As more and more people grow increasingly concerned about bees, I am sometimes asked how to tell if a bee is dead or sleeping, and whether a bee they are observing is dying or tired (simply resting).
This can sometimes be challenging, especially given that a bee is able to remain motionless whilst sleeping.
However, there are visual signals you can look out for that will make it obvious in some scenarios.
The postures for a dead bee, versus a sleeping bee are actually quite different.
Dead Bee Posture
To identify whether or not a bee has died, look out for these clues:
Posture Of Sleeping Bees
Sleeping bees can have variable postures depending on species, however:
I have written a whole page called Do Bees Sleep? where you can see more photographs.
Where Are Dead Bees Found?
Dead bees are usually found on the ground or other flat surface. However, finding a bee in such a position does not automatically mean the bee is dead, since it is perfectly possible to find bees resting in such locations.
Dead bees are sometimes found in multiples or groups.
For example, it's not uncommon for several dead bumble bees to lay scattered close to or below a nest entrance.
These dead bumble bees will have been removed from the nest to maintain hygienic conditions for the rest of the bumble bee colony.
Likewise, multiple dead honey bees can be found thanks to drone eviction in the autumn.
For further information, see my page about finding dead bees.
I often receive emails from frantic readers who are concerned about a bumble bee they have just found, usually on the ground or on a wall.
The bee is apparently still alive, but practically motionless.
In most cases, it appears to me the bee they are worried about is simply resting. It's best to allow a bee to continue doing so.
Therefore, if you are considering taking action to help a bee, but are wondering whether a bee is dying or tired, in my view it is generally best to assume the bee is resting, and leave it alone.
When bees are dying....
When bees are dying, they will sometimes be found writhing around on the ground.
However, a bee's impending death is not always obvious, and some interesting behaviours may be exhibited that might mislead an observer.
For example, bumble bee queens may dig holes in soil to hibernate.
However, a bumble bee infected with a parasite such as Sphaerularia bombi Dufour will also dig a hole in the ground and bury itself there, where it will die.
Similarly, Conopid flies can also cause bumble bees to dig their own graves.
The whole point is that bees engage in a range of behaviours, and we cannot always know for certain what is going on.
The best way to help bees...
The best way to help bees is to keep pesticides out of the garden and grow lots of flowers for bees.
Otherwise, allow the bees to do their thing and let nature take its course.
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