Bumblebee queens, where do they rest?
Updated. I have seen several bumblebee queens recently (Feb 2016) and none of them were in nest seeking mode! I am convinced that after emerging from hibernation it can take quite a while before they are actually fit to start a nest. Weather, temperature and available forage will greatly determine this activity.
After my article bumblebee queens where do they nest? I thought I would write another aspect of bumblebee ecology… resting! When queen bumblebees awake from hibernation, the first thing on their mind is to feed up and replenish their fat reserves, now exhausted by the hibernation process. The early morning and early afternoon is spent replenishing their fat reserves. Sladen mentions that by afternoon, as the sun descends and the air grows chilly, the queens find hiding places and relapse into a semi-torpor until a favourable day rouses them into activity again. As the season progresses, the activity increases and the semi-torpor decreases.
Where do the bumblebee queens rest mid afternoon?
With this in mind, I went for a short stroll near by to where I live. It forms part of my bumblebee walk for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. In the past, I often saw queen bumblebees showing nest searching tendencies, but from later observations in exactly the same area, I have not, to date, found any established bumblebee nests in 3 years of living here. I knew the area was sheltered, received sunshine all day and would be ideal I thought, for bumblebees to rest in. Yesterday 22 March 2012 , I went outside to the area I usually observed the queens. I saw lots of them just resting on the grass surface, just hidden in grass tufts or just under leaves. Today 23 March 2012 had similar weather. Both were lovely days, warm, no wind, sunny with blue skies and dare I say it, rather summery.
All photographs taken on the day and time in question, with an iPhone 4s. Total species shown below.
From 1440 hrs to 1540 hrs I went for a stroll along the area, a piece of parkland measuring about 125 m in length, which forms part of a much larger area.
The length I was observing runs in a long an east-west corridor and faces south. The area was receiving full sun and does for most of the day.
The opposite side of my observation area was shaded and I did not se one bumblebee resting there.
She was too quick for me though and as soon as I moved nearer to get a shot, she was off!
It is known that bumblebee queens bury themselves beneath vegetation to avoid the dangers of frost. These queens, some of which were found on top of dead leaves may spend the night underneath these leaves. Others on the grass banks may have to move to the dead leaves to bury beneath.
Queens need huge amounts of protein in the form of pollen and unfortunately this particular area does not have much at this time of the year, just a few willow trees for pollen and very few primroses for nectar, many of which were planted by the Friends of Gorse Covert Mounds .
Alford states that bumblebee queens spend time flying, foraging and……sunning themselves on vegetation! He was right!
This apparent life of luxury will not last too long. The important tasks of nest site searching, nest building and colony establishment is not too far away now.
I found most of the B.lapidarius at rest on a recently mown grassy bank. Bumblebees I have seen like to bury themselves under small piles of the partially dried grass.
You do have to approach quietly. I broke a twig as I stood on it about 12 cms from a slumbering queen. The snap which was loud, caused her to jump slightly, her wings crossed over each other, then a little movement, followed by vibrating of her wings and a clumsy take off ensued. I do not know if they can hear but she certainly was spooked, as many were as I approached them and got quite close to them. This one I managed to photograph just as I disturbed her, many more I did n’t and off they flew.
To be honest, there were far more that I disturbed and was unable to photograph than I could photograph!
All in all I found 17 B. terrestris/lucorum, 7 B. lapidarius, 2 B. pratorum and just 1 B. hypnorum
I have only see two queens in my nearby garden this year to date and no wonder as they are all snoozing nearby! Though as I did not see any with pollen on their rear legs, this implies that those I saw had not yet replenished their fat reserves, nor had set up a nest sites.
See my new Registered Design award winning solitary bee box and bumblebee nest box both of which are radical, practical and educational, offering them a safer nesting environment in which you can observe the bees. Great for schools!
For more information about solitary bees and wasps visit BWARS
For more bumblebee information and to help save bumblebees join the Bumblebee Conservation Trust at Stirling University
Refs: Besides my own observations, photographs and experiences;
Alford, D.V.(1975) “Bumblebees”, Davis-Poynter Ltd.
Sladen, F.W.L. (1912) “the Humble-Bee” Macmillan & Co.Ltd