It’s the time of the season; when love runs high.

Bees, glorious bees!

It’s a tricky time of year for me. I love that I’m seeing so many invertebrates. Bees, butterflies, beetles. However, as the end of summer approaches I am coming across plenty of tired or worse, dead bees. It’s a phenomena I often encountered  when I was younger – a pavement littered with unconscious bumblebees, and I was never quite sure what had happened. As a child, I was confused to whether this was the influence of man, or a more natural occurrence. The cynic that I am I usually put it down to pesticide use or malicious intent; probably taking inspiration from an incident in the playground when a huge swarm of honeybees were destroyed with what I can only describe as a giant can of bug spray (rather Ghostbusters-esque). When we were let out at lunchtime I was horrified to find the ground covered by these unfortunate twitching insects.

I now know finding dead bumblebees towards the end of the season (which originally appeared to me as some kind of insect massacre) is actually a normal part of the bumblebee behaviour. That doesn’t really make it any easier to deal with and the empath in me wants to try and revive every sombre bee I see.

My box of bees, various shapes, sizes, species and sexes. Yet to be pinned and/or labelled but still fascinating under a microscope.

Bumblebees have been shown to regulate their temperature by detaching their wing muscles and ‘shivering’ the tissues to create friction and hence heat. They have a high metabolism and need to feed often so when areas are lacking in suitable foraging habitat to provide energy and on cooler days and evenings, bumblebees may find themselves unable to muster the energy to take off. In recent weeks I have noticed quite a few bees in this situation. They seem to settle on the pavements and roads – I wonder if it’s because it holds heat longer in the evenings than other surfaces. I always pick them up and transfer them to the nearest flowers (while trying to remember which species have long/short tongues and which flower would be most convenient for them.)

I’m not the only one! Many people do try and do succeed in restoring tired bumblebees to their previous glory.  I’ve read that a solution of equal parts water and sugar will give a lethargic bumblebee the boost it needs to take off and find flowers. It certainly worked for my dad last week 🙂

A beautiful bumblebee my dad found on his windowsill and fed sugar water. It flew away the next morning. Species undetermined (as my dad lives in Spain and they have more species than the UK) but possible agg. Bombus lucuorum. Photograph copyright to Patrick Ives.

However, sadly the death of the males and worker bumblebees is inevitable and imminent. The females are working hard to feed the queen larvae. The males will leave the colony to mate, probably roost a few nights on tall plants but won’t return to the nest. It’s only the new queens that survive each year to create new nests when spring comes. Once leaving the current colony, they mate and forage heavily to build fat reserves. The new queens will hibernate (usually underground – find out how you can help by providing hibernation spaces for them here) and emerge next year. The process will begin again.

So when the time comes and you start finding a few more dead bumblebees on the ground or in your garden, be reassured that it’s not the end of the world – just the end of the season. If you are concerned, find more useful information here.

I’ve written here mostly about the natural lifecycle of bumblebees. Of course, bumblebees and solitary bees face quite a threat from human activities including loss of habitat and the use of some pesticides. This all leads on nicely to DEFRA’s recent highly controversial decision (against plenty of scientific advice) to overturn the 2 year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in certain areas of England which I will follow up on soon.

In the mean time, if you feel you would like to sign a petition to try and persuade the government to overturn the overturn of the ban, please follow this link.

All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.


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