How to Help a Bee in Distress
Have you ever been walking around your property and come across a bee that is in distress? How about finding a bee that seemed grounded and unable to fly? When you happen across this, do you get the urge to do something? I, Matthew Davies, have been in your shoes before.
Due to the shrinking bee population, more and more people want to help the bees. However, when you come in contact with a bee in distress, you need to understand that it is likely near the end of its natural life. It is sad to think about it, but bees don’t live forever. While you could offer the bee some syrup or water, and it may drink it, the chances of a full recovery are slim to none. Here are a few facts about bee lifespans that I have learned over the years.
Beekeepers know that bees die all the time. In fact, in the colonies we keep, it is not uncommon to lose a thousand bees a day during the late spring and early summer seasons. Obviously, this will depend on the size of your colony. The reason a bee’s life span is shortened during the active season is that they tend to overwork themselves. As soon as spring comes, the bees work tirelessly to provide pollen the hive to make honey. They can put dozens of miles on their thin, translucent wings and this work takes a toll on them. They soon find that their wings cannot carry them any longer. Such is the way of nature.
Since starting beekeeping, I have noticed hundreds, if not thousands, of dead bees on my property. I tend to notice them when I am working on the colonies, likely because I am closer to the ground when harvesting the honey. Bees are quite small, and it is easy to overlook them when you are standing upright.
Long Live the Queen
Bees don’t live as long as you might think they do. The average active lifespan is just four to six weeks. There are exceptions to this rule including one major exception: the queen. Queen honeybees have been known to live for up to five years under ideal conditions. However, they usually only live for one year. That is much longer than an average worker. This longer life span likely occurs because the queen does not move around as much as her worker bee counterparts.
Bumblebee queens only live a maximum of one year, even under perfect conditions. The bumblebee queen will emerge from her hive towards the end of the season and mate with a single male. She then spends the next few weeks fattening up. Once she has mated and fattens up, she will head off to a secluded area and hibernate. Once spring rolls around again, she will start her hive, lay her eggs, and die. A new queen will take over, and the cycle repeats itself.
Bees Are Not Pets
If you decide to help a bee, remember not to help too much. I have seen many people try to keep bees as pets, and it never goes well. I have seen people make tiny cotton-lined boxes for their bees (complete with holes for breathing), feeding them, providing them with a cool place to live, and even singing to them. You can’t keep a bee as a pet like you would a fish or hamster. You’ll want to discourage children from trying this as well.
Bees need to be outside among the flowers and sunshine. Bees have special needs that we cannot provide them. As beekeepers, we do our best in the slower months, but the truth is we often are not sure if we are helping them or if we are hindering the species. Remember, in nature, the rule of survival of the fittest still applies. This means that the best genes move on to the next season. Preventing this from happening may weaken the population and leave us in a dire situation come the following spring.
What You Can Do
If you have an uncontrollable need to help a bee that you find on the ground, you need to start by assessing the situation. If you find a big bumblebee in the spring or fall and it looks to be alright except for being wet, try to move the bee to a drier location. The best option would be a sunny area if one exists. Warming the bee up naturally offers the best chance for survival. Bees that are caught outside at night in the rain can recover quite quickly with just a little bit of warmth.
If the above conditions do not apply and the bee looks weak, you can try to feed it. When doing this, it is important not to touch the bee. Bees can sting you even when they are dead. When they are in a bad situation, they don’t know if you are there to help or kill them. They will sting you out of instinct. I suggest placing small drops of sugar syrup near the bee and let it move towards the food by itself. Whatever you do, refrain from putting the liquid near the bee’s mouth. If you miss, you can get it all over the bee. This will leave it wet and sticky. It will be in worse shape than if you had done nothing at all.
In my experience, I find that the best thing to do to help a bee is to let it “bee” (pun intended). I, Matthew Davies, hope that I have explained enough about bees that you understand the reasons this advice is warranted. Bees are always reproducing, and the bees that end up dying during the year are replenished the following spring. It is a harsh reality, but something that we must understand. Interfering with nature is never a good thing. Keep your hives properly, and you will never have to worry about the bees that die off naturally each year.