not uncommon for bees to rest and be inactive for a while.  Interfering is not the best thing in such circumstances.  In the summer time and warm spring months, please leave resting bees alone, thank you. 

Attempting to help a bee (whether it is needed or not) can directly or indirectly cause an accident which can damage the bee, or possibly cause stress unnecessarily.  

As somebody who cares, please take all these points in to account before you try to assist a bumble bee by feeding sugar water.  It is rarely necessary.


Potential problems


The worst I have heard of, was a bee getting a strong solution of sugar water onto the wings and hairy body.  How this happened was not explained.  I suspect spillage from above was the problem, or a container may have been tipped over.

Sugar water becomes sticky as it dries.  Please take into account that sugar water is used to stiffen cotton crocheted table mats, and is very effective.  Given this fact, it seems that  sugar water on delicate wings could cause tremendous problems.  

I disagree with websites advising that people offer bumble bees a strong sugar solution, such as a 70/30 ratio of sugar to water.  I suspect this could cause even more problems in the event of an accident.  I would rather that in most cases, the bee is left alone.

bumble bee foraging on a pink dog rose with hind legs loaded with yellow pollenBumble bee with loaded pollen baskets on hind legs.


Please do NOT attempt to feed a bumble bee:

During warmer times of the year, or dry, cool weather.  Bees can be at risk in very cool temperatures, but they can withstand a certain amount of cold.  If you are reading this at a time of very cold conditions and you are concerned, please see the link below for further information.  It may be better in such circumstances to shield the bee with an upturned terracotta plant pot with a hole in the bottom.

Please don't attempt to feed a bee with sugar water because you want to watch it consuming something you provided, even if your intentions may be very kind.


Feeding sugar water to bees

  • PLEASE DO NOT SPILL OR ALLOW THE BEE TO GET SUGAR SOLUTION ON THEIR WINGS. 

  • If in doubt, don't feed!

  • Recipe:  Measure out the sugar water properly: one teaspoon of water to two teaspoons of sugar.  Allow the sugar to dissolve.

  • Offer only a small drop at a time on a clean surface and see if the bee wants it.  Clean it away immediately if not.  

  • Do not leave the solution with the bee in a box overnight incase of accidents. 

  • Offer the solution only if necessary and only when you can keep an eye on things.  Unless you can supervise whether the bee wants it, don't offer it. 

  • Only attempt to help if you find a bee in a bedraggled state that might not survive.


Further information

Bumble bee survival in cool temperatures
Please read this page if you have found an immobile bumble bee in very cold weather.




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