Tree bumblebee B. hypnorum and the dancing drones! video

June 12, 2013

in A selection of my garden wildlife videos, Bumblebees and their ecology, Gardening For Wildlife

A mating ritual by B. hypnorum males

I have had several bumblebee nests in my garden and found many as well over the years in the wild. I have not had any experience of the new UK arrival Bombus hypnorum, other than as garden visitors and sitings outside, nor any experiences of their behaviour. I was very aware that they defend their nests with vigour! I was unsure exactly how this would translate in reality!  How far this aggressive defence extended beyond the nest I was not aware. I have been stung by B. terrestris that was just inside the nest entrance hole, it dived out of the nest and stung my neck, and immediately returned to the nest entrance. I was a few feet away, but directly in line of the entrance hole.

‘Swarming’ bumblebee behaviour

With a ‘swarm’ of B. hypnorums outside of each of my two nest boxes, moving up and down, performing circles and figures of 8, others would land on the nest entrance, then fly off to join in the swarm.  I watched (and videoed) bees leave the nest and join the swarm. Workers would return with pollen and simply bypass the swarms. Some bees would leave the swarm and go to the ivy behind the nest box, then rejoin the swarm. Diligent defence strategy I believed, searching for potential dangers to the nest. One hot sunny days, many more bees were present and less on cooler days. From very early in the morning to almost dusk, they performed this behaviour. For me, this was completely new behaviour for bumblebees. I made several videos. Then whilst about 8 feet way from one nest, whilst watching the spectacle,  I was stung by a B. hypnorum bee just under the eye. Videoing was put on pause!

Misinterpretation of behaviour

I watched a rather persistent green bottle fly try to enter the nest box. A guard bee ran from inside the nest to the outside and tried ram the fly, shooing it off, (though I assume she would have bitten it). The green bottle  simply flew up and moved a couple of inches away but still near the nest entrance. It moved to go inside. It was chased again and again by the same bee with the green bottle simply flying out of harms wyto try to eneter the nest box hole from a different angle.  It did this several times, in the end the green bottle got the message and flew away. Whilst videoing, (now from a safer distance!), I observed some bees forming part of one swarm move across as individuals to the other swarm and vice versa. “This must be some form of mutual defence of nests” I thought! I found this rather strange behaviour and decided to research defensive strategies of these bees. There was not much to be found until I came across the                B. hypnorum Bumblebee Conservation Trust information sheet.

I read about the swarms of bees outside nests. It states that they are drones performing an ‘aerial dance’ like a cloud close to the nest entrance. This behaviour is technically called ‘nest surveillance’ and is a mating characteristic of B. hypnorum. Everything I read fitted my observations. ” Bees join  and leave the ‘cloud’ as they move from nest to nest: they are probably following a ‘patrol route’. I had totally misinterpreted the behaviour, being too obsessed and very wary of them ”defending their nests with vigour’ and me being stung to re enforce this belief!

New video I then got to thinking about how and why I was stung. Whilst watching the swarming spectacle, the sting was not of the same severity as the B. terrestris one I had several years ago. This time I was standing in the direct flight path to the nest entrance. I saw this particular bee launch herself out from the nest box, drop down and start to climb up, it all happened so quick. I tried to move out of its way and it collided with me. The sting was not a full blown sting, more of a slight prick really. The bee simply carried on with its outward flight and did not return to the nest box as did the B. terrestris that stung me. It was not a deliberate attack upon me. More my own fault for being directly in the flight path and moving out of the way. Knowing that the swarms were males, therefore stingless, knowing that I did not intend vibrate, knock or otherwise disturb the actual nest itself, knowing my mutual defence strategy was wrong, full of confidence and now out of the direct line of flight, I made this video of the ‘dancing drones’!

“All my articles and videos, available free, are funded by my  teaching and sales of award winning bumblebee nest boxessolitary bee boxes,  and wormeries. Please help by spreading the word and forwarding this link to your friends and colleagues. http://nurturing-nature.co.uk  Thank you” George Pilkington

Update…..8th July 5 males still dancing!  10th July 4 dancing. 12th 3 bees, 14th 2 bees, 16th just 1 bee feeling lonely! 18th July 1 dancing bee joined by a bee from the nest this bee was flying around, about 1 minute dancing together then flew back into nest leaving single dancer outside. Short time later a bee again joins bee outside, dance together and one bee returns back into nest. Seen this many times over the weeks, a bee joins swarm from nest box and a bee returns to nest box from swarm. Second tree bumblebee nest now with wax moth larvae inside. 19th, 20th , 21st, 22nd one male dancing. 23rd, 24th 2 dancers. 25th 3 dancers! 26,27th, 1 sometimes 2. 28th, 1-2. 29th 1 sporadically.

Refs. Besides my own observations, videos and experiences;

Hill, C. (2013), “Introducing the tree bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum“, Bumblebee Conservation Trust information sheet.

For more information and to help save bumblebees join the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

BWARS are recording the spread of B. hypnorum which you can submit a record here and join here

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Kit Welchman June 19, 2013 at 11:01 am

Thanks George – and Clive.

Fascinating account with pictures – so much to learn about bumble bee behaviour.

kit

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nurturingnature June 19, 2013 at 11:40 am

Thanks Kit, nice joint effort there eh!!Cheers George

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Anna oakford May 20, 2014 at 2:31 pm

I’ve only noticed bombus hypnorum in our garden this year, and I wondered where their nest was. This morning I saw dancing drones outside the hip of our garage roof. Its pantiled and very easily accessible to bees! Thanks for your interesting articles etc.

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nurturingnature May 20, 2014 at 4:18 pm

My pleasure Anna! I have many more videos and may post some more dancing drones in larger numbers this time! Cheers George

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Christine June 3, 2014 at 12:48 pm

I have just discovered we have a nest in the sofit of our house about 6ft above the door….I am concerned as the following says they are aggressive???

http://asianhornets.com/the-tree-bumblebee-bombus-hypnorum-a-bee-to-be-wary-of/

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nurturingnature June 3, 2014 at 7:08 pm

Hi, There is a lot of misinformation about these bees, including your link! They will be dead pretty soon and being 6 foot above your door there is little danger that you will be moving their nest or disturbing it! Keep visiting this site and go to my bumblebee ecology section to see more about this very useful bumblebee! Cheers George

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Anna oakford June 4, 2014 at 6:19 am

Hi Christine,

We also have a nest of these bees on our garage roof just above our heads. They take absolutely no notice of all our comings and goings. So I would just enjoy them!

Anna

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nurturingnature June 7, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Now that is such a positive attitude! Thanks, George

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Sharon Singer June 8, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Hi I have some of these bees living in the side of my house do they cause any damage. How long do they live and how do I stop them from returning.

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nurturingnature June 8, 2014 at 9:06 pm

Feel privileged to have the side of your house chosen by a queen bee! No damage whatsoever, too busy rearing young and pollination fruit, trees, flowers and crops!! They may be dead in a month or two. They themselves will not be around to return. Why would you want to stop harmless bees using your house? Cheers George

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Anna oakford June 9, 2014 at 6:21 am

I love seeing the bees coming and going. As we have a new orchard, I’m also delighted that they are working hard for us! They seem to prefer flat, open flowers.

2 years ago we were lucky enough to have bombus ruderatus nesting in the garden somewhere. They preferred tubular flowers. Sadly they must’ve died out

Anna

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nurturingnature June 10, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Another positive attitude! I have had about 20 phone calls from people who want to be rid of B. hypnorum….oh dear we live in an world with plenty of environmenmtally uneducated people..its a shame they are missing out on so much.Cheers, George

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jennie sexton June 1, 2015 at 3:40 pm

i have discovered a bees nest in a bird box on my garden fence but everytime we open our back gate this rocks the nest and they defend it, but we have to have access to get out, how long do these tree bees stay. we have moved the nest box into a tree during the dark ours of last night, but the bees have returned to the same corner of fence with no box there, will they build a nest without a box near our gate post.

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nurturingnature June 4, 2015 at 7:32 pm

Quick reply! No! It may well be that some bees may not have been inside the nest box when you moved it, hence they are returning to where the box was once sited. Cheers, George

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jennie sexton June 1, 2015 at 3:47 pm

I would love to keep these bees in my garden as we purchased two apple trees three years ago, no apples have grown ever until I noticed the bees on Friday, we now have a bumper crop for the first time, I love wild life, I also discovered that a few houses near me have bats flying out of their roof spaces, I wont tell neighbours as I like to watch them. They are so small in size they couldn’t do any harm.

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nurturingnature June 4, 2015 at 7:35 pm

How lovely to see bats and how lovely that you want to keep the little secret to yourself!!I suspect you fear they may not approve of sharing their house with bats? So just enjoy them!! Cheers, George

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Bob Hoff June 10, 2015 at 2:56 pm

we have a tree bee nest in a blue tit box in our garden and feel quite privileged to be experiencing their antics, so imagine our reaction when yesterday we found ANOTHER nest in a different bird box,not 30ft away from the first is this unusual?

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nurturingnature June 10, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Hi Bob, I have 2 separate nest boxes with tree bumblebees about 4-5 feet apart at the same height! The males are flirting from one to the other waiting for queens. A great sight! Thanks for sharing.

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Melanie June 12, 2015 at 9:27 am

Hi,I’m glad I’ve just stumbled across your site and thankful that I have. I’d just been into the garden to put out some washing and heard a lot of buzzing. Up in the corner of my roof under the guttering there were around 12 bees flying around with one darting in and out of a small gap. I had a bit of a panic at first as I’m rather ignorant about bees (and have an autistic child who is petrified of anything that moves)despite having had previous nests so rushed inside and had a Google to see who these little ginger and white guys are. I’m now quite pleased to hear that we’re privileged and should enjoy watching there dance albeit from a distance. So thankyou it’s been very informative ☺

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nurturingnature June 14, 2015 at 6:57 am

Hi Melanie, Thanks for your comments. Yes its interesting to watch this behaviour by the males, who have no stings by the way. No other UK bumblebee species puts on such a display! Thanks, George

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Mr A Rigby June 14, 2015 at 5:23 pm

I have 2 nests of tree bees in my house eaves close to windows and was wondering are they aggressive .I currently have males dancing outside both nests will they attack if I clean the windows ?

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nurturingnature June 15, 2015 at 8:49 pm

No Mr Rigby, they will not attack, they are too interested in the queens leaving the nest, the males have no sting anyway and I have been within 1 foot of many such nests and not been stung by any worker bees. The resident bees do not like their nest being vibrated or knocked and they will defend it.That cannot happen if the nest is inside! Cheers, George

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Scared June 18, 2015 at 12:12 am

I cannot use my back garden as i have tree bumblebees nesting in my overflow pipe less than a meter from the back door!!!! I have pets and children. I want these gone! Help

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nurturingnature June 18, 2015 at 9:13 am

Hi Scared, These are males dancing to attract a queen as she leaves. The males are 100% harmless having no sting. I have been with 1 foot of these bees nests on many occasions and they totally ignored me! They have no interest in humans what so ever. The workers will come and go and bypass the dancing males. The children should stand a few feet away and marvel at this wondrous sight in company with you, who should feel privileged to have them nest in your pipe. They will all be dead pretty soon. The nest will be inside the inner wall of the building and the pipe is just a convenient entrance to it. The only time these resident workers may defend their nest is if the nest is shaken, attacked by predators or receives vibrations or rocks. Highly unlikely in your case. So sit,teach your children and enjoy! Thanks for sharing.George

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John June 26, 2015 at 12:52 pm

Hi, I have a nest of these bees. I like watching them and when I first had to identify them they were flying around my head as if I was invisible. So, I can confirm that there is no danger for people. I would like them to come back next year. Is this likely?

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nurturingnature July 1, 2015 at 6:52 pm

John, when they die out, remove everything inside the nest box, steam clean the inside and put it back. I have had many returns.put in some moss. Cheers, George

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Greville August 1, 2015 at 12:37 pm

We have had tree bumble bees in two nest boxes here in Birmingham this summer. They have recently died out, but we have enjoyed watching them dance outside. We have lots of raspberry/blackberry canes in the garden so they have been well supplied. I can’t reach one box, is it OK to leave it? What kind of detritus is left behind?

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nurturingnature August 2, 2015 at 5:36 pm

Hi Greville, It depends on what is inside! Different detritus if wax moth larvae are inside. I will be showing a video of exactly this when I get some time to edit etc. So watch this space! You wont like it!! Cheers, George

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Mrs Pat Peck August 10, 2015 at 2:11 pm

We have had the pleasure of tree bees I think although ours have red bottoms not white .They have lived under some decking also there has been the big bumblebees about 3feet away under the same area

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nurturingnature August 10, 2015 at 10:06 pm

Hi Pat, Great to hear you had some success! I think from your description that they may be Bombus lapidarius

you may see them here…

http://nurturing-nature.co.uk/wildlife-garden-videos/bumblebees-and-wax-moths-the-silent-but-deadly-killers-must-see-video-

Thanks for sharing. George

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Andy Duggan May 29, 2016 at 11:24 am

Hi,
Thank you for this very informative article. I’ve only just, in the last few days, noticed bees congregating around the corner of my roof, now I can understand what is happening.

My neighbours were concerned that they could be wasps and would spoil the barbecues they enjoy having. Now I can explain to them that these creatures have more important things to do. Also, the fact that they are sting-less drones will hopefully put them more at ease.

Thanks again, will be back to read up more about my new tenants.
Andy

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nurturingnature May 30, 2016 at 9:11 am

Hi Andy, yes they are drones dancing to impress! They rarely leave the nest box area so your neighbours can enjoy their BBQ! HTH, cheers, George

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Doreen Evans June 1, 2016 at 5:23 pm

I have a nest in a bird box on my garage door in Cheshire they have been dancing for two weeks now .numbers vary greatlyThank you for the helpful video .iI presume they will be gone by end of July so I will just enjoy their company.They do not seem to mind me ducking under the dancers to ge in the garage which I only use as a garden shed.CW7 1 HD

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nurturingnature June 1, 2016 at 9:37 pm

Great. They are stingless males and soon things will quieten down. Workers will still be active but again the nest will soon die…Cheers, George

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Gavin Parkins June 5, 2016 at 11:28 pm

Have these bees coming in and out of a hole in the cavity wall of my drain pipe leading from the kitchen. I blocked the hole off as didn’t want my 2 year old going near the hole as this is where she plays in the garden. This only made matters worse as the bees appeared to back log through what I can only assume is a hole leading to the back of the sink and ended up with a kitchen full of them so had to kill them and then re-open the hole again which seemed to have stopped that.

I then noticed yesterday about 30 of them buzzing around the corner of my house above the bathroom window figured they must have got through the wall cavity to the top of the house so went further down the garden to look at the roof and noticed they have got in through a slightly lifted tile. When stood in the bathroom during the day especially today being a hot one it sounded like someone had a strimmer going off above the bathroom ceiling the buzzing of what sounds like hundreds/thousands of them.

Unfortunately there is a big problem I can’t have the bathroom windows open, the side window to the landing the back bedroom window or the patio doors that lead out from the back of our house as the bees as coming into the house in large numbers.

So going to have to call someone out over the next few days to try and solve the problem as my daughter can’t play out in the garden as they are at her level as well. I’ve taken photo’s though and a small video of them dancing about.

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nurturingnature June 6, 2016 at 9:07 am

Shame. The males dancing around are stingless and in all the years I have had bumblebees and 3 children under 5 playing in the garden together, none were ever stung. Cheers, George

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Wendy July 22, 2016 at 8:29 pm

Hi, i`ve just discovered tree bees in a large metal planter on my rockery. It`s no problem for me as they are not a bit interested in me or my 5 dogs. I have a small garden which i made myself 20 years ago on my terraced house.
I called the council to get advice and they told me they are not about too long. I have about 18 cordyline trees and only 2 flowered this year and as i have a small water feature the Queen must have been made up to find my patch.

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nurturingnature July 26, 2016 at 7:29 am

Hi Wendy, My 2 active tree bee nests have finished now so your will soon I think. Look like the bees like your little garden! Cheers, George

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Gavin Parkins July 26, 2016 at 10:03 am

I decided to leave these bees in the end I’ve noticed over the last week that all has gone quiet and can only assume now they are all pretty dead or on their way. so they were only dancing around for a month before the activity died down.

I went into the Garden in the end and wasn’t bothered by them at all

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nurturingnature July 27, 2016 at 9:09 pm

Great! Web done! Cheers, G

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Debbie May 17, 2017 at 8:33 am

Hi! About 3 weeks ago my daughter had a fright! She went into her horses field shelter where she stores a large round bale of hay and she found a mass of bees (now identified as Tree Bees) had made a nest in the loose hay on the floor! We have carefully pulled the bale away from them (they were not too happy) and just left them to it on the loose hay. Again – about a week ago I kept hearing a loud (sounded like a bluebottle) buzzing right above the dormer window in my bedroom. This went on for a couple of days – I thought a fly had got trapped in my roller blind as was so loud thought it to be inside the room! Over the last 3 days have heard a constant low buzzing inside the soffit plus this intermittent buzz. After searching around outside the house I found the bee entrance to be right at the top corner of my bedroom window and they are I assume walking along a bit further into the soffit. They are so noisy – keeps me awake!! Just hope they stay put and don’t find their way into the bedroom! Window now being kept firmly shut! Debbie.

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nurturingnature May 18, 2017 at 6:25 am

They will soon die out, my nests already have males awaiting queens to leave.. thanks for sharing G

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nurturingnature May 22, 2017 at 9:33 pm

Won’t be long before they all die out….George

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Liz May 18, 2017 at 7:16 pm

Hi, a couple of weeks ago we noticed bees going in and out of a roof tile – which we were fine with. We’ve identified them as tree bees by taking a photo of one and comparing it online.
Today though I’ve put about 40 bees outside that have come into our kitchen (thankfully, they didn’t all arrive at once, they just arrived every now and again throughout the day). They languish on the door mat, and seem all lethargic. When I put them back outside (I am gentle with them) they don’t move for ages, but do eventually. Is this lethargy normal?
Liz

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nurturingnature May 22, 2017 at 9:32 pm

Probably tired and hungry…..

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Liz May 22, 2017 at 5:54 am

Hi
I thought I’d add some more information as we think we’ve now worked out how the bees are getting in to our kitchen. The roof tile that the bees are going into are near to the soil pipe vent. The soil pipe in our house runs down the inside of the house and is boxed in in the bathroom and kitchen – but is only boxed in as far down as the kitchen worktop, so we think that that is their route in.
We’ve seen bees in all 3 sizes. Most languish by the back door mat looking tired – they are definately nothing to be scared of. But we’ve noticed interesting behaviour in the few that do fly around – they are attracted to the light in the kitchen. If we put the light off, it is easier to persuade them to go out of the window.

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nurturingnature May 22, 2017 at 9:27 pm

Nice one thanks for sharing! George

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