Bumble Bee Nesting Habits

Bumble bees nesting habits are essential to the environment, as without them there would be a decline in the pollination of plants and flowers. Without these pollinating insects, biodiversity would suffer significantly, leading to major ecosystem disruptions. Therefore it is important to protect bumble bees and their habitats in order to preserve both natural ecosystems and agricultural growth.

These bees require specific nesting sites. They typically look for sheltered spots with easy access to food and water sources, such as fields, meadows, and gardens. Many species prefer favor dry, dark cavities such as abandoned rodent holes, under sheds or compost heaps, usually near ground level or underground. Although rare, they also sometimes build their nests in trees or shrubs. Some species opt to build nests in man-made structures like abandoned birdhouses and open sheds or lofts, like the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum).

Unlike the organized nests of honey bees, bumble bees nests look a lot more messy and disorganized to us. Bumble bees like honey bees produce wax, a special secretion produced by glands on the abdomen. It is extruded between the sternites and when dried, takes on a flaky appearance that resembles dandruff. The queen bee secretes wax when starting her nest and younger worker bees also produce this substance as needed.

When worker bees come upon a dead or dying bee in the nest, they show remarkable dedication to their hive’s health the same as honeybee workers. They quickly remove any dead bees and clean the nest to keep it clean and healthy while preventing disease.

Different Nesting Habits

Carder Bees

Carder bees of the Megachilidae family for example often nest on open ground, as it provides a safe and comfortable environment for them. They will look for a tuft of grass with plenty of room to move around and will often use natural indentations or dips in the ground as a way to keep their nest protected from wind and rain.

They are remarkable for the unconventional construction materials they use to construct their nests, often incorporating plant fibers, resin, mud and earth. This practice is thought to be an adaptation due to their preference for nesting in open areas such as grasslands and meadows. These areas have limited resources that can be used as nest-building supplies. Carder bees never use the same nesting site twice. It is therefore important to be aware of their presence and not disturb them or their nests as they are also important pollinators.

Cuckoo Bumblebees

Cuckoo Bumblebees from the Apidae family (Genus: Bombus; Subgenus: Psithyrus) are social parasites, that do not build their own nests. As their name suggests, they take over another nest killing the queen and lay their own eggs, tricking the workers with pheromones to look after their brood. 

How to spot Bumble Bees nesting sites

When searching for a suitable nest site, bumblebees will use both sight and smell to evaluate the environment. When spring arrives, the queen bumble bee is ready to embark on her search for a suitable nest site. After her hibernation, she needs to start searching for nectar to replenish her energy, and pollen to help become fertile. Once she has gathered enough sustenance, the queen bee sets out to find a safe and sheltered spot for her new home.

Paying attention to the behaviors of queen bumble bees can help identify potential sites for nests and determine whether any areas need protection from pests or other threats. This is especially important in regions where bee populations are declining due to human activities and climate change.

Carder bees for instance often fly zig-zagging, low over grassy areas to explore any dips and bumps in the terrain. They are explore shady areas, like underneath garden sheds or around the bases of trees. Another are to spot Queen bumble bees are mouse holes and compost bins. Aerial nesters often hover around windows, bumping into them in their search for a shady possible nesting site.

What to Do if you Find a Bumble Bee Nest

It is pretty rare to stumble upon a bumblebee nest. Those who are fortunate to come across a nest, should observe a few guidelines to protect these wonderful little creatures:

  1. Bumblebees are not aggressive. Do not disturb a nest! If you do not bother them, they usually not bother you!
  2. Keep your distance and avoid breathing onto the nest. This may aggravate the bees and they may become defensive and provoke them to sting.
  3. Bumble bees sometimes nest in walls or attics of houses. Contrary to popular belief, they do not cause structural damage to houses. They are not known to bore holes or chew through wood.
  4. These little bees often return to their nests. Wait for autumn when the nest is empty and block the entrance hole if hey nest in attics or cavity walls to stop them from returning the following year. This prevents a new queen from finding the same hole next year and does not harm the bees.

Relocating a Bumble Bee Nest

Bumble bee nests should only be moved when they cause a serious inconvenience! Although bumblebees are less likely to sting than honeybees and wasps, moving a nest requires great caution. Female bumblebees can sting if they feel threatened and their nest is disturbed. If a nest has to be moved, it is best to do so in the dark when all the bees are in their nest and docile. If light is required, use a red torch or LED light, as bumblebees do not see red light well. You may also want to get help from an experienced beekeeper or a commercial organization that specializes in moving nests. Whatever you decide to do, please be aware that it is done at your own risk.

Moving a Tree Bumble Bee Nest

Moving Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) that nest in bird boxes, lofts and attics requires a different method to moving ground nesting bumble bees. Ideally this should be left to experts. However, below are some tips if this is not possible:

  • Always wear gloves, goggles and protective clothing!
  • Make sure you know exactly where the nest is and how it can be reached when it is dark.
  • Wait until well after dusk. This is when all or most of the workers should be in the nest.
  • Block the entrance hole with flexible foam when the activity in the nest has died down.
  • Place the nest in a cardboard box or another container.
  • Bumble bees are escape artists, so seal up any holes around the box or container with tape.
  • Take the box or container down, without tipping it over. Keep it on a flat surface.
  • Carefully move the box to its new location. Ideally this should be within a few feet of the old site at a height of at least 5 ft (1.50 m), so the bees the bees can find their bearings when they leave the nest after the move. If there is no suitable location to move the nest nearby, take them at least 1 km away from their original location. This is because bumble bees generally forage no more than 1km from the nest. In both cases, secure the nest safely in a sheltered location, free from vibration and with plenty of forage opportunities nearby. Leave the box/container sealed.
  • After midday on the following day remove the box/container to allow the bees to explore their new location. Again, it is advisable to wear protective clothing when doing this.

Removing a Bumble Bee Nest from Difficult Locations

Bumblebees are often found nesting in places that can be difficult to reach, such as porches, wall cavities, air vents, and eaves. If you cannot reach the nest, it is best to contact a professional beekeeper or pest control expert who has experience in dealing with bumblebee nests. Beekeepers often have the tools and expertise to safely remove a bumblebee nest without harming the bees, while pest control experts can help to ensure the bees do not return to the same location.

If you don’t want bees nesting in the same place next year, it is important to block up any entrances to the nest and other suitable nest spaces nearby. If you are dealing with a bumblebee nest in a porch or other area that the bees use to enter and leave the nest, you can try re-routing the entrance of the nest by using a heavy cloth or small piece of cardboard to partially block the entrance. This should encourage the bees to find a new way out, without risking them flying into your home.

Finally, it is important to remember that bumblebees do not cause damage to homes and are beneficial to gardens, as they help to pollinate flowers and vegetables. If you want to help these important fluffy little pollinators and attract bumble bees to your garden, there are a few things you can do.

Click here to find out about the bumble bees life cycle and hierarchy and how to identify bumble bees.



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