Found a bee and not sure what to do?
Is it looking somewhat wet,
bedraggled and in a bit of a sorry state? Should you feed it with sugar or honey?
Usually, it will be a bumble bee that got caught in the rain, but you may also have found a honey bee, or even a solitary bee.
Please note that if the weather is dry, and the bee is simply motionless on a flower, leave it alone. It is simply resting (scientists have confirmed that bees sometimes exhibit characteristics which could be described as 'sleep'), and will become active again in its own time. Don't be tempted to interfere in such cases.
In general, it is best to allow the bee to remain outside, where it can get access to flowers. However, if it's raining, and you have found a bee that is very wet and can hardly move, if possible, bring it into a dry place. If you place the bee in
a box, ensure there are sufficient air holes so that it can breathe. Please note, your aim must be to release it again as soon as possible - preferably immediately if the bee feeds straight away - see below.
If I have found a bee should I feed it?
You may offer the bee a solution of sugar water made with clean water and ordinary granulated sugar (do NOT use artificial or diet sweeteners or demerera sugar). The ratio of sugar to water should be about 1:2 (i.e. one spoon of sugar to two spoons of water).
Do not use honey, because honey may contain traces of viruses that may be passed on to the wild bee.
Even if you are attempting to revive
a honey bee, do not feed it honey – honey bees should only ever be
given their own honey, and should not be given honey from other colonies, even if it
The best way to offer the sugar water is to sprinkle drops of water on to the solid work surface near to the bee, or dip a flower head into it - this could be a dandelion head, for instance. One gentleman wrote to me to say that he uses moss.
If this is not possible, use a spoon. It's important to ensure the bee will not fall in to the liquid and drown (if there is a lot of liquid).
If it is dark, you could
keep the bee indoors. Find a place that is not too hot or cold, where it can remain undisturbed over night.
As stated, the aim is to set the bee free as early as possible in the morning. You could offer more sugar water first, but it's best to let it go and find some flowers.
Please note, bees, and especially wild bees, do not
make pets! (Yes, I have been asked). For one thing, bees need to get back to their colonies as quickly as possible. Secondly, sugar water is not a suitable alternative for
nectar and pollen for very long, since pollen and nectar contain other
nutrients and fats needed by bees which are not present in sugar. Bees need to be able to forage in the outdoors to gather what they need, and take it back to their colonies.
The bee may even be a queen, in which case, queens establish the next generation of bees, and they need to be allowed every possibility to do just this.
Also, bees have short life cycles, in which the busy bee has much to do in a matter of weeks! New queen bumble bees need to have the opportunity to mate, feast on pollen, then find a place to hibernate, and they need to be free and outdoors to do this.
If you have found a bee that is in a particularly bad way it is possible that the bee will not survive. However, bees can surprise us! It's worth a try, and it's a great pleasure to help a creature. Do not get upset, however, if it does not live. There could be a number of reasons, such as an internal parasite or injury. If you encounter a bee with damaged wings or limbs, leave it alone and allow nature to take its course. Bees do become somewhat more ragged with age, and perhaps after attack, but they will continue to be as busy as they can be, if able. I recall sitting on a beach one day when Bombus pascuorum (Common Carder bee) landed on my shorts. It clearly had one leg missing, yet flew away moments after.
I received a wonderful email from a reader, Cheryl Colpman - it just proves that you can make a difference, and I especially like the wonderful idea of dipping a chive flower into the sugar water - the lady has kindly agreed to allow me to add her experience to this website. I hope it inspires others:
What if I have found a bee that is hardly moving. The weather is fine and dry. What should I do?
In this case, as stated previously, it is usually best to leave it alone. It is possible you may have found a bee that has an internal parasite that is not visible to you, and it may die a natural death. On the other hand, it may simply be resting! See my page Do bees sleep?
I have found a bumble bee with lots of mites on its body. What should I do?
Bumble bees can often cope with a few mites, and indeed, you may witness one foraging among flowers regardless of the mites sitting on its thorax. In this case, leave the bumble bee alone. However, if a bumble bee has many mites, AND is barely moving, you can attempt to help it. Use a VERY fine, child's paint brush, or, take a clean facial tissue or piece of kitchen towel, and twist the end until you have made a fine point. Dampen the tissue slightly, and use this to flick the mites off the bumblebee. Please be very gentle.
Update: if you have found a bee with mites, I now have a more detailed page about this issue, and how to help. Please go to How To Help Bees With Mites.
What if I want to feed the bees?
If you want to feed the bees, the best way is to provide bee plants that are rich in nectar and pollen, and are not poisoned with insecticides.
Please do not capture bees, purely in order to see if it will allow you to feed it. (I hear stories of this – it isn’t helping the bees, it is simply preventing them feeding in a natural way on the things they need, which include the different pollens and nectars from a variety of flowers).
Of those who buy bumble bee houses, I would think that most if not all of them, have done so because they wish to help the bees.
However, I have heard of bee houses – particularly bumble bee houses - for sale, with instructions to capture queens, and feed them sugar water for a while in order to persuade them to make a nest in the bee house.
you have purchased such a bumble bee house, I would ask you: please
ignore any suggestion to capture queen bumble bees and trap them inside
it. For a start, you may capture a species that prefers different
By all means, purchase a bee house, place some hamster bedding in it, and put it in a sheltered area in the shade, away from ants and animals, then let nature take its course.
believe (although I do not know for sure) that the advice about
capturing wild queens may have been based
on the particular writings of an individual, who had a lot of
experience and knowledge of bumble bees, and who had a garden
designed, very well established and planted especially for them. This
gentleman had specific expertise, and a flower packed garden (just the
right ones) developed over many years.
Unfortunately, whilst the intentions of people are good, I would say there are very few people with the knowledge and circumstances of this particular gentleman. For a start, many people will not be aware that some bumble bee species prefer to make their nests on tufts of grass.
There is no need to capture bumble bees to try and force the situation. If it is a suitable site (which means location, ventilation, available forage, predators, cleanliness etc), bees may find it (although possibly not in the first year).
One of the most promising signs is actually to find that a mouse has made a nest in the bumble bee house! Some bumble bees love to make homes in abandoned rodent nests, and may occupy it the following year. You can read more about bumble bee nests here. I have also created a bees nest Q&A which provides much more information about bee nests, including what to do if you find one.
In addition, some species of bumble bee may take up residence in a compost heap or abandoned bird house (above).
With regard to solitary bee houses, you are likely to be successful more quickly than with a bumblebee house. You can make your own by providing hollow canes, or again there are many available to purchase. You may attract lovely leafcutter bees or marvellous mason bees. There is no need to capture solitary bees. If you provide the right conditions and if there are enough of the right kinds of plants in the area, a solitary bee house may be occupied even in its first year.
I’ve found a bee – can I not simply see if it wants to make a nest in my bee house?
If it is a bumble bee, note that only queens make nests. Do you know for sure that it is a queen, and not a large worker or a cuckoo bumble bee? It is better to follow the advice above – take steps to revive the bee if necessary, and focus on creating an outdoor environment that is favoured by bees.
I have specific advice regarding this query here.
Learn more about bees from the following links:
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