Sting Operation at Grand Opening

Excitedly we took delivery of our new Beepol bumblebees on 28th July. It contained a colony of (according to the literature) about 40 worker bees, a Queen and an established nest of Bufftailed (Bombus Terrestris Audax).

This certainly seemed to be reasonably close to the truth as the nest is visible through the clear lid of the internal 'hive'. We also took delivery of the special "lodge" that can be used to house and protect it. It all came together in a large single box delivered by the courier. Initial observations are as follows: 

  • The bees are delivered by Citylink - a company of which I have a very low opinion, unfortunately. I honestly dread to think what treatment the bees have to endure when in the care of a non-specialist courier. As it was we saw the courier nearly lose grip on the box and tip it over, which over course could be disastrous for the nest. I do not think Citylink is a good choice of transport for such a precious load. 
  • The bees are not packaged to anywhere near the standard and level of thought of the Koppert system. The Koppert hive comes in a cardboard box that is stapled to a large chipboard "w" shaped palette. It seemed cumbersome at the time but we realise now that it serves two very useful purposes. 1) The palette can actually be used as a mounting platform for the bee nestbox in the wild (although we used bricks). 2) The palette provides stability to the package and makes it almost impossible to turn over, either accidentally or out of sheer stupidity (e.g. by not realising which way is UP).
    In contrast the Beepol box was marked with two "this way up arrows" and a "caution: live bumblebees" sticker. Frankly I doubt most couriers even read that. Also, there was nothing by way of ventilation in the packaging. So, I'm not ashamed to admit that my first impressions were of a lower quality product (for a higher price!), with less detailed design attention than the Koppert equivalent. Hold that thought.
  • The lodge itself is a very aesthetically pleasing piece of equipment. Much smaller than you might imagine, and a lovely piece of 'furniture' to have in the garden. It's made of cedar but doesn't appear to be treated so we will do that later at some point to ensure water-tightness and longevity. 
  • Some aspects of the lodge are well thought out: there is a nice shelf by the entrance for the bees to rest on, and a slot at the back to run a camera wire internally (which is perfect for my needs). We haven't tested its stability to wind, which is something we must do. 
  • Other aspects of the lodge are less good: one of the corners did not join particularly and despite me trying to tighten the screws, this was not sufficient - so there is a small gap we have to fill. The same is true of the 'trueness' of the lid, which also has a small gap along the front. We are now paranoid about wax moth being able to enter through any nooks and crannies, so we plan to stick the 'soft' half of a strip of velcro to this edge to create a good seal. 


We did not install the lodge and inner hive straight away. Instead BCW first sprayed the hive thoroughly with Certan solution (using 10mls plus 190mls water). This was enough to drench it thoroughly. Certan is a biological larvicide for wax moth, so it is one line of defence we are putting into place. It's probably of limited use as it is unlikely we would get wax moth laying eggs on the wood of the lodge (more likely to go fully inside the plastic hive). But after recent experiences we are taking every precaution we can.

At the weekend I had prepared four bricks already with grease. These provide a solid base for the lodge and the grease prevents ants being able to access it. My job now was to equip the lodge with CCTV. I decided on a similar set as with the Koppert: one camera internally, one along the flight path and one watching the entrance. I fitted the first two to the lodge, which was a lot easier than the Koppert box as I could just screw them onto the wood. The views are rather different but I will discuss that in a later posting.

The entrance camera is going to be a problem as there is nothing to fit it to, so I will solve that later. 

The other thing we had to do was fit brushes to the entrance holes. This is another line of defence agains the wax moth, as suggested by Beepol themselves. We had a quite a palaver making and fitting the brushes and again, I am not confident in the security of this solution; but we have to try. 

final installation of the lodge

The lodge was all prepped and checked by about 8pm, so we decided that rather than leave the bees cooped up all night we'd give them some opportunity for fresh air and to acclimatise to their surroundings, on the basis that they probably had around 90 mins flying time still available (all my previous measurements coming in handy there). This was a case of adding the plastic hive into the lodge then releasing the special flap keeping them secure. 

That was when the trouble started. 

Release the Bees!

It is worth point out that the Beepol box comes with something called the "Beehome" system. What this means is that the plastic hive has two entrance holes. However, one is protected by a special "one way" flap that means (theoretically) the bees can only enter the box through that flap.

This system is put into action by shutting the main hole and leaving the one-way hole open. In this way the bees can return into the hive but cannot get out. You would do this when you need to collect the bees up, e.g. because you need to spray surrounding crops; or if for some reason you need to move the hive completely. You let all the bees come home, and stay stuck in the hive. 

The hive itself is basically a moulded plastic tub with all the required nest materials and food supply inside. It gives the impression of being much lower quality than the Koppert box. In a way it stands to reason: the beepol box is very much aim at gardeners and hobbyists, whereas the Koppert system is much more "industrialised", designed for farmers and crop-growers. It is therefore more robust and is more "one click" to use.

As soon as we had a close look at the nestbox itself, we knew there was a problem: there were bees trapped in the "one way" entrance. We took a quick decision that we had to release them first. Unfortunately that released half a dozen or more, because the one-way system was clearly not working, the bees were wedging it open. They were pretty angry and agitated and we didn't want to hang around too long to get stung, so the plan was to open the other entrance, close the lodge lid and then clear off! There was no point trying to consider a "controlled" opening of the main entrance using the supplied foam bung, as by this time bees were already freely emerging, so speed was of the essence. The trouble was, they were now landing on the lodge edge, making it impossible to shut the lid. This of course had the effect of keeping them exposed to light and thinking the top of their nest had been ripped off, so this just caused more agitation to the bees. The whole situation was self-perpetuating and rather stressful for all concerned!

So, it begs the question: what went wrong with the beehome system?  It has to be said the construction of it seems a rather flimsy affair, again inferior to the Koppert equivalent (which is almost too good, as some bees wouldn't get through it the in the proper direction, let alone the wrong direction!). What I suspect actually happened was the courier didn't keep the box fully level - well, actually we know that for a fact because he mishandled it retrieving it from the van and let it tilt sideways.

Behaviour of the Bees

We were quite concerned that the bees were getting out of the box with the lodge lid up and thus not using the proper lodge entrance holes. This wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't for the brushes that were now fixed to the box.

 DIY brush "system" in place on front of lodge

I felt that if the bees hadn't learned to push their way through them from the inside in the first instance, they may return to the box, find the lid replaced and no obvious entrance and they may not figure out pushing through the brushes. So as soon as the right moment presented itself we lowered the lodge lid. 

Although some of the bees flew off doing their customary "circle navigation" as they learnt their position some of them were rather lethargic and crawled onto the lodge lid and also onto the grass. This started to become a concern as by now the light was failing and we were worried not only about stepping on them, but also that if they were too cold to fly, they had no way of getting back into the box for the night. As much as possible we tried to pick them up carefully and place them back onto the lodge lid or entrance shelf and in the main this was very successful. 

Then it happened...   

One of the bees tried to sting BCW through the suede gardening glove. It didn't reach BCW but within a few minutes we realised that the sting was trapped in the glove fabric and the bee couldn't release itself. It was getting very stressed and tugging to try and get away and at risk of doing itself some fatal damage. We racked our brains to think how we could resolve this. We cut the finger of the glove off, which allowed more freedom of movement but didn't help to release the bee. We then cut as much away of the glove as possible, hoping that maybe we would see the sting on the underside of the glove and could tease or press it out. Again, this was fruitless, the sting didn't come all the way through the glove. 

The sun had now set and the light was very poor (I'd actually been in London all day and not eaten a single thing and it was now 10pm) and we were both getting a bit stressed out and upset by the situation, as this poor wee bumble, through no fault of her own, was destined to die if we couldn't release her. I knew that the only solution was to cut through her sting, though BCW was initially reluctant to let me do so - given that we neither had precision tools, nor did we really know what damage or pain our bumble would incur. But on the other hand, when faced with death, drastic situations call for drastic measures. And so it was agreed. 

We very gently prized the glove material apart a bit and exposed as much of her sting as possible, without actually ripping her abdomen off. I then got my extremely sharp stanley knife and very very carefully slid it towards the sting, as far into the glove as I could manage and made a gentle incision. She was free. 

Clearly traumatised by the whole affair, our bumble didn't go anywhere, just clung to the remnants of the glove finger. We placed the whole thing quickly into the lodge lid area and closed it again - we could from this point onwards monitor her on the CCTV. 

first image from inside new beepol lodge

I'm pleased to report that she seems to have survived and recovered from the whole incident - though I'm not so sure if we have!

So, a word of caution: Suede gardening gloves and bumblebees are not compatible. They offer fine protection to humans, but are perilous to the bees. 

Anyway, in order to end on a high note, here are some of our new bumbles emerging for the first time:

Plan Bee

We are thrilled to have ordered a new bumblebee hive before the season is over!

After the demise of our Koppert Hive, we thought that would be that until quite by chance we discovered the Beepol range from a discussion on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust Facebook page.

Unlike the Koppert solution, which is mainly an industrial solution marketed and sold to farmers and growers, the Beepol system is very much more aimed at the home gardener and bumblebee enthusiast. (Sadly this is also reflected in the pricing with retail prices being higher than trade prices and the involvement of the retail "middle man")

The main hive is very much like the Koppert system, with a plastic inner nest and outer cardboard box. It is slightly less industrialised than the Koppert box, which means there are pros and cons. Pros: it contains a clear lid for viewing, which the Koppert box doesn't (so no cutting through the lid to insert a camera!) Cons: the open/close of the bee entrance is more fiddly, involving a foam bung and string. On the Koppert box this is done with a clever built-in plastic slider.

In most other respects, though, the boxes are extremely similar, with similar performance. The life of the Koppert box is stated as 10 - 12 weeks at upto 50 bees, but less accurate data is provided for the Beepol box, saying it might last anything from 8 weeks to "the whole season" (march - september) and ships with a Queen and 30 - 40 bees. At this stage we'd be hoping we can get 6 - 8 weeks life from it into September.

The nice thing about the Beepol system, again differentiating it from the more industrialised Koppert solution, is it has a matching wooden "lodge" to house the hive while it is active. This is something the Koppert system does not include and why I had to go about building a whole shelter system to protect our Koppert box in the garden. (When a farmer uses it, they just stick it in the field on a palette with some polystyrene over the top).

The lodge is a lovely, reusable home for the hive, that is attractive to have in the garden and allows easy access via a hinged lid. The other great feature is room to install a video camera inside (WOOT!) that will look down through the clean plastic hive lid. This is just perfect for the 4-camera set up we have. I will fix another camera onto the front of the box to observe the entrance.

The major, major concern at this stage now is how to control the wax moth that we know we have in the garden and have now learnt of the existence of our previous bees. We will have to take every precaution possible. This will include some DIY advice from Beepol about using paintbrush bristles taped to the lodge entrance/exits to provide a screen that the moths do not have the strength to push through. I'll be honest, I'm a little concerned that this heath robinson approach might not work well as it will be hard to determine what is ok for the bees, but not ok for the moth. However, at the moment Beepol say they are working on a productised solution and the DIY option is the best there is for now.

With that in mind, we have also ordered B401 Certan. This is a biological preparation that is harmless to bees, humans and honey, but will defend against the wax moth. We will spray the lodge and hive with a Certan solution. We will also seal all vents with tight webbing (which we used on our other nestboxes to prevent ant intrusion) so that there are no secret holes for moths to enter.

As with the Koppert Box we will also take precaution against ants by mounting the lodge on greased bricks. We will also have to monitor closely in the high winds we can experience in the Fens - this is why my shelter for the Koppert box was so robust, but also led to us not really examining the box once it was all in place. We will be more vigilant with this one.

All in all, it's quite a concern, but we will learn a lot and be able to share it with the bumblebee-loving community.

Can't wait to get our new bees!


Based on traditional bee hive designs, the Beepol Lodge has been hand crafted in the UK from durable timber grown on FSC plantations.
Bumblebee colonies do not continue through the winter in the same way as honeybees do, so each year a fresh new Beepol garden hive can be purchased and placed within the lodge, ensuring every summer you can enjoy the sight and sounds of British Bumblebees hard at work in your garden, grounds or golf course.
The Beepol Lodge contains one Beepol garden hive, which can be replaced with a new one when the hive comes to the end of its life and the new queen bumblebees have dispersed. It has a hinged roof for access and for viewing the Bumblebee colony within.
The Lodge has exit and entrance holes designed for the particular size and shape of Bumblebees and even a landing ledge for them to rest on, as they come back to the hive with heavy loads of pollen.
Each Lodge incorporates wooden legs to keep the hive off the ground and has an option for attaching a mini wildlife camera, so you can see your bees at work from the comfort of your home or office.
The Beepol Lodge is the ultimate wildlife feature for your garden, grounds or golf course, providing a fascinating permanent place of residence for your very own Bumblebee colony every summer.


Apian Autopsy

On Saturday 16th July we declared our Bombus Terrestris Bumblebee Hive (our first) closed for business. It had been dormant for 3 days; sadly silent, inevitably inactive.

In total it survived for 10 weeks (10 - 12 weeks being the stated life) - although during the last two weeks their was a steady decline from activity almost every 30 seconds, to once every 30 minutes, to a handful of events per day. It was very sad to see this happening, knowing that - although inevitable - something didn't seem right, and what was already a short enough life seemed shorter than it should have been. 

Koppert Box

The nestbox/hive was a commercial hive from Koppert. It consists of a carefully designed plastic "tub" insided a protective cardboard box. "Tub" is a bit of a dis-service to the main nest box actually. In fact, it is a carefully and beautifully designed space for the bees to nest, with

  • a large supply of sugar water
  • all the nesting material they need
  • pollen to get started
  • a two-way exit/entrance and a one-way entrance
  • a built-in "shutter" to control the entrances
  • carefully designed ventilation system

koppert box removed from shelter


We allowed for the fact there might still be some live bees in the box. To that end we prepared one of our wooden nest boxes with nest material and food supplies so that we could transfer any surviving bees to a new home. we also bought some cheap kitchen tools for scraping and grabbing; they were very low cost so that we could dispose of them afterwards if they could not be satisfactorily cleaned. 

table prepared for examination and transfer of live beesWe also kept all the video cameras on the CCTV system running in case anything interesting happened. There is one inside the Natupol box, one inside the wooden box and one on the table.

Opening the box

It was difficult to get the cardboard lid off the box - we discovered this was due to the sticky silky fibres of wax moth that had invaded the nest. We had suspected this had happened, leading to premature failure of the colony; and I had seen evidence of moths inside the hive on the CCTV on a few occasions. 

This video gives you a good idea of what the inside of the box was like when we opened it up. 

There were no live bees in the box. Below are the other main things we observed

Wax Moth

 The wax moth larvae (catepillars) are self-evident on the video. Their cocoons and trails are extremely sticky and tough and it was very hard to get the box lid off (we ripped it) and remove their cocoons from the inside of the box. We were veyr disappointed to find them inside the nest, though took some comfort from the fact it was not totally destroyed within. Indeed, most of the wax and a good deal of honey was intact and the wax moth larvae were concentrated in two places: top left of the box (near the CCTV camera) and underneath the heart of the nest, embedded into the polystyrene insulation. 

This does beg the question whether our infra-red internal camera might have encouraged the wax moth and provided better conditions for growth (the latter almost certainly being the case). I need to do more research to conclude whether it is safe to have the infra-red camera inside the nest. (The bees, by the way, are not adversely affected by it). 

Wax Pots / Honey Pots

I was quite surprised to see the vast quantity of wax pots intact within the nest, having expected the wax moth larvae to have consumed it and for that to have then explained the rapid decline of the colony.  As you can see from the pictures, this was not the case - and indeed, there was a sizeable reserve of honey. 


Theories, then, for the decline of the colony would include possible desertion (which I believe I have evidence for on CCTV) and dysfunction of the nest caused by the wax moth silk - e.g. preventing bees from hatching and moving freely about the nest. 


Something we observed during the life of our nest was bees assembling in the corner under the camera to die. We wondered if it was coincidence or a true pattern. We discovered it was indeed  a pattern - firstly, here is a video from earlier in the season where we saw one bee dragging another one to this corner:

We saw this behaviour repeated on the CCTV. When we came to open the box we found this in two corners:

 dead bees in box cornerYou can see that a large number of bees have collected in the corner - two corners were like this, the other two clear. They were also rather "charred" - although one corner was under the IR cam, the other was not, so my theory is actually that this is also where they go to the toilet (certainly the remnants on the box suggested so) and that there has been a chemical reaction (which is what happens with manure in a compost heap). Other than those bees that never emerged from their pots, there were very few dead in amongst the nest, which suggests the bees act like "good citizens" and organise themselves a "graveyard" to die in. I find that amazing. 

Unhatched Bees

One of the more upsetting aspects of our discovery was the unhatched bees. With wax-moth silk threaded and webbed through the wax pots, they were very constricted and at first we thought this probably accounted for the apparent high mortality rate amongst hatchlings. However, after thinking about it some more and photographing the wax pots that were salvageable, I was struck by the number of them that had been broken open and had developing bees inside. I concluded that this may well have been part of the damage the wax moth created and would explain why many didn't hatch perhaps.

It's both fascinating and sad to see partly-developed bees in the wax pots, curled up and forever asleep. 

 Very noticeable are the white, downy strands of hair that cover them. we didn't find any that were very small, like Holly, who was the most incredible survivor. Apparently temperature, if insufficient, stunts growth: Holly was born very early on and perhaps in the young nest the temperature was not so high. All of the bees I observed during this examination were well developed in size, if not fully developed in features. 

Is that Fifi?

FIfi was our Queen Bee, named by my niece; but of course we never got to see Fifi as she was delivered in the box and stayed in the box throughout her life - all this work as an unsung heroine! We think we may have seen her once or twice on the CCTV camera traversing the corner of the box, though it was very hard to tell.  we are reasonably confident this is her in the middle of the picture as this is the biggest bee we found; you can see she is markedly larger than all the others. 

The remains of Fifi

Next steps

There were no live bees in the box, so we took the opportunity to take it fully apart, destroy all wax moth larvae as best we could and then clean everything later using detergent and a jetwasher to blast everything clean. Of course, we also took photos and I preserved some of the recoverable bees and wax pots to photograph more closely (as per the pictures of the unhatched bees above). This is our surviving record of our colony.

We will keep the Koppert box. Not only is it a wonderful piece of design, but it's also a high-performance nest space! As a minimum we'll have it as a spare for next year, in case we have to transfer the nest out of its host Koppert box for some reason. We can also use it for educational purposes, and possible even try and get a queen to hibernate in it over the winter.

so, in fact, this is by no means the end of the road, rather just the next phase: devising and developing better nest systems, better moth protection and encouraging queens to hibernate. And not just that, we're also getting a beepol box (in a few days, at the time of writing), more of that in the next post.

There is no rest for the busy Bumble-keeper - we are all busy bees!!

Wax Moth: Killer in the Night

On Saturday July 16th we finally turned off our cameras and declared our bumblebee nest inactive. We'd seen no bee action in or around it for 3 full days, apart from one large bee leaving, that looked large enough to possibly be a queen. A sad moment, given all the time and energy invested into our Bumblebees, but certainly not the end of our journey - still much to do. 

I will consign a fuller write up of the our findings from our examination of the box to a later blog post, but for now just a few words on Wax Moth.

Wax Moth is a Bumblebee parasite, a fact we were not aware of until the last few weeks of the function of our nest. It seems that honey beekeepers are well aware of the existence and precautions required against the wax moth; knowledge that perhaps doesn't extend readily down to the novice Bumblebee hobbyist; indeed, all the information I've found online is directed towards honeybee keepers. 

The bottom line is this: the wax moth spends time checking out the nest and even staying close to pick up the scent from the nest. Then it enters the nest secretively with the aim of laying its eggs without being discovered. The moth larvae build these incredible "silky" channels and tunnels to move around  the nest in. It's like a whole underground network made of really tough and sticky silky fibrous material. This protects them from being attacked by the bees. Then they basically munch their way through the wax pots made by the bees until the colony can no longer survive. 

According to experts at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, it is thought that up to 80% of garden-sited bumblee nests succumb to the wax moth. Some of the reasons stated for this being so high include the general garden habitat, which appeals to the moth and also that garden bumble bee nests are generally much more conspicuous (compared to say, a small hole in a mossy bank on the edge of field). I'm not 100% convinced the latter is a good explanation, or at least interpretation (it suggests that the moths are able to discern which man-made constructions comprise bumblebee nests); my personal feeling is that Bumblebees and their nests are more conspicuous in a garden simply by nature of the confined space and land area that is occupied. Add to this the other man-made features which may attract the moths, such as lighting,  and what you find is bees and moths habiting (say) the same 100m-square area: basically, dinner on a plate for the moth.

We may have unwittingly contributed to this situation ourselves by having solar lighting in the garden and infra-red lighting on our CCTV cameras. Once in a while we saw a moth at the mouth of the nestbox and wondered whether the infra-red had attracted it there. The jury is still out for me on that one - because what we didn't see was sustained activity around the camera, which I would have expected if the theory was true. 

However, there is another side to the story. When we opened up the Koppert Hive (which proved extremely difficult to do) we discovered that the wax moth larvae in the upper section of the box all eminated from around where our internal camera was sited (poking through the box lid). This left us wondering whether the heat/infrared from the camera had provided an attraction to the moth/larvae and a preferred environment for it to develop. At this stage I need to do more research/reading to be able to answer. 

 wax moth larvae and cocoons extending down the box side near the infrared camera

In a sense then, I was paradoxically relieved to discover that there had also been significant larvae development at the base of the box, underneath the whole nest. Perhaps, again, this leads to a theory of warmth being desirable, but it does suggest that it was not the camera and camera alone that provided an environment for the moth development. 

 Wax moth larvae in the base of the box, embedded in the polystyrene

Their invasion on the nest is really rather horrible. The larvae are bright yellow/green, up to 2cm long and fast movers. (There are lots of pictures on the web, so I didn't take any close ups to publish here). They hide out in their silk cocoons, which are dense and sticky (and why the box lid was so hard to remove; we almost had to rip it off). They seemed to have built a vast structure of cocoon tunnels to hide in around the edges of the box, away from the core of the nest itself, but these then extend into the nest/wax pot area in a web of silk paths and make the whole structure one very sticky and matted mess of silk, wax, honey and pollen. It seems to me it's possible this is responsible for restricting the movement and hatching of bees within the body of the nest structure, which aside from the destroying the wax itself, may also contribute to the nest decline. 

I was very sad to discover our box had been invaded by wax moth - we suspected it around mid June after a decline in audio activity from the nest, before a slight reduction in visible activity. By the beginning of July I was 99% certain - at one point we did see a moth inside the box on the CCTV, although we didn't see the larvae. Then the rapid decline began over the first 10 days of July, and I was sure. I was more sure than a sure thing from Sure Street, Sureland when on the final day I could see the larvae actually moving around on the nest bedding on the CCTV. Pretty gross actually. I'd like to try and go back over the CCTV if I have time to try and figure out when the initial invasion happened. 

I was gutted that we were powerless to help - or at least seemed so at the time, the Koppert box being a sealed unit. But in fact, having now disassembled it, that is not the case, (it's just cleverly constructed and clipped together) and it may have been possible to intervene earlier if we had really been sure of what was going.

This was partly down to lack of visibility inside the box and partly down to not really knowing about the risks of the wax moth until late in the day. The other lesson I will learn from this, is that it would have paid to have checked the nestbox all round from time to time. We believed the best thing was to leave it as alone as possible in its shelter and avoid stressing the bees by moving, examining and even opening it . But in hindsight, this might actually have paid off if we'd seen evidence of intrusion round the back of the box where the camera was. Although, to be fair, once the damage had got to the stage where it was visible, it may have been too late.

For next year we will try some strategies to try and reduce the risk of wax moth invasion:


  • Seal all the ventilation holes around the nest box by sticking on small webbing (as used on our wooden box to prevent Ant intrusion)
  • Eliminate lighting (or at least any nearby) in the garden
  • Control the opening of the nest box using a wireless timer (also available from Koppert)
  • reduce usage of the infrared camera, certainly inside the box
  • use "Certan" treatment around the box
  • plant some mint, which may help to discourage them


I would actually like to some research at this stage with what's left over from our box. We could use the wax pots that are left over (substantial quantity) to both track the rate at which the larvae can destroy it, but also potentially assess the effects of the above strategies - for example, whether the infrared attracts the moth and encourages development. The only thing is, we don't really want to end up creating a whole colony of new moths which could go on to destroy other bumble nests or come back next year to destroy ours. So, for the timebeing, we are still contemplating this.

But one thing is clear for next year: whatever we do, we have to try and prevent this devastating killer getting near our nest. 




It's been a quiet weekend (plus a day off work) on the blogging front owing to us have guests; and to a degree also quiet on the bee front for the reasons outlined below.

Special Guest

Our guests were very special - amongst them was my 3yr old niece, Chloe, who named Holly for us. Since the loss of Lucy (Lucas) last week, Holly had changed behaviour. She came out of her nestbox and started sleeping "outdoors" in the tub overnight. And her activity levels had begun to drop. Prior to the arrival of Chloe we were concerned for Holly's wellbeing, desperately hoping she could hang on for wee Chloe to meet and enjoy watching. 

Thankfully Holly clung onto the last, although she became very slow and inactive over the weekend. At one point we had a major scare, when for the first time she managed to get trapped in amongst the stones in the box.

Chloe had the pleasure of seeing her outside of the nestbox (and inside for a short while) over the weekend and walking a little, though most of her time was spent resting under moss. Sadly tonight, though, is her last at the grand old age of 67 days. 67 days of joy, amusement and often bafflement. She's followed the pattern we now recognise - become very still during the day; shaking or moving a little, gradually less and less; unsteady; curled up a little, tongue out; but unable and unwilling to drink anything.

A tiny, stripy ball, barely perceptible below the moss that was keeping her warm and feeling safe. Holly was rescued quite unexpectedly and we had to develop and perfect our techniques and care for her and her siblings on the fly; and she has taken a lot of our attention over the last few months, so she will indeed be missed. After our standard 24 hour minimum confirmation period we will give her a fine burial in the lavender where the next generation of bumblebees will forage next year. 

Holly when she was rescued

Koppert Colony

The other sad news is the final demise of our Koppert Hive in the garden. Over the month we noticed the sound inside the nest changing from a busy buzzing to a crackling sound. We had no real explanation for this at the time, although I now think it was the onset of Wax moth. Over the last week the activity in the box has signifcantly declined to the point where yesterday there was an average of about one "Motion" event every hour - which probably represented at most one or two bees actually active and foraging. 

The Hive has just made it to 10 weeks old - it was quoted as 10 - 12 weeks lifetime, so there is the possibility this is a natural conclusion and not caused by the wax moth. However, there is no denying the fact that not only did I see moths on the CCTV outside the box on occasions, but sadly over the last two days I have seen (at least) one inside the box. This is just such a bad omen. It's very upsetting to think that the colony might have been destroyed by this parasite, whose larvae destroy the waxy honey pots inside the nest and thus destroy its ability to survive. I really hope they have been able to produce new queens before this devastation, but I'm not too hopeful that was indeed the case.

If I'd known about the wax moth when we got the hive I would have taken stringent measures to try and better protect it. As it is, I knew no better. My plan for next year is to find something natural to try and discourage the moth (Mint has been suggested) as well as look at technology solutions. My preferred option at the moment is the wireless entrance controller by Koppert to close the box overnight. 


This is not the end of our project - aside from being sure the colony is fully inactive, there is still some data to collate from the CCTV system and also much writing up to be done. Then there are preparations for next year; I want to design something for queens to hibernate in later in the year. I also want to adapt our nestboxes in various ways. There is quite a lot of photography to sift and organise, and I have several other creative ideas too. It's going to be busy!