Why did the bumblebee workers go to the beech? For a drink of course!! video

June 18, 2015

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

Bumblebees workers feeding upon honeydew from aphids on beech leaves

The noise is what attracted my attention as I walked down the road alongside a beech hedge. I heard a loud buzzing and I noticed that several species of bumblebees were flying in between the leaves and landing on the uppermost sides and walking underneath the leaves. There were no flowers present for them to show an interest so why were they visiting a flowerless beach hedge, which would itself represent a departure from the classic, bee forages on flowers for nectar or pollen relationship? Upon closer examination, I saw numerous Woolly beech aphids, Phyllaphis fagi. That could only mean one thing. Honeydew!

Woolly beech aphids Nurturing Nature

Woolly beech aphids found underneath the beech leaves suck the sap and then excrete the sticky waste which can cause small particles of soot to stick to the leaves of trees. This was a dense and well-clipped hedge and I could find no traces of any black soot, as seen on tree leaves, probably I guess because it was neatly trimmed and this restricted the airflow which carries the fungi spores or soot particles.  Honeydew is what you can find as droplets on your car especially when parked under a sycamore tree.

That’s why the bumblebee workers went to the beech for a drink!!

This show to me that perhaps, when flowers are in short supply, could we offer wild bees a substitute sugar resource until the next flowers bloom? I have tried this with bumblebees on the platform of my bumblebee nest box, with a fructose water solution inside the bright yellow lid of a Marmite jar, (with no traces of Marmite!!). Bumblebees did use it but so did social wasps and ants! Not a good idea for my bumblebee nests to be right next to wasps! So I stopped supplying it.

Recent research from the USA has found that native solitary bees there also forage on honeydew, a non-floral sugar when floral nectar (sugar) is scarce. They discuss how they found the honeydew, as opposed to finding nectar.  Bees, find nectar on plants using various complex cues when foraging. I expect exactly the same process is used by our native solitary bees and it is something I will now look out for and see if I can film it.

Bees without flowers: Before Peak Bloom, Diverse Native Bees Find Insect-Produced Honeydew Sugars.

“All my articles and videos, available free, are funded by my teaching, presentations, 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

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sean O' Flynn June 12, 2016 at 9:33 pm

Many thanks for your explanation. I was puzzled by the bees’ behaviour and your explanation accorded with my own observations.


nurturingnature June 13, 2016 at 3:04 pm

My pleasure. Cheers, George


Dom Ewing May 29, 2017 at 9:06 am

Thank you so much. We have a row of beeches along our drive. Coming back one warm evening we noticed the low pitched hum among the leaves. We were puzzled and looked around for a nest or swarm but could just see random bees everywhere. Thank you once again for telling us why.


nurturingnature May 30, 2017 at 8:26 pm

My pleasure! Cheers, George


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