So, we finally came home and were able to examine the mayhem created by our two disabled bees in their plastic tub. Actually when we saw it in person, as opposed to the limited remote camera view, it probably wasn't quite as bad as it seemed. That's not to say they hadn't moved loads around, but it seemed to be slightly more organised that we imagined.
Organised? That's not a word we've been applying to Bumblebees!
Here's (more or less) how we left the box:
The easiest way to describe what they'd done was move moss away from the edges and corners towards the centre. What's not obvious is the cause and effect - whether the movement of the moss is merely a result of the endless patrolling of the perimeter of the box (e.g. a security or escape motivation), or whether the intention is to collect the moss centrally by wearing a path round the edges (i.e. keep the edges clear with a fixing/nest building motivation).
We surmise there is a possiblity it is the latter - and that the bees are programmed to keep their nest material away from the edges of the nest in order to keep it dry. Certainly we have read this as advice when preparing a nest box, which would mimic what would happen underground.
Is there method in the madness?
So, although much of their behaviour seems quite erratic, every once in a while it does seem to follow certain patterns. I'd classify these as:
- Traversing the perimeter, although often this involves traversing part of it, then returning to a designated "safety spot", more centrally located
- exploring outward in a "hub" fashion from said "safety spot" - i.e. heading out to explore a portion of the box, then returning (or partially returning) before tackling the next segment
- circling the same area, usually in fairly tight circles. When this behaviour is done on in amongst the moss or nest material, it moves it and creates the tunnels and "whorls" that (for example) we've seen the Queens create in bedding. It also creates the space in the corners.
- Sticking the face in the moss and the bottom out/in the air - this seems to happen when one bee wants to ignore the other (e.g. appears to want to rest without disturbance) but there are also other times when they are resting. In a way it seems quite a vulnerable position, not being able to see any threat, although the sting is foremost. Also, the camouflage of the bands works in their favour and perhaps they just need a bit of dark once in a while.
- There are times when they seem to take turns with role swapping - for example, one bee will be taking a rest, buried in the moss while the other is scurrying about circling the box and the moss. Then after 15 or 20 minutes it will approach the rest bee and prod it and shove it and basically wake it up! Then it will tend to take over the scurrying and "nest fixing" behaviour. Although Holly (the smallest) was the main protagonist ("agitator") to begin with, we've subsequently seen both bees demonstrating this behaviour.
I was keen to do some experiments, for example to see if they would exhibit these behaviours with different materials, with different box orientations and layouts. However, it's difficult to devote the time to study this with sufficient scientific accuracy, so we can really only report anecdotal observations.
Moreover, events have taken over us, in that we've now moved the bees to a larger habitat - more on that on a follow up blog :-)
Here's a little bit of exploratory behaviour...