Stuck in an ice-cream tub

So, a little update on "Micro Bee", whom we rescued last weekend. Well, she is now known as "Beatrice" or "Bea" and was named by my niece Chloe, who also named Holly (our disabled bee) and Fifi (our original Koppert Queen). 

So, a quick recap: we brought Bea indoors after watching her leave the nest and walk across the lawn (only a few feet) but not succeed in flying. She is absolutely tiny - about the size of a small fly - but perfectly formed, at least visually (i.e not missing limbs, all the right colours etc.). However, her wings are slightly bent and we think this is the reason she doesn't seem to fly. 

I honestly can't describe how small she is - here is a picture of her in her tub to give you an idea:

little Bea - trying to get her to fly

So, we've followed the same routine we did with Holly and BLB  - both of whom were disabled and couldn't fly - and kept her indoors in a small ice cream tub, with some materials to explore and a supply of known/safe honey water. 

We tend to her regularly but try to allow her to experience natural daylight hours. Every day we take her out (as above) and give her the opportunity to try and fly, but has not tried to do so. There's no real excuse for her not doing so at the moment, given the unnaturally warm temperatures we are experiencing (about 29 degrees C), so she could easily get up to temperature. 

It's not ideal keeping her indoors and we are debating whether to try and return her to the nest. The problem is, if she wanders out again without our supervision, she could easily get lost on the lawn and run out of energy and/or quickly become prey. Quite simply, she is just not equipped for life outside the nest. 

I have the following concerns keeping her indoors:


  • could it be affecting her 'mood' - there is evidence from honey bees that their disposition can be affected by negative events, to the extent that they show signs of "depression" (altered behaviour states and less persistence, i.e. giving up more quickly). I would hate it if this was happening.
  • Bumblebees are basically social creatures; their behaviour a jigsaw piece in the bigger colony system. So, by being away from the colony, both the isolated bee and the colony could be affected. Quite simply, Bea cannot fulfil her role or instincts if separated from her siblings. 
  • Does it change her behaviour patterns?


Actually, we have pretty strong evidence that behaviour patterns are changed, not just from Bea but from holly  et al. we kept indoors before her. The first 24 hours is spent in a very active and exploratory phase, as you would expect. when given the chance to explore (e.g. taking the lid off outside) they try to escape (or at least explore beyond the boundaries of their confines).

Then next few days this really calms down, essentially coming to a halt and there appears to be a sense of resigned stillness. There is little activity, often they hide under the moss and seem to spend a lot of time "sleeping". This is very much like a "low mood" creeping in, having learnt their surroudings and discovered they are alone and trapped. 

Over the next few days they then appear to become "masters" (or mistresses I suppose!) of their environment. A strong sense of territory and defence appears to develop. At this stage, opening the tub is greeted with warning signs, such as raised leg. As the days go by this becomes even stronger with different levels of warning - the final stage being lying on the back with sting pointed at you. What's more, the response at this stage is instantaneous; without a moment's delay the bee throws itself onto its back and warns with its sting. It becomes very protective of its food supply, which leads to more warnings as this is topped up with a syringe.  When taken outside and given the opportunity to explore/fly, there is no apparent interest in doing so. Indeed, the behaviour at this stage is now attending to and defending the nest/environment with no requirement for exploration beyond those boundaries. 

This is the stage that Bea is at, so trying to get her to fly now seems completely fruitless and adds to the dilemma of whether she is now so conditioned to her tub environment that trying to return her to the nest is counter-productive.

We've only had a Bea for a week so that's as far as her behaviour has developed; but, of course, we had Holly for much longer and saw these patterns develop further, such that warning signs subsided and indeed there was a complete acceptance of intervention with the food supply.

Indeed, eventually Holly learnt that the syringe meant new food and would come to get it even before we had chance to administer it. She was also completely happy drinking while we were topping up. Quite remarkable really. She also went into a much more intense "nest fixing" mode, constantly working at the nest. Rarely she would come out of the nest to check the immediate surroundings then return. Interestingly (and perhaps not surprisingly) she was stimulated by other bees and was far more active when they were in her environment. 

Anyway, that's a summary of some of the behaviour - I intend to produce a more detailed write up in due course. 

Back to the nest?

If we do add Bea back to the nest, there are two key risks. The first is she simply just starts to explore again to discover her new environment and ends up tired and lost outside of the nest. The second is that she tries to perform like her tiny siblings, one at least of which has been collecting pollen. And befalls the same fate. So either way the outcome is the same. 

tiny bee working to collect pollenPurely for interest, above is a picture of one of her equally tiny colleagues on the way out to collect pollen. This wonderful miniature bundle of bumbleness has been busy foraging and managing to find a source of lovely bright orangey pollen - possibly late flowerign lavender (of which we have some). She comes back with her legs buckling under the 'vast' quanity she has collected. 

She's actually one of the most active bees in the nest and she (or an identical looking sister) has the role of some patrolling and nest checking, especially at night. When we opened the nest for a quick look last night, there she was scooting round the perimeter of the plastic box ensuring everything was safe; with a little warning fizz on occasions just to keep us in check. 

She may be small, but she's taken on a big role.