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Artificial Rearing of Bumblebee colonies

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Joined 2012-05-24

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Is there anyone out there who, like me, has had a go at persuading bumblebee queens to start colonies under artificial conditions ?

I’ve had some success with B. terrestris, by confining queens in a warm place with a supply of pollen and dilute ‘sugar solution’.

I’d very much like to swap ideas / techniques with others - in particular with assembling know-how on success with other UK species of bumblebee and on free-flying success with such colonies.

I look forward to hearing from you !

Clive

     
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I have heard that fructose is a better food than sugar which is sucrose…..I have a book, purchased from the USA called “Befriending bumblebees. A practical guide to raising local bumblebees.” by Elaine Evans, published by University of Minnesota. HTH, Cheers George Pilkington

     
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Hello George,

Many thanks for your feedback many days ago. 

Perhaps I should own up to being a beekeeper of many years, but also with a scientific background: and about 9 years besotted with bumblebees. 
The bee-handling experience I have is invaluable for re-locatingand running bumblebee colonies; and my techniques are continuing to develop.

Yes, I too have the book ‘Befriending Bumblebees’.  I got mine form IBRA.  I’ve found it rather useful back in the spring when I tried to get some captured queens to start nesting. 

In the book they mention using High Fructose Corn Syrup as a nectar substitute, but I’ve regarded this as typical of a USA beekeeping approach to feeding, since I know the big commercial beekeepers make much use of it.  However, I’ve also picked up from somewhere that one of the possible candidates for suspicion as a cause of CCD was High Fructose Corn syrup ! 
And anyway, much nectar is based on sucrose, so bee enzyme systems are capable of converting sucrose without difficulty.

Anyway, back in the spring I tried to persuade queens of B. terrestris, lucorum, pratorum, lapidarius and hypnorum to start colonies - one of each, except two terrestris.  One terrestris got started pretty quickly, the other after a delay of about 2 - 3 weeks.  Nothing with the others.

I was holding the queens in a mini-fridge set up as an incubator at about 30C.  (Mini fridges work by something called Peltier Effect, and depending which way the electronics are powered can be used to cool, or heat.  Maplin sell kits for making suitable thermostats.) 

I used pollen harvested from honey bees and diluted honey as a nectar equivalent. 

Eventually both terrestris queens had cocoons which hatched to workers.  It is a complicated story, with much time input and late nights, because all the manipulations were done under red light at night indoors.  I’ve also got large numbers of photos of the project as well as conventional notes.

The bees were later united (one queen died) using the smelly Talcum powder method that works so well when you unite honey bee colonies.

At present the little colony is up the garden and still being fed.

That’s enough for now.

Clive

PS. Your anti wax-moth doorway looks extremely useful !

     
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Hi Clive, thanks for the introduction and comments re bumblebee cat flap! Wait till you see my solitary insect house!

I must confess I have never owned a honeybee hive nor tried to artificially entice bumblebee queens to start egg laying et al. I have no knowledge other than reading said book and other books. The fructose/sucrose debate, I agree may well be partly responsible for CCD in the USA and I used some made by Tate and Lyle and asked them questions about it and its nutritional value for bees and bumblebees…..they never replied, surprise surprise. I am aware that they use fructose in other EU countries hence me trying it with some cold bumblebees I rescued.

I have been several times to the Conway Honey Festival, which is many 100 years old and still going strong! Worth a visit if you have never been.

The mini fridge….mine has beer in!!! Sorry off to bed now…..will continue soon.  Cheers George Pilkington

     
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Hi Clive and George

I don’t have any experience in raising bumblebees, but followed the discussion on the sugars you had. Just to chip in a bit more info on a similar topic: I was reading about the phenomenon of lime trees with many dead bees below them. It turns out it’s because bees cannot metabolise mannose, and it accumulates in their bodies, causing paralysis! There are a few sources of information on that, but this one (http://www.jas.org.pl/jas_54_2_2010_7.pdf) should be free to access.

     
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Hi All,

Two things to record:-
1.  I’m trying captive rearing of B. terrestris again.  Incubator conditions.  Two queens in separate boxes.
There have been so many terrstris queens about that I think it is fair to try doing it again even this spring.
I’ll try to remember to post info about it here.

2.  If you look at the B. hypnorum 2013 thread, you’ll see that I’ve been trying starting a colony by putting a captured queen into a Bird Nestbox furnished with an old birds nest.  The second attempt seems to have worked, because the box buzzes when touched !
I may move this topic material to hereabouts later, because it is much more specialised than just general hypnorum chatter.

Yours   Clive