How Can I Help An Early Emerging Bumble Bee Queen In Winter?

Date: 7th February 2020

In January and February, you may find an early emerging bumble bee queen that you feel needs a little help.  However, it may not respond in the way you had hoped, even if it accepts a little sugar water from you.  In such situations, I think it best to place it outside in a plant pot as I describe below, and allow nature to take its course.

Below is one such query from a visitor to this website.  She kindly agreed to allow me to publish the query for the benefit of other visitors.


I wondered if you could help me please, I found a bumble bee in my garden yesterday just sitting on the floor.  I have two dogs so wanted to move it to a safe place and so brought it indoors to give it some sugar water.

The bumble bee seemed quite weak (her back legs didn’t seem to be very strong).  Anyway, she managed to lap up some of the sugar water. I was fully expecting this to revitalise her ready for me to put her back in the garden but it didn’t.

As it was getting late, the sun was setting I decided to keep her in overnight and release her in the morning.  During the night she seemed to get weaker, and by the morning I found her curled up on her back. I flipped her over and assumed she was dead, but half an hour later her back legs started moving and she raised all of her wings and started shivering.  

I then had to leave to go to work and when I returned my husband had found her on her back and so flipped her over again.  This time I thought she was dead. But again an hour later I started to see her back leg lift and move again, so I really don’t know what to do.  Is she dying or just sleeping?   Should I keep her in my garage or find a hole and put her back outside?  She is currently in an old fish tank covered by a small layer of shredded paper and hasn't had any sugar water since yesterday.

I’ve done some research and can’t really find an answer to my query and have emailed a couple of other websites but had no response. Thanks in advance.

From C. - UK

buff tailed Bumble bee queen foraging on pink Daphne flower.Bumble bee queen foraging on Daphne.

My response:

"I'm not sure what is going on with the bumble bee you have found.  Perhaps it wants to continue its winter snooze.  When a bumble bee raises one of its legs toward you, it's a defensive posture - the bee is feeling threatened.

If it were me, I would allow nature to take its course, since it's unclear as to the situation with this bee.  If you have a suitable container (perhaps a terracotta plant pot with a hole at the bottom, or similar weather proof pot), perhaps you could line it with a little dry grass or leaves - or similar. Place the bumble bee inside.  Put something over the top of the pot so the bee is sheltered, but ensure there is a good gap so the bee can get out.  Place it somewhere secure where the pot cannot topple over.  

Queen bumble foraging on a winter blooming purple crocus flower.Queen bumble bees may be seen early in the year foraging on winter blooming flowers, such as crocus.

If the bee wishes to continue snoozing, it can then do so, and leave the pot when it is ready.  It will need to forage freely in order to find pollen.  If it is parasitized, there is nothing you can do, and it will die naturally.

I hope this helps, thank you so much for caring about the bees, and best wishes."