Updated: 1st March 2021
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 also confirmed that bees sometimes exhibit characteristics which could be described as 'sleep'), and it will probably become active again in its own time.
Please do not be tempted to interfere in such cases.
However, if it's raining and getting dark, and you have found a bee that is very wet, bedraggled and can hardly move, and in an exposed position, you could use a ceramic plant pot with a hole in the bottom, and cover the bumble bee to provide a little extra shelter. The bee will be able to escape in the morning through the hole.
It is best to allow the bee to remain outside, where it can get access to nectar and pollen from flowers.
If you have no suitable plant pot available, then you could place the bee in
a shoe box, ensure there are sufficient air holes so that it can breathe. Please note, this is the last resort and your aim must be to release it again as soon as possible - the next day.
If you have discovered a bee described in the conditions above, 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). Please do not offer a higher concentration of sugar than this.
Update: I have more in depth information on feeding sugar to bees.
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 a clean, 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.
The bee may be resting, and not ready to fully emerge from hibernation. This is one of the reasons why it is better to leave it outside. However, bumble bees may struggle to survive at a temperature of around -7.1°C1. (See - Can Bumble Bees Survive Cool Temperatures?).
If the bee has an internal parasite, it is possible that the bee will not survive.
If you encounter a bee with damaged wings or limbs, leave it alone and allow nature to take its course. Bees do become more ragged with age or perhaps after attack, but given the chance, they will continue to be as busy as possible. I recall sitting on a beach one day when a 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 proves that you really can make a difference, and the lady has kindly agreed to allow me to add her experience to this website. I hope it inspires others:
If you want to feed the bees, the best way is to provide
that are rich in nectar and pollen. Avoid insecticides.
Please do not capture a bee, 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).
I suspect most people who buy bumble bee houses wish to help the bees.
However, I have heard of 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, please
ignore suggestions to capture queen bumble bees. 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 the advice about
capturing wild queens may have been based
on the particular writings of an gentleman, who had a lot of
experience and in-depth knowledge of bumble bees, and who had a garden
designed, very well established and planted especially for them.
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. Many people will not be aware that some bumble bee species prefer to make their nests on tufts of grass. There is also a risk the bumble bee queen has already begun to rear a colony.
Therefore, my advice is this: create the conditions to encourage bees into your garden – by creating a bee garden. This is achieved mainly with plants for bees.
If you choose to purchase a bumble bee house, one of the most promising signs is actually to find that a mouse has made a nest in it first! Some bumble bees love to make nests in abandoned rodent nests, and may occupy it the following year.
In addition, some species of bumble bee may take up residence in a compost heap or abandoned bird house.
You are likely to be successful more quickly with a solitary bee house than with a bumble bee house. There is no need to capture solitary bees. If you provide the right conditions and plants, a solitary bee house may be occupied even in its first year, perhaps by mason bees or leafcutters.
See my advice about bees trapped in spider web.
1. Owen EL, Bale JS, Hayward SAL (2013) Can winter-active bumblebees survive the cold? Assessing the cold tolerance of Bombus terrestris audax and the effects of pollen feeding. PLoS ONE 8(11): e80061
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