Bumblebees nest in a variety of different places. Some nest underground, in places such as abandoned rodent holes, under sheds and in compost heaps. Of those that nest above ground, some make nests in thick grass, while others make nests in bird boxes and in trees. For those that nest in bird boxes, you may often see 'swarms' of bees flying around the nest. This is perfectly normal, and these are male bees, which often fly around nests, waiting for queens to come out so that they can mate. Male bees cannot sting, so please don't be alarmed if you see this.
Inside a bumblebee nest will be a queen bee, who lays almost all of the eggs. Around her, she will have a number of worker bees, who help to look after the nest, collect food, and raise new offspring. Unlike the distinctive honeybee nest, which has tightly packed hexagonal cells for raising offspring and storing honey, the inside of the bumblebee nest can appear quite messy and disorganised. You might also find a number of dead bees and grubs near the nest entrance. This is because worker bees will remove dead and dying bees from the nest to keep it clean and free of disease.
What to do if you find a bumblebee nest
Bumblebees occasionally nest close to humans, which may cause alarm. If you find a bumblebee nest, consider yourself very lucky! They aren't very common, and can be difficult to find.
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.
We recommend that if you find a bumblebee nest, it is best to leave it alone and avoid disturbing it. If you do approach close to it, be sure not to breathe on the nest, as this can make the bees behave defensively, and they may sting. Bumblebee nests don't live for long, so the nest should die naturally within a few months. After that time, the new queens will have flown from the nest to hibernate in the soil elsewhere. It is possible (although not particularly likely) that a different bumblebee queen will find and use the same hole next year.
Staff from Bumblebee Conservation Trust are unable to move bumblebee nests, however if you really need to move the nest, click here to view our guide to moving bumblebee nests.
“Bumblebees are lovely little creatures - their bright stripes and gentle buzz bring colour and sound to our summer gardens. They are also very important because they pollinate our wildflowers and crops. Sadly things aren't going well and some species are threatened with extinction.
I'm really concerned by these declines and I'm pleased to support the work of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust."