Frequently asked questions
I have seen a bee that has many small creatures clinging to it.
Most bumblebees have many tiny mites clinging to their bodies. In most cases the mites are difficult to see, but sometimes they can cover large parts of the bee’s body. The good news is that most of the mite species that live with bumblebees are fairly harmless to them, and are simply clinging to the bumblebee so that they can be transported to new nests. When in the nest, the mites usually feed upon the wax, pollen, nest debris, and other small insects, so do not feed on the bees. However, they may present a problem if an individual bee becomes so heavily infested that it is unable to fly because of the weight of the mites.
When they reach a certain stage in their life cycle, the mites cling to worker bees, which transport them out of the nest, where the mites let go and climb onto flowers. From these flowers, the mites then attach to other visiting bees, and get transported to new nests.
If bees are covered in many mites, you can try to remove some by gently brushing them with a child’s paintbrush.
Some mite species can be more harmful however. For example, one species, Locustacarus buchneri, lives in the tracheal system of queen bumblebees. This species then lays up to 50 eggs in the respiratory system of the bee, and the young develop inside the queen’s body. It is not known if infections like these definitely do harm the bees though.
I have found a bumblebee nest in my garden/shed.
You are very lucky if you have found a bumblebee nest - many people have them in their gardens, but not many people ever come to realise it!
Bumblebees thankfully are not at all aggressive and only rarely sting when handled roughly. They might get aggravated if you interfere with the nest itself, but not if you're just passing by. They don't swarm and certainly don't 'attack' like wasps or honey bees. They should just get on with life and do their own thing - doing a wonderful job of pollinating plants, wildflowers and your vegetables. Even the very largest nests produce very little "traffic" in and out, so you won't see threatening numbers of bees at any point during the summer.
The colony only lasts one summer - it will have finished by September/October at the latest (quite possibly much earlier) and all of the bees will have gone. It is possible (although not particularly likely) that a different bumblebee queen will find and use the same hole next year.
If the bees are living under your shed, and are coming up through holes in the floor, then this is probably because it's the easiest way in and out for them. If you make a different hole, from the outside of the shed, and then block up the hole they were using, then they should happily take to their new route.
Read the section below if you would like to remove the nest. Please note that we do not move colonies ourselves.
I want to move/remove a bumblebee nest.
As mentioned above, bumblebees are not at all aggressive, seldom sting, and are very easy to live with. We very much hope that people will only try to move nests that are in a particularly inconvenient location. Underground nests will be more difficult to move, as you'll create a considerable amount of disturbance as you dig down to the nest. However, if it's outside and underground then there should be no reason to move it.
If you do need to move it, you will either need to do this yourself or get help from 'pest control' specialists (who will most likely destroy the colony). Please note that we do not move colonies ourselves.
We have more detailed information about bumblebee nests and how to move them, which you can read by clicking here.
I'm seeing dead bees in my garden - is this normal?
Bumblebee nests grow throughout the season, and produce new males and queens in autumn. Throughout the life of the nest a large number of smaller worker bees help the nest to grow by collecting nectar and pollen - these are the bees that you see out and about in summer. These workers only live for a few weeks, and then sadly die. It's therefore quite normal to see a small number of dead bees in the garden. So long as you are still seeing live bees in the area, then it's unlikely to be something new that we should be worrying about.
The reason why dead bees are often found in gardens and near nest sites is simply because that’s there they’ve been living. When bees are close to death, they often cling to flowers and look quite lethargic. When they do die, they then drop off the flowers, and you may find a number of these in your gardens, especially near the most bee-friendly plants. Also, you may find dead bees and larvae near nest entrances, because dead and dying bees are removed from the nest so that disease does not spread.
Sometimes we often find many dead bees under trees (especially lime trees), and this is because these trees often run out of nectar when it is very warm, or when lots of bees have been feeding on them. Therefore, bees often die whilst still trying to feed, and soon fall to the ground.
Bumblebees, like many insects in fact (and humans!) sometimes suffer from different parasites which live inside them. These parasites can make the bees appear slow and sluggish, perhaps even drunk! Again, sad as this may seem, it is a natural process that has been going on for many, many years, and is not at the root of the problem. Equally, bumblebees may sometimes seem very lethargic just because the weather is cold - but they will recover when it warms up. This is nothing to be alarmed about, and is perfectly natural.
How do I provide nesting sites for bumblebees?
You can help bumblebees by providing them with somewhere to nest. The first step of course is to provide lots of the right kinds of flowers in spring. At this time of year the nest-searching queens will be attracted to gardens where they can find plenty of food to help them produce their first batch of eggs. Once she is ready to lay, the queen will start looking for a nest site. She flies low over the ground in a zig-zag pattern, stopping to investigate holes in the ground, or piles of leaves.
For information on the best flowers to plant for bumblebees, visit our Bee kind tool.