Bumblebee rehousing

Last weekend we were contacted by a householder who had a bird house in his back garden, which had been occupied by bumblebees. He wanted to know if these were a danger to kids but was aware of problems with bee numbers declining, and didn’t want to take unnecessary action.

Lynne remembered that the magazine BeeCraft had had an article about a specific type of bumblebee with a warning that it can get aggressive if the nest is vibrated. Checking this, against photos the man sent, showed he had indeed got the one awkward species of bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum, the Tree Bumblebee. This is recognisable from the colouring: ginger at the front / black in the middle / white tail. Pictures here and here (as those pictures are off this site I will not reproduce them here for copyright reasons). I was concerned a football or other incident could shake the nest on the fence and offered to move it.

Tree bumblebees in new location

Tree bumblebees in new location

The Beecraft article recommended relocating the nest at night, so the foragers are all home. Sunset was around 9:15pm. It was remarkably straightforward, they were all inside, I taped some porous gauze over their entrance before they knew what was going on, sealed another hole at the back (duct tape is brilliant) and took them off to a wood near where I live – about 8 miles from their original location, so they wouldn’t try to return.

They’d been a lot more passive than their fearsome reputation implied so far, but I took no chances and used a bee suit as I trampled through the dark wood. I used a red light, which they can’t see, to navigate – from previous experience I knew this particular wood is full of muddy pools, brambles etc and I was now blundering around partially sighted in the dark. I couldn’t help thinking this would lead to a sighting and report of aliens or cultists in the local woods. I remounted the nest as high as I could with the aid of a small ladder. In a wood, in the dark, in a suit. And I thought messing around in hives could be clumsy!

I left the gauze blocking the entrance so they could settle overnight, and removed it the next day. A week later they are still bumbling in and out of the birdbox, so they seem happy enough with their new location.

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4 Responses to Bumblebee rehousing

  1. itsonlyausername says:

    Glad the property owner had the sense to contact you. I suspect that most would act out of fear and nuke them.
    Nice work Paul.


  2. melvin56 says:

    Excellent work , Paul. Well done indeeed.


  3. liralenli says:

    Oh, that’s cool to know that they can be moved much like any hive!


  4. Paul says:

    Concerning moving bumblebees – if they’re conveniently packaged in a bird box like they’re easy to move. You need to be careful with this one species though as they are the ones who will pour out and defend the nest if it moves – so tape up all the exits, including the keyhole shaped one at the back that usually allows bird boxes to be mounted on a protruding screw.

    But there is a large industry based on shipping bumblebee nests around! Take a look hither – http://www.koppert.com/products/pollination/products-pollination/detail/minipol-beehive or search for “bumblebee suppliers”. Once industrial scale growers of fruit in greenhouses, like tomatoes, realised that they could replace human pollinators with bumblebees the market boomed. There are huge “factories” where bumblebee nests are raised and shipped off.


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