Why queen bumblebees are hiding underfoot this spring

An image of a bumblebee to demonstrate queen bumblebees
© iStock/Sazonoff

A new study has explained why queen bumblebees are hiding underfoot this spring, and how we can help them to survive.

It was previously thought that after hibernating in the ground over winter, queen bumblebees emerged, began feeding and dispersed quickly to found their new colony. However, the study shows that actually, following hibernation queen bumblebees hide and rest among the dead leaves and grass for the majority of the time.

Dr James Makinson, who co-led the study at Queen Mary University of London and is now based at Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University, commented: “We wanted to see what queens actually do right after they emerge. By combining state-of-the-art tracking technology with wild bee observations, we were able to uncover a never before seen behavior of queen bumblebees.”

How queens disperse from their nest to a new colony

Dr Joe Woodgate, a co-lead author of the study from Queen Mary University of London, explained: “Our study suggests that a few weeks of this type of behaviour would carry queen bees several kilometers away from their hibernation site and might explain how queens disperse from the nest in which they were born to the place they choose to found a new colony.”

The significance for bumblebee survival

Makinson added: “Better understanding the behavior of queens during this crucial period of their lives can suggest practices to improve their chances of successfully founding new colonies and help their survival.

How to rescue a bumblebee queen

You might see an exhausted bumblebee queen at this time of the year. The researchers suggest that if you do, you rescue her by giving her a sugar solution made up of half water, half sugar, thoroughly stirred together. Put the solution on a teaspoon and move it gently near the antennae or mouth. The solution will warm up the queen’s flight motor so she can find flowers on her own.

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