Emergency Bumble Bee Nest Relocation!
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Last weekend I got a text from Jennifer Howard, beekeeper and cut flower grower at Buck Naked Farm in Moncure. They were having well issues on the farm and while troubleshooting the problem had discovered a bumble bee nest in the well house. The plumber was on the way so Jennifer asked me for advice on relocating the nest so he could work inside the small space and not worry about getting stung. Moving a bumble bee nest is not easy and should only be done as a last resort; success is not guaranteed but in this case it was the only shot at saving these bees!
Bumble Bee Life Cycle
Bumble bee queens hibernate through the winter and when they emerge in early spring will first seek out spring flowers so they can feed on nectar to gain energy. Next they get busy choosing a nesting site. Bumble bees nest in cavities and can find all kinds of imaginative spots to build their nests: abandoned underground rodent burrows, brush piles, watering cans, bluebird houses, at the base of grasses, dryer hoses…wherever they can find a little sheltered cavity and some nesting material. Bumble bees can also be imaginative in their choice of nesting material – I have seen one nest constructed of goat hair and dried grasses! The nest at Buck Naked Farm was made in a pile of insulation.
The bumble bee queen works solo in the beginning to build the nest. She has to raise all the worker bees that will help her! She produces wax flakes that she uses to construct little wax cups that are filled with nectar from the flowers she has been foraging on. She makes more wax cups that she fills with pollen and then lays eggs on these (they are called brood cells). When the eggs hatch the larvae feed on the pollen. The queen continues bringing back pollen and nectar until the first new bees emerge, which will all be females. These new female worker bees will now take over foraging duties while the queen focuses on building more brood cells and laying eggs. If the bees are able to find adequate flowers to forage on, the nest builds in size over the summer. Bumble bee nests can range from a few dozen bees to a few hundred. In late summer, if the bees have been able to collect enough pollen and nectar from nearby flowers, male bees emerge and a new queen is produced. By fall the old queen has died along with the workers. Only the new queen survives and she will mate and then seek out a sheltered spot to hibernate (under a stone, beneath the leaf layer, in a hole in a log, in the soil, etc.) through the winter.
Tips on Relocating a Bumble Bee Nest
I shared some advice with Jennifer on relocating a bumble bee nest. Below are some general guidelines.
If the nest is not inside an object (flower pot, bird house, etc.) that can be moved, you will need to select a nest box that will be the new home for the bees. The nest box should have a small entrance for the bees to come and go. Line the bottom of the nest box with some soft nesting material (cotton batting, dried grass clippings, etc.).
Make sure you have all the tools and equipment you need before you start the relocation process. You want to get the job done quickly to minimize stress on the bees.
Be prepared for the bees to be defensive, as you are disturbing their home and they have brood to protect. Wear protective clothing, at least a long sleeved shirt and gloves.
Ideally the nest should be moved at night, because bees can’t fly in the dark. If possible, use a flashlight with a red beam (bees can’t see the color red) or cover the flashlight with red plastic so the bees don’t react. Try and recruit a helper to hold the flashlight while you move the nest!
Usually nests are covered so start by carefully uncovering the nest until it is exposed. Gently scoop the nest from underneath using a shovel or whatever tool is appropriate for the situation. A wide shovel is best so you can get the entire nest in one scoop. Be careful not to crush any delicate brood cells or spill nectar from the wax pots! Gently place the nest with the nesting material into the new nest box.
Relocating the Bumble Bee Nest at Buck Naked Farm
I went out to the farm to support Jennifer while she moved the nest. The photos below document the removal process. We have 15 different species of bumble bees in North Carolina; the bees at Buck Naked Farm are brown-belted bumble bees (Bombus griseocollis). Check the photo captions for details.
Visit the Buck Naked Farm website to learn more about the farm. Follow Buck Naked Farm on Instagram and Facebook. You can purchase flower Bouquets from Buck Naked Farm at Once in a Blue Moon Bakery & Cafe in Cary!