Another bite at the cherry

The decline of our colony continues with all but a handful of bees active over the last few days. This is despite an increase in activity in general, most notably on our lavender, which has an increasing number of bumblebees with each day: bufftails, redtails, early bumblebees, and common carders to name but a few.

At the latter part of the week and weekend I saw a number of bumblebees around the entrance to our lodge - though wasn't clear if they were coming in or leaving. But they seemed to have difficulty flying and had disappeared from view. (One I specifically saw fall off the ledge).

Naturally I went out to rescue them, but it had been an hour at least since once had disappeared and she was nowhere to be found. I looked hard then and the next day too, but found nothing. I never gave up hope. 

On Saturday I was able to rescue one which had a damaged wing. We quarantined her and eventually added her to our indoor box of invalids. Sadly she actually broke her right wing completely by her burrowing antics, so she definitely couldn't fly. She could certainly climb though! She's the first bumble we've had that been able to climb the plastic box and escape! Till now we thought we were safe! 

rescued with a damaged wing - taking a big drink after being fed with a syringe

It's not lasted long though, sadly today she died. We actually think she might be a boy from "her" antics and they have such terribly short lifespans: 7 - 14 days, so it's not surprising, especially when they've already aged and had difficulties when  they were in the wild.

It was bad news too on the bumblebee I saw go missing but couldn't find - on Sunday I did find her, essentially "drowned" on the gravel outside the lodge. She must have returned there from somewhere else, because I'd thoroughly searched the area previously. We never gave up hope and warmed her up indoors and quarantined her too - but she never revived.

It's not all sad news though. I found the third missing bumblebee close to death on Sunday entangled in the nearby grass (thankfully I hadn't cut the lawn). Although we didn't know at the time, he was a boy, and was soaked through and almost unable to move. His bands were almost pure white. We brought him indoors too, warmed him and fed him directly with a syringe and he gradually revived. At the time we thought he couldn't fly so we just cared for him, provided bedding and kept him warm (but separate from the others). He drank a lot of honey water - a typical sign of a boy.

Amazingly his bands recovered colour (though hard to see from the picture) and today was back to being a vibrant golden colour. Quite remarkable. As he was getting stronger and stronger and the weather was so lovely, we tried to fly him. We'd seen him attempting to fly but not making much of it - I thought his wings were too bent.

"before" and "after" of our rescued boy

But of course, as is the golden rule now, we never gave up. Late this afternoon he was buzzing in the box, flying up to the lid. So, we took him outdoors and within about 30 seconds he was off! He circled up beautifully, getting his bearings then flew off towards the sun.

It's a wonderful moment to know you have probably saved a life like that. Thankfully, as a boy he doesn't need to get to his nest - he will just spend his time outdoors foraging and looking for a queen to mate with (he may already even done so). At least now he has another bite at the cherry, so to speak.


Pecking Order

We've not said a lot about the Queen we have indoors - she's been with us 4 days now (found Monday 30th April) when we discovered her bedraggled in the garden, unable to fly. 

She's got a problem with her wings; in fact, they seem as though they haven't inflated properly and become large and rigid enough, and consequently she can't generate the lift needed no matter how hard she flaps. We're still not 100% sure, we keep expecting her to take off at some point, but we've tried allowing her to do so numerous times and it just doesn't happen. 

Consequently we've kept her indoors and fed her. She has fed fine on honey water and loves the Kapok we provided - burrowing deep down with ease, often disappearing from sight altogether!

Where's she gone? :)Up till now we have kept our two worker bumbles and the queen separate as we weren't really sure how it would work out putting them together, or indeed what we should do with the queen long term. We've sought additional expert advice, and the best suggestion is that the kindest thing to do is actually keep our queen alive (she will perish outdoors) and take the opportunity to study her behaviour.

a clearer view of our queen's imperfect wingsIn fact, her behaviour has been a mild source of concern as she has basically spent a good deal of her time buried in the Kapok, very still. Not that there is a lot to do, of course, but it's kind of worrying to see her so inactive. So, we took a calculated decision to introduce the workers to the same space as her to see whether as a small community it would have a beneficial effect.

We ensured that we had a backout plan and introduced them together late this afternoon. Well, the good news is there was no fighting! 

Actually the behaviour has been rather intriguing as we watch for subtle cues of their interaction.

The first reponse seemed to be that our two workers were interested in the queen and kept going over to her to explore. She was a bit annoyed by this - and has given then warning signs, as well as nudged them out of the way, and the occasional kick. Lucky, the smallest, was most interested. In general the Queen was ignoring them except when they came to her. 

That broad pattern has continued, however, at times the queen has now pro-actively followed the workers. She shows signs of exerting her dominance by nudging them, possibly biting at them a little (legs/side) - though that's hard to tell. But what is obvious, is she stands right over them and engulfs them with her whole body (see video). She does not appear to harm them in any way, but it's a real apparent show of dominance/submission and quite intriguing. 

Even more remarkable, however, is the behaviour of the workers, because every so often - lucky in particularly - approaches the queen and actually walks right under her, assuming the same position as described above. So, this appears like a deliberate show of submission to the Queen, which I certainly never expected.

All throughout this there is a certain sense that the queen is a bit agitated by the attention. We have to remember, of course, that these bumbles are sisters, not mother daughter, and I wouldn't doubt for a minutes that they could tell the difference in smell. Perhaps our queen has to work up to producing the pheremones that her mother would normally produce to help control her offspring; and we know that behavioural dominance is a key part of the dynamic in the ordinary nest. (see my reference papers). Of course, there are mechanisms, such as smell for cuckoo bumblebees to take over the dominant role in the nest, so we know it can happen - and perhaps we are seeing some of that here. 

The other thing that has become immediately noticeable, though we will have to observe for a few days to determine if it is coincidence, is that the workers - Nedine in particular have suddenly shown an interest in the pollen that they have never done so before. Both the workers have spent more time amongst the pollen that is in the corner of the box, seemingly just walking through - but tonight we clearly observed Nedine's mandibles in action, picking at small grains. Has the presence of a queen suddenly triggered an interest in pollen? If so, the effect was within a matter of hours. 

So, we wait a little nervously for this first night, hoping all will be intact in the morning - remembering back to when we introduced our workers and boy last year and he created chaos in the nest!

Wee Hidey-Hole

I noticed a tiny tiny bumble today that couldn't get back into the nest. It was so small, it had no chance of opening the flap - and all the bumbles that were coming and going around her were just buffeting her around and tredding all over her. It was sad to see. Then she fell off the ledge. 

I asked BCW if she would go out and try and rescue her but by then it was a little too late, and she couldn't be found. 

However, in the process, BCW heard a buzzing nearby and when she looked found a queen bee on the gravel and grass near one of our other nestboxes. She was tired, cold and hungry and seemed unable to fly, with a damage wing. 

BCW rescued her and took her indoors to get warm, dry and fed:

Understandably she drank without hesitation and with great enthusiasm from our tray of honey water. 

After she was satisified she decided to explore the Kapok that was also put in her box. Well, she seemed to love this. She burrowed down and made a wee hidey-hole. 

she didn't stop there - she burrowed deep inside - just as bufftails do (especially when hibernating underground).

BCW was concerned at this stage, in case she had gone in there to die. But thankfully she didn't stay there but came out again to explore and have another drink.

She's left us with a bit of a dilemma about what to do with her. It does seem as though she can't fly, in which case if we set her outdoors she will ultimately perish. On the other hand, keeping her indoors seems somewhat cruel - she has an expected lifespan of 18 months, but she will be trapped and unable to fulfil her destiny during that time; or who knows, maybe she will even start laying and nest building! 

That would not be good indoors - so our best bet is to see if she will use one of the nest boxes outside. We may have to put her in there with food supplies and see if that is enough to keep her in there and maybe start nest building. If she does not stay in there, we could consider trapping her - but I really do not like this idea - and there is no guarantee she would start laying either. Plus, since, presumably, she hasn't mated yet, she will only lay boys, so she will not get any help making the nest. It's difficult to know what to do for the best. 


Fat Bottomed Girls - and our 1st goodbye

We've had a few bumblebees in care now, 3 in fact, all very small and missing various bits such as wings and legs. They've been getting along great together in their box and feeding well. Here they are all sleeping/resting together - very cute ☺

3 tiny bumbles resting overnightOnce BCW was back from her travels she decided to name them after the 3 Amigos (3 Abeegos, as I call them): Lucky, Dusty and Nedine (girl's version of Ned). 

Sadly, girl/worker bumblebees generally have a very short life, perhaps 1 - 3 weeks, and the small ones especially so. Lucky, the first one I rescued, took a turn for the worse mid morning - very still and listless. We offered her some honey water but she wasn't interested and it didn't help to revive her. 

Little Lucky - not feeling so wellIt looks like this evening we've lost her; sad indeed, but we are becoming used to it - all part of the short cycle of life for bumblebees and for her only perhaps 6 - 10 days old.

I've not had chance to scan the CCTV so far this week (which is not good) - but it's been so wet and windy that there's not been a lot of activity. One of the most intriguing things we'e seen is what seems to be a queen fanning. I'm surprised she is taking on a worker role. I keep doubting if it's a queen, but here's a series of pictures and I'm sure that all the large bees are queens. Indeed, some of them are easily over 25mm in length.

a very sizeable bee - queen - fanning Another shot of the same queenOther large bees - NOT queen size - fanning

 And another shot of some queens just to get the scale

3 queens resting at the entrance - huge abdomenSo, I'm pretty confident in that first image, it's a queen. 

Weekend Update 2

It's pretty much been a bumble-filled day today (sunday) as well. I was determined to catch up on as much as possible. 

Updates to observations

The observations page will probably never be finished, but it was definitely lacking a few items I'd forgotten and some photos and videos. So, I've added some information about trip times, some more video and some extra pictures plus a few other bits and bobs. 

New Tumblr

I decided I wanted an immediate way to share photos, especially those taken in the field, just as a way to get more close up and personal with the lives of our bumbles. Although I can upload to this blog via the iPhone it's not really quite as immediate, and you don't necessarily want to write an article for just a single picture). So, I've created a tumblr page at 

More Data

Sometimes life feels like a constant stream of data - mainly because most of my data capture is manual at the moment (though improving in areas). So, I'm constantly playing catch up and this weekend was no different. However, I've managed to skim another 2 full days of CCTV and count all the trips and new memorisation flights. 

So, for 18th and 19th April in our beepol nest (2012B1) we have:


  • total trips = 275
  • total memorisation flights = 44
  • total Queen trips (included in above number) = 18
  • total Queen memorisation flights (included in above number) = 7


If we add this to existing data for the first two days, it gives us a total of 180 memorisation flights (i.e. colony of at least 180 workers) and 12 Queen Memorisation flights (thus we assume 12 new queens!)


Another Patient

I went outside today to cut the grass and just before I did so checked the live CCTV for anything nearby. Lo and behold a small bumble struggling to fly. I went to her rescue and tried to help her to the nest, but she was determined to make a break for it and fell to the floor. I decided I should rescue her and add her to the two we already have indoors.

She has the same disabilities as one of the others - exactly the same leg and wing not developed, so she cannot fly. She's slightly larger though. I added her to the box with the others and all seems to be going well. From what I have seen they are all having a good drink as required. 


Our third inpatient for 2012 - quenching her thirst on some spilt honey water