Going Potty?

I haven't been doing many updates on our colony because of its decline and essentially I have been waiting to see whether all the remaining bumblebees (2 or 3) would perish - in which case we'd probably order another colony; or whether a second colony might develop as did last year. 

So, for the last few weeks I've been keeping an occasional eye on what's been going on  - with the possibility that the largest bumblebee in the colony was actually a queen. That was my hunch, and finally some measurements from some of the CCTV stills confirmed that to be correct.

A Queen in the beepol colony - measuring about 23 - 25mm

So, having confirmed a Queen - what was she up to? Was she the "mother queen" of the colony, probably destined to die soon. Or was she a daughter or foreign visitor, possibly looking to set up her own colony. Certainly she'd been to and fro from the nest, but it was not obvious what she was up to. We'd expect a new queen to start off by collecting pollen, to make pollen bread, to sustain herself and her young as she stays in the nest to lay and rear them.

But we discovered today she was doing something else important which also pointed to the fact she may well be gearing up for her own colony.

Queen had come out onto the ledge and I went outside to try and get my first "real life" visual of her, mainly to confirm her size. Although she has been happily flying to and from the nest for some reason this morning she seemed to be in less good form and flew down into the grass. And she was then struggling to climb the grass stalks (not sure whether she was trying to fly or rest and warm up).

Anyway, eventually I rescued her and placed her back on the lodge shelf - and she went straight back into the nest. Slightly puzzled with her behaviour, I thought I would offer some honey water on the ledge so that if she came back out she could at least "recharge her batteries". Before long she was indeed back out and very grateful. 

Queen drinking honey waterShe spent a few minutes drinking, then returned to the nest. All seemed good. Next thing I know she's back out again drinking more. Then back in the nest. Then back out again drinking. Back in. Back out - and so on, until within about 20 minutes she'd drunk the whole tray dry!

I refilled it - and the whole scenario was repeated again! In fact, over the course of the day she drank 7 trays full (somewhere in the region of 15mls) - this is a huge amount, given that in the past we have seen 1 or 2 mls last easily for a day or two. 

So, what's going on? 

The most likely explanation is that she is brooding and that she is swallowing the honey water and regurgitating it in the nest to help make "pollen bread" (this is how bumblebees store their pollen supplies) and possibly also filling some honey pots also as storage. There's no question that the quantity of honey water she took into the nest is well beyond the realms of being anything she could possibly consume.

This would seem to underline her status as a queen building a new nest - so I now wait with anticpation to see if she also begins collecting pollen.

She's not the only one

This obsession with the honey water is not confined to this Queen only - in fact we've noticed over the last to weeks that Nedine, one of our small indoor bees, has been obsessed with the pollen supply in their box and seems to be fussing over it 24x7 and (it looks like) mixing it with honey water too. It's not entirely obvious if that's the full extent of her activity, or if she's fashioning "wax pots", but it seems like the former. It's odd that this has started in just the last two weeks - and has now become her full time role.