First Aid for Bees

First aid for bees may sound strange, but as cities have fewer green areas and flowers, spotting exhausted bees in parks or on the side of the road is not an uncommon sight. The bees are tired and lack energy because many cities have an insufficient diversity of plants for the bees to forage.

Bees pollinate the majority of our flowering plants and crops, and we need to look after them. They are an essential part of our environment and vital for replenishing our food sources. So what first aid for bees in distress can we do?

How to Identify a Bee in Distress


Photo by David Hablützel

Exhausted bees usually appear lethargic and are often far away from any flowers. The bee could be resting, or, she could actually be dying, as the lifespan of a bee is relatively short. An old bee can often be identified by frayed or tattered wings. Sadly, resurrecting old bees or those clinging to a flower without actually doing anything, is often unsuccessful!

Determining The Problem

If the bee is wet, place her in the sun in a sheltered, safe place to warm up. Be gentle and use a leaf, a container, or a stick to pick her up. It not only avoids getting stung, it would also mean a death sentence for the bee.  

If the bee is dry but looks exhausted, try to find a flower to put her on that can provide her with food. Be patient as it usually take about 30 minutes for a bee to rest. If the bee is still in the same place half an hour later, you can conclude that she either cannot or does not want to fly off. 

Sugar Water as First Aid

In this case, try to administer sugar water. According to the RSPB, put two tablespoons of granulated sugar with one tablespoon of water in a small container and place a few drops of the solution near the bee. Do not prod or try and force the bee to drink the solution. If the bee needs food, she will drink it on her own. 

During morning or afternoon, when an exhausted bee had sufficient rest and some food, she will most likely make her way back to the hive. However, in the evening, at night, or when the weather is worsening, it may be a good idea to keep her overnight.


Note! There is a lot of controversy about giving bees sugar water. It should only be given as a first aid, but not as a food alternative for bees. Leaving sugar water out permanently encourages the bees to feed on the solution, however, unlike the nutritious pollen and nectar collected from flowers, sugar water has no nutrients and is therefore unsuitable as food for the brood. 

Another reason for not offering a permanent source of sugar water is that over time the solution can be a breeding ground for bacteria. When brought back to the hive, the ´fake food´ could prove fatal for the entire colony. 

Bees are smart, so if there is a permanent source of sugar water nearby, they will learn to feed on it, leaving flowers un-pollinated. Hence, an unsuspecting beekeeper may find that his honey is in fact only sugar syrup, and he may face prosecution! 

Honey as First Aid

Many people believe they help an exhausted bee by giving it honey. This might be ok for humans, however, you should never give honey to a tired bee. Honey can contain spores of AFD (American Foulbrood Disease) that have no implications for humans but are fatal for bees. The bacteria is highly contagious. When a bee is fed honey, it will return home and infect the entire hive. Leaving honey out for bees is illegal according to Page 75 of the Livestock Disease Control Act 1994 in Australia.

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