Buff tailed bumblebee against window

How to rescue a bee

How to help a hungry bee that's tired and hungry? Tom Moorhouse, ecologist and children's author, reflects on his bee rescue.
  Published:  02 Apr 2018    |      4 minute read

I was having breakfast recently and wondering what I was going to do with my day, when I heard a muted buzzing. This, on investigation, turned out to be coming from a rather bedraggled Hymenopteran.

This term refers to any insect from the taxonomic group (order) "Hymenoptera", which includes bees, wasps, ants and sawflies. There are many types of bee, from the familiar, hairy nectar-obsessives we commonly associate with the word “bee”, to tiny blackish insects that collect the oil produced by yellow loosestrife flowers (these bees are in the genus "Macropis").

The buff-tailed bumblebee in question was flattish and quite obviously unhappy. So I crouched down beside it and did what any good ecologist would. I poked it with a finger. In response, the bee raised a foreleg. This gesture is bumblebee for, “Go away, there's a good chap."

Anyone daft enough to carry on poking would get a much-deserved stinging. So I took heed of the warning.

How I rescued my bee

Since the bee didn’t seem injured, I mixed up some water and sugar and splashed a few drops on the floor in front of it. Almost immediately it crawled to the puddle, uncurled its proboscis, and began hoovering up sugar-water.

After a while it had perked up enough to start wandering around the floor. Then the bee sat up (metaphorically speaking), groomed itself clean, tested its wings and flew away. So there you are – a minor bee incident on a Sunday.

Lessons from my bee

I have a few reasons for wanting to share my bee story with you.

1. Poking bees is not a good idea

If you take nothing else from my bee rescue, you are now one of the few people who know what it means when a bumblebee waves a foreleg at you. And I think there is something lovely about an animal that will give you a friendly warning.

2. Feeding bees is easy

My buff-tailed bumblebee had been stuck in my house overnight, run out of fuel, and fallen into the bee equivalent of a hypoglycaemic coma. A little sugar and water (aka nectar) and it was fine. Something to bear in mind in your own garden, then, is whether our vital and friendly little pollinators (which are declining badly) would find enough food if they visited. If not, you might consider growing some bee-friendly plants. Find out more ways to help bees in our 20 things you need to know about bees.

3. Enjoying nature is one of life's simple pleasures

The bee-in-your-house-headbutting-the-window is a familiar sight. It's an indication of oncoming summer. And as ever, with the familiar, it's easy to overlook just how amazing the animal in question is.

There is a lot of pleasure to be had in closely observing something small and familiar. In my case it made me want to tell you about it. And it's really not an overstatement to say that watching that bee perk up and fly off made my day.

Tom Moorhouse is an ecologist and children’s author. His first novel, The River Singers, is published by Oxford University Press.