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Bumble bees are not just for killing

When you run a website like mine you get to see a daily report of what people typed in the little search box that landed them on your site. This is anonymous—it’s just a list of phrases—but it’s fascinating. Every day I get dozens of these entries—misspellings and all—that show what was on someone’s mind when they landed here at Honey Bee Suite.

I mention this because every day my list features five or six people who want to know how to kill bumble bees. Bumble bees! This amazes me. Bumble bees seem so innocuous, so friendly, so unlikely to cause anyone distress. Quite frankly, I can understand someone wanting to kill honey bees, but bumble bees? Not in my wildest dreams.

That anyone would want to kill a hardworking creature that’s out minding its own business is puzzling. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone to get stung by a bumble bee, and they don’t chase people—so what is it? Even little kids are taught that bumble bees are friendly—cartoon bees are always smiling, very yellow, and annoyingly good-natured.

Perhaps it’s a case of mistaken identity. Something like a wasp is chasing them—or going for their ham sandwich—and they assume it’s a bumble bee. Or maybe our all-encompassing love affair with insecticides makes us think that the only good bug is a dead bug. Or maybe it’s movies and television that show impossibly large man-eating insects doing just that.

It’s probably a good thing my search terms are anonymous because I’d like to ask each of these people why they want to kill bumble bees. Actually I’d like to grab them by the collar and shake them, but I try to stay within the law for the most part.

My best guess is that we are dealing with a total lack of awareness of the “good bugs”—of pollinators, decomposers, natural enemies of agricultural pests, and insects that become food for birds and lizards and frogs. Short of shaking some sense into people, the best we can do is to keep educating those around us—every single chance we get.

Rusty

Comments

huguette allen
Reply

I have planted lots of bee attracting plants so that my honeybees would have plenty of nectar. However I now find all these plants filled with bumblebees – hundreds of them – while our honeybees have to resort to the poor sources of nectar available in the forest nearby.

I love bumblebees but fear I’ve created an overpopulation situation that is harmful to our honey bees.

what to do?

Rusty
Reply

Huguette,

Since I started planting for honey bees, I’ve been inundated by bumble bees as well. But don’t worry. If the environment is healthy enough to support bumble bees it will be excellent habitat for all kinds of pollinators, including honey bees. The bumble bees won’t overrun the honey bees. Honey bees have a high degree of floral fidelity, which means when they go out on a foraging trip they collect from one kind of plant only. As a result, they look for large expanses of one kind of flower–something we usually don’t have in our yards. Bumble bees, on the other hand, go from one type of a plant to another, and so they are more likely to be found where there is a mixture of flower types.

I don’t know where you live, but my honey bees forage almost exclusively in the forest. They have been healthy for years and they make great honey.

By the way, bumble bees are endangered in many parts of the world. I don’t think you can have an overpopulation. It sounds like you are doing good things for the pollinators . . . and your honey bees will be fine.

Phillip
Reply

This question isn’t related to the specific topic of this post, but it’s about bumble bees:

Are bumble bees a carrier of Varroa mites?

I ask because I’ve heard of a farmer where I live importing bubble bees for pollination of cranberry plants. We don’t have mites where I live (in Newfoundland) and I’m concerned that importing bumble bees could be risky.

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

The reproductive cycle of bumble bees is totally unlike that of honey bees so Varroa destructor would not be able to reproduce and thrive on them. Bumble bees carry a variety of Nosema of their own, Nosema bombi, that has transferred into wild populations of bumble bees from greenhouse bumbles. However, little is known about the cross-species movement of most bee diseases and parasites, and the possibility of cross-species infection always exists.

Phillip
Reply

Thanks. I’m too busy to say more. Catch you later.

Sen
Reply

I was playing in the lawn with my one-year-old who is attracted to flowers (just like the bees) and so holding a flower in each hand and roaming around. I saw this bumble bee buzzing around and nearing him. Being unaware of the nature of them, I screamed and picked him up quickly throwing those flowers away. After a minute or so we are back playing. But this time, I saw the bee coming from a bush straight to me and I just repeated what I did before swatting my hands, picked up my son and we came inside. I had a feeling that the bee was trying to attack me and so looked up in the internet. After reading and realising that I’ve actually threatened that social and good-natured bee, I stumbled upon this article.

I appreciate your article and your for caring for the pollinators. Cheers!

lynki
Reply

I have bumblebees in a shed where I keep the chicken feed and I’m scared of them. They’re all over the place, and I need to be able to feed my chickens! What can I use to get rid of them for good? Thanks!

cory
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I live in Northeastern Ohio and about a month ago some honey bees took up residence in the hollow parts of my metal porch swing. (I was surprised, I didn’t know honey bees made nests in man-made structures). I was overjoyed they were honey bees, rather than hornets, not only because honey bees are far more pleasant but because I’ve seen the truth of their dwindling numbers with my own eyes. I’ve fallen in love with them, they are so fun to watch and aren’t bothered in the least if I sit on the swing. But I’m worried for them. Certainly the small hollow parts of my swing don’t make for a good permanent home. I want them to flourish. Is there any information you can give me or suggestions for me, I want to lend them a helping hand and I am woefully ignorant about bees.

Rusty
Reply

Cory,

Most honey bees live in man-made hives, but a swing doesn’t sound like it would be a honey bee’s first choice. Perhaps you should call a local beekeeper and have him or her take a look and help you decide what to do.

Drake
Reply

Hi,
I’m new here I from Zimbabwe and I’ve got a swarm of bees that have taken refuge on a rusted metal swing earlier today and I am afraid my kids might be stung by them. It looks like there’s more than a hundred all piled up like a small hill suspended upside down from the swing, they are no beekeepers close by as we live out on a farm, please advise.

Rusty
Reply

Drake,

Usually bees in a cluster like that are just waiting until they can find a permanent home. Some of the bees from the group go out and search while the rest stay in one place. They are usually gentle in this condition because they have no young bees to protect. My guess is that they will move on within a couple of days.

Drake
Reply

Thanks for the reply.

Pierre
Reply

A bunch of tri-colored bumble bees have taken up home in a bird house in my backyard. I think they are great but the birdhouse is in a location that makes it difficult to garden without disturbing the bees (and potentially getting stung). I need to be able to work in the backyard so I am trying to figure out what options I have. It is a small backyard so there is nowhere on my property for me to move them.

Rusty
Reply

Pierre,

Why not give the birdhouse (with bees) to someone who does have room for it?

Pierre
Reply

I don’t have the necessary equipment to get near that birdhouse. Someone would have to come get that had the equipment.

Marilyn
Reply

Where is this bumblebees nest located for someone to come rescue them. Couldn’t they be put in a box at night?

craig mcdaniel
Reply

Prior to having honeybees I have set up bee houses for native species and noticed a array of native bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, squash bees, mason bees of all sorts feeding on the many different types of flowers from buckwheat to honeysuckle. What I have noticed the most was the extremely hard working bumble bee in almost every single flowering shrub, plant tree, vegetable…even in the tassels of my corn along with carpenter bees in large numbers collecting, pollen legs loaded with pollen. Planted everything I could think of to help all of them. I think an important part of beekeeping is to also be aware of other species that need to survive alongside your bees since they do a large amount of pollination. But by far the bumble bee to me is one of the most important. They are some of the first to go foraging on colder mornings and know how to help the pollination of tomato plants, pepper plants with their buzzing shaking them. Although solitary bees are not as much work or fun to raise as honey bees all of them are crucial for pollination. Anything we can do to help them survive, planting forage for all or recognizing that they belong and not harm any of them would be to our own advantage. Personally I would set up bee house with reeds for them near your garden. Some of the houses may attract solitary wasps that are not aggressive as well who will hunt pests in your garden but the solitary bees may actually use those reeds and help you with the pollination of your orchard, vegetable garden etc. Bumble bees being the most active and helpful they are a generalist when it comes to pollinating …they are in flowers that you see nothing else ever in amazing specie of bee.

Rusty
Reply

Craig,

I agree with everything you say here, but I would like to remind everyone that fully 70% of all bee species nest underground, usually in tiny holes. These bees need patches of bare soil, so we should always keep some bare patches they can use that won’t be dug up in the fall.

craig mcdaniel
Reply

Maybe you can put on a bee suit and move the bird house somewhere away from your garden. Usually they won’t nest in the same spot the following year either because the old queen dies.

craig mcdaniel
Reply

One other thing about bumblebees if this can help at all is that even other countries recognize how important pollinators they are. They are even bought from companies in the U.S. to do pollination in Iceland. I never had a bumblebee hive for many reasons. But the solitary bees that nest in the ground will also nest in reeds if they they can.

The only issue with this method that needs to be made aware of is the reeds should be changed every year to prevent parasitic pests from crawling into those used reeds and wiping them out like Varroa mite does if unchecked with honey bees. You been a huge help Rusty. Your advice regarding not heating a hive which I was skeptical about in the first place is why I asked since their life cycle is different than most native species in many ways. When you said the honeybee may decide to go outside the hive and end up dying really because it thinks its warm outside.

Today for example I live in Michigan and our weather here is very strange temps go up and down. I made a deflector to repel rain off the landing board. Checked on it after work today and because the temps were in the low 60s my bees where out of the hive flying closer than usual to me. Winter bees bold and strong i surmise but temps being warmer brought them out of the hive and in relation to what you said about amateurs micro managing being new to this venture I can visibly see proof that they would have emerged and probably froze in the first freezing cold snap of winter if not sooner. Later that day I checked on them and the temps dropped to probably in the low 40s maybe 50 at best and no activity near the hive. Almost like they came out for exercise and went back home afterwards.

Rusty
Reply

Craig,

One point. You say, “But the solitary bees that nest in the ground will also nest in reeds if they they can.” Not true. Nearly all species are either ground nesters or cavity nesters. Their entire life history is connected intimately to where they live and what type of nest they build, and there are only a very few species of the 20,000 that can cross over. If I recall, there are a few in the Megachilidae family that can switch, and a few species of bumble that can switch, but the number is very limited.

craig mcdaniel
Reply

Must of been cuckoo bees I seen then nesting in the reeds. I am aware of Megachilidae species in reeds but when I was working next to my pepper garden which has solitary bee nests near it seems as though leaf cutters that nest there seem to be using the leaves from the pepper plants to close their cells off. While harvesting peppers I couldn’t help but notice bees same color size as squash bees nesting in the reeds. I know squash bees are suppose to be nesting near the squash but in the ground I recall not in reeds. I guess I could have mistaken them as a parasitic cuckoo at a glance.

Rusty
Reply

Craig,

After I answered you yesterday, I remembered that many Ceratina in the Apidae family also nest in reeds. But bee identification is notoriously difficult. I like to have several good close-ups, including wing veins, the tip of the abdomen, and the front of the head, before I even an attempt an i.d. Even then, sometimes you need a dissection, as I’m sure you know.

craig mcdaniel
Reply

I appreciate your helping me with this matter. You are a huge help and have been to me for years here. I waited 3 years to work with honey bees, studied them, researched the care of them, but all the while had solitary bees. Even studying honey bees without having them was a wake up call once I started with them. So far so good with the condition of the hive and size and food stores thanks to your input, a tremendous resource to relay on.

One of the biggest mistakes I probably made with them this far is not having more than one hive as a back up, the other not treating them for mites shortly after I bought the 3 lb package. They did have mites, that is a fact.

The weather in S.E. Michigan is very strange so treating them early spring would have been best but the summer and fall was in the high 80s so formic acid treatment was out of the question until mid October. I did a treatment for 14 days but made another mistake, treated them 4 days later with another round of formic acid for 14 days. The weather now is 50s during the day and freezing at night.

I made and used that top quilt cover with a condensation board above that with a insulated cover from Mann Lake and the telescopic cover above that. I did wrap the hive with a insulated wrap to block some of the strong winds we get here. The bees are active during the day when it’s the warmest, they are in full sun 90% of the time.

I made many many mistakes with them as I have mentioned but I also fed them all season since they were a 3 lb package and allowed them to pull comb in 3 brood boxes and 2 supers. All the feed came from Mann Lake. It was their Pro Sweet which I added lemongrass oil and tea tree oil to, also fed them all season with a pollen patty that Mann Lake made. It was the one used to stimulate brood production. All this I doubt was necessary as you probably see, but with one hive, no back up, I did what I could to provide them the extra push and hopefully it wasn’t a total disaster of a mistake.

Today I observed them even though their hive is wrapped up for winter. I left the entrance reducer in place and back side of the hive open for air flow with the top quilted box open for airflow and notice with the warmth from the sun they were active today even approaching me. I believe they see blue and my jeans attracted one of them to me possibly. Very cool species of bee to deal with.

Some of the solitary bees I had before landed on me as well after some hatched out of their cocoons maybe because of being disoriented but I’m sure the winter bees I seen today had other reasons protecting their food stores possibly I’m not sure. They have every reason to be protective of what they have I will say.

What I see as my interest is their sole survival if lost much worse a price to them if anything happens to them. My daughters both want to be involved with beekeeping my oldest and my youngest. I will sign up for classes and take them with me to learn. Hopefully this will be something to pass on to them one day so they can teach their kids how important the bees are to this world around them.

Rachel
Reply

I thought I’d share my story of being stung by a bumble bee. My 2 year old daughter somehow got one under her shirt. She kept telling me about the buzzy tickles. I finally figured it out and when I tried to get her shirt off, she was stung once in the shoulder and I was stung once in the thumb, through the shirt. I can’t remember if the bumble survived or not.

Bumble bee no likey
Reply

I just read your article, and I’m glad you’ve found bumble bees to be so friendly!

We have and old farm house and barns, and 2 years in a row they have nested either in the house or in the barn (near loose soil by the foundations), and they attack as soon as you come anywhere near (your front door, or the barn door) swarming, chasing, and yes, stinging the living bejeezus out of us and our children. I had one on my sock that stung me so many times it ended up infected, and still hasn’t fully healed and it’s been over a month. Meanwhile, the honey bees happily ignore everyone and go about their business.

So while you may not understand why someone would want to kill bumble bees, I certainly can. This isn’t an awareness issue, it’s an experience issue for us.

Rusty
Reply

Are you sure they are bumble bees?

Bumble bee no likey
Reply

Rusty,

Absolutely! We’ve got wood bore bees as well, but they just dodge around at you, bouncy off your head once in a while, and tear up the old wood. I’ve put out a couple of traps for them, and that has cut down on them flying into your head to protect their nest area.

These are fuzzy yellow and black, and in the nest they’re from about the size of a nickel to about the size of a quarter. If you get anywhere near their nest they chase you down and sting you repeatedly. At least 5 people have been stung by them last year, and 4 this year. You end up finding the nest area accidentally when you’re suddenly swarmed with stinging bees.

They do collect pollen, as I’ve seen it on the legs of the larger ones’ legs. If I manage to catch one I’ll try to identify the type – maybe we’re just blessed with a extra nasty breed of them..

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