Entitled to an Armchair


We've seen a steady decline in Lucy (TinyLittlebee) over the last few days and today looks very close to the end.

I wasn't home but BCW administered wonderful care and provided status reports for me. Just as LBB had done before, Lucy became unsteady and uncoordinated and by this evening has become stationary. Perhaps, if you look closely with a magnifying glass there is a little twitch in the back leg. Or maybe it's just air currents. 

She's struggled for the last 24 hours - falling on her back regularly and being unable to right herself. It is heart-wrenching to watch in such a small, fragile creature. It's exactly the same pattern as followed by LBB a week ago and it signalled his final fading moments. 

We've done all we have in our power to do and given Lucy another 2 weeks of life that she could never have had when we found her - indeed, she seemed to have lost her fight for life then, when she managed to make a miraculous recovery, spurred on by LBB who at one point even tipped her back on her feet.  

Lucy exploring the tub

Armchair Action

Likewise, Holly created a bit of a scare this morning; she too was a bit still and lifeless and not up to her usual antics. BCW assures me that during the day she sprung back into action albeit with perhaps more rest than usual. That's still true this evening, although what activity I did see seemed usual - just less prolonged. 

What we don't know is whether Holly is affected by the absence of Lucy. I actually think there is some merit to this theory - certainly the introduction of LBB and Lucy increased Holly's activity, who for a while we were quite concerned about. Prior to that introduction, Holly was spending a lot of time just resting under the moss and not exploring, not even inside the nestbox, let alone the main tub. Lucy and LBB seemed to create something for Holly to do; whether it was just tidying the nest after their interruptions, or merely the "social" interaction (the bees do, after all, occasionally shove each other about and walk on top of each other!) we shall never know. So I'm wondering now whether Holly will return to her more reclusive behaviour? 

Of course we mustn't forget that Holly is now a hefty 60 days old, at least. In female bee terms that makes her quite the Centenarian - quite entitled to an armchair once in a while!

Back to Nature

We finally laid littleBigBee (LBB) to rest yesterday after confirming he was a boy, something we had been unable to do with 100% accuracy while he was alive. He joins BLB (BigLittleBee) under the lavender where his siblings and future generations will visit. 

It's such a very short life for male bumblebees; he was probably a bit older than the 8 days we had him with us, but not much. Sadly, this is pretty much the length of time they are destined for, as their role is simply to leave the nest and mate with a new queen, and then die. Poor wee LBB never had much of a life and couldn't fulfil his role; but at least he was safe and warm and well-fed while he was here. 

This is the image we were able to use to identify the sex of LBB:

close up of antenna segments used to identify genderOn the long part of the antennae it's 11 segments for a boy, 10 for a girl. We also double-checked using the hair on his legs.


Powers of Invisibility

LBB (LittleBigBee) has been motionless for well over 24 hours now. We will give him a good send off and return him to mother nature later - after I've taken some macro photos to confirm he is a boy. (The easy way to tell is count the segments on the antennae; though photographing them in sufficient detail is quite a challenge). We had him only for 8 days, though of course he may have been older as his wing-loss looked more like damage rather than deformity. Still, it's such a short life, which seems to make it all the more saddening.

Yesterday my neice, who gave Holly her name, decided that Lucy would a nice name for TLB (TinyLittleBee) - we wholeheartedly agreed, although we have also yet to confirm her gender. And, to be honest, her pattern of behaviour is more male-like.

Something didn't seem right yesterday evening though. It's always been easy to find Lucy in the tub because most of her time is spent exploring the "outdoors" and she goes back into the nest box to rest for a while and then repeats the whole pattern. Always on the move.

But last night we couldn't find her.

This happened before with BLB (BigLittleBee) - he developed a routine of resting under one of the pine cones in the tub. He could get under there so tightly that he was impossible to see no matter how hard you looked. And his buff banding provided wonderful camouflage.

I was certainly convinced there was no way Lucy could be under there. I must have scoured those pines cones with a torch for 15 minutes. In the end, we carefully removed them to check. Lo and Behold! Lucy was indeed tucked right in under there, completely invisible to the outside world. It was great to find her safe and seemingly well, although, in a sense, odd that her behaviour had changed. Although we saw BLB do this and are also convinced that some of our outdoor bees spend the night away from the nest on occasions (either by being caught out by the weather, or some mad last-minute dash to get pollen in the fading dusk), it is highly unlikely that Lucy could be "caught out" in this environment and run out of energy. So why the change in behaviour?

She roused, drank from a daisy-honey-water-combo we placed in front of her, then toddled back to the nest box straight away. In a sense that was a relief, but on the other hand I felt something ominous.

This morning she is not in the nest box; for some reason during the night she has come out again and, I suspect, hidden under the pine cones, summoning all her invisibility powers in the process. We've chosen not to disturb her yet, if she's there, but something is not right. I just sense that something is off-kilter today with Lucy. I can't help but think she is actually a boy and thus destined as BLB and LBB before her.

Coming out. Again and Again.

I was away from home today, so at 6.30am when I got up for work I duly skyped into our 'incubator' to see if any of our bees were up and about. Nothing. That seemed odd. I checked again at 7.30. Nothing. Definitely Odd. 

At about 10.30 I logged in again and saw BCW tending to the box, refreshing the honey-water and helping to upturn a bee that was obviously struggling to get up. I assumed it was TLB (TinyLittleBee) whom we added to the box yesterday. But then she texted me to say that LBB (LittleBigBee) was in trouble and not well. It was not news I wanted to hear - he's only been in our care for 8 days. I dread this moment, wondering if it's something we have done or caused. (We did, for example, add some sugar water to the 'ward' a few days ago).

LBB was struggling to move around and cope with the undulating floor of the nest area; and refusing any kind of drink. He was dragging his sorry body clumsily about the box, barely making any progress whatsoever. He got stuck in the small gap where we plant the lavender stalks. It was very sad to see. We agreed that BCW should move him to a small separate tub so protect him from falling over and getting stuck. He rallied a little, appeared to drink from some soaked kitchen paper, but ultimately crawled to the edge of the tub where he has been still since for many hours. We will wait 24 hours for a final verdict.

Meanwhile, TLB, who had already started to inherit from LBB's behaviour, and benefitted from his helpful presence, appears to have gone from strength to strength. She climbs over the moss in the nestbox with great ease; she patrols the perimeter of the outer tub over the stones behind the nestbox; she hauls herself up the pine cones. Just over a week ago she was a still and lifeless as LBB is now - her recovery is miraculously remarkable.

Her routine, during the main part of the day at least, consists of patrolling the outer tub for short periods of time, then returning to the nestbox, sometimes to feed or scratch away in the moss - behaviours we still don't fully understand. This evening we've seen her come to the pollen in the outer tub, walk over it, then return to the nestbox; it's not obvious that she's collecting pollen, but it is obvious that she is heading straight for it.

Also, I say patrolling the tub quite deliberately: she is not exploring like she did initially - appearing to map out the box by going over and over its various sectors. Rather, her behaviour is quite deliebrate, following a short path that either involves checking the pollen or nectar supplies, or touring round the edge of the tub that encloses the back of  the nest box. Then she heads straight back in again.

Quite what triggers her to come out and perform this routine is not obvious to us, other than she seems to do it regularly. So it seems this is not a response to a nest attack (even though we have observed this behaviour in our outdoor hive). One of my theories is that it's part of the standard behaviour to check what's happening outside the nest. While we have not observed this to the same extent in our outdoor nestbox, we have from time to time seen a bee sitting in the entrance/exit and not actually leaving the box. I wonder if this happens more often than we realise (our CCTV would not really trigger the motion detect if the bee doesn't come right out of the exit). 

This would explain something that has puzzled me: how do the bees know, when they spend their time in a nest that they keep at 30 degrees, when to come out in the morning as the temperature changes. The only sensible theory is that they come and sense what is happening outside the nest at regular intervals, triggering a chain reaction when the time is right for foraging. 

Is TLB teaching us how bumblebees manage their working day?

House on fire

I think before writing this update it's useful to recap where we are with our indoor bees. All of our indoor bees have been rescued from the garden - all of them have had some kind of wing problem which has prevented them from being able to fly. This means they can't feed unless they were to stay in their own hive.

But I learnt my lesson with the first one, trying to put her back in the hive twice. An hour later she was back out again on the lawn, destined to prey or die of starvation. 

So, we created an indoor environment to house our disadvantaged. It started off as an ordinary ice-cream tub but has pretty much evolved into a full scale incubator with indoor nest box, infra-red heating and "daylight" lighting. And of course, 3 video cameras! 

indoor "incubator"

So, at the time of writing we've had four disabled bumblebees come into care. In chronoligcal order (often the best), they are as follows:


  • Holly - confirmed female - very small, missing left wing and left middle leg, and twisted body
  • BLB ("Big Little Bee") - confirmed male - now deceased - same missing wing and leg as Holly
  • TLB ("Tiny Little Bee") - unconfirmed female - actually just slightly larger than Holly - 1 broken right wing
  • LBB ("Little Bigger Bee") - unconfirmed male - one missing left wing


We added LBB to the "incubator" last week and discovered that he got on really well with Holly - neither of them moidered each other. Since then LBB has been very busy in his new world - scooting from the nestbox to the outside and back again with regular fervour. 

Meanwhile TLB was in isolation in her own tub as we monitored her strength. It's hard to believe that this miniscule creature has recovered from a state of apparent death to darting around her box, climbing on lavender and feeding herself from the natural nectar rather than the honey water we freely provided for her. As her strength obviously continued to build, we took the decision that it was safe to introduce her to the other bees with some initial supervision. 

We are pleased to say it went very well, and just like LBB she has spent her time chasing round the big box, often in the footsteps of LBB. (Apologies for the picture quality - it's an iPhone screenshot from Skype over 2G!)

LBB and TLB explore together

Also like LBB, she has (at least initially) developed  a routine of coming in and out of the nestbox itself to explore the outer surroundings, and then head indoors for some relaxation and recovery. Quite often, in fact, this seemed to be in synchronisation with each other. At one point LBB even tipped TLB upright when she fell over on her back. What a wonderful thing to see. 

Finally, here's a picture of all three inside the nest box, getting along like a house on fire.

 3 bees in a boxWe are really hoping, that since bees are eusocial, allowing them to co-habit will actually be beneficial for them and help them develop or carry out their meaningful roles. So far, so good! Though I do wonder what chaos tomorrow will bring!