Very sad news this morning upon checking our nestbox - QB2012-02, our bufftailed queen, appears to have died overnight :-(
We are both gutted, because obviously our intervention is at least in part or wholly responsible, and it represents the antithesis of everything we want to do for the bees.
We will apply our usual 48 hour quarantine and provide food and warmth to be sure, as we have seen miraculous recoveries in the past - but I am not hopeful.
It is important that we learn and share the lessons as part of our research. On the face of it there was no reason for this to happen. Although this queen was captive under a (large) cloche we know they can survive in captivity given the fact that not only can they exist in greenhouses, but from the direct experience we had of the many we tended last year indoors. She had all the food (both plants and additional supplies such as sugar water and pollen) and water that she would have needed. There was warmth, shelter and safety. So, it's something of a mystery.
However, her behaviour was muted and, on top of the evidence we collected last year, I am yet further convinced that a "mood change" might be the culprit - i.e. an awareness of being captive and a corresponding lack of interest in foraging and feeding, and an increase in stress levels. Sadly we do not have the facilities to conduct measurements such as hormone levels - the best we can do is closely observe behaviour.
Capturing queens is not our prime objective this year as we will source a reared colony regardless. But, we are keen to continue researching the factors that help to encourage queens to nest and survive and thrive in gardens. We are comparing several strategies this year, and use of the cloche system is a new one.
Our mistake was to hope the Queen would still find the entrance to the nestbox, even though she had not done so for several days. The fact she didn't find it is not down to its prominence or ease of access, but simply that she stopped looking. This is a clear change in behaviour as a result of being captive.
If we continue to study this technique, the minimum change we will have to make is to release the queens after 24 hours regardless. But we are reviewing the whole technique.
I cannot express my sorrow at this truly unintended but terrible outcome, as we are painfully aware the planet will almost certainly be one more bumblebee colony short this year. I hope Mother Nature will be forgiving.