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Bumblebee Nests

Posted on June 14, 2018

Over the weekend one of our Teign Trees team found a Bumblebee nest in an old bird box so we thought we’d look into nests and find out what's the best course of action to take if you're lucky enough to find one. All our information came from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and we recommend that you go to their website if you require more.

What bumblebees look for in a nest site:

Nest sites vary between each bumblebee species. Most of the more common species prefer dry, dark cavities.

Some nest underground, in places like abandoned rodent holes, under sheds and compost heaps. Of those that nest above ground, some make nests in thick grass, while others make nests in bird boxes (as we have found), lofts & trees. One of the species which nests in bird boxes and lofts is the Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). With this species you may often see ‘swarms’ of bees flying around the nest. This is perfectly normal, and these are male bees, which often fly around nests, waiting for queens to come out so that they can mate. Male bees cannot sting, so please don’t be alarmed if you see this.

The queen will search the area investigating the environment using both sight and smell. When she finds a potentially suitable site she will investigate by going into the hole. If it proves unsuitable she will continue searching until she finds a nest site. The low-flying zig zag flight of a nest-site searching queen is seen in spring and is very distinctive.

In gardens, bumblebees tend to nest in relatively undisturbed areas such as shaded corners. Some will also nest under structures such as sheds. They do not like to nest in areas with prolonged exposure to the sun as this can heat the nest too much.

Bumblebee nests vary in size depending on the species and time of year. A well-established nest may contain up to 400 bees. Honeybee hives typically contain 50,000 bees so bumblebee nests are very small in comparison.

What to do if you find a bumblebee nest

If you find a bumblebee nest, consider yourself very lucky! They aren’t very common, and can be difficult to find. Download the BBCT essential guide to bumblebee nests here.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust recommend that if you find a bumblebee nest, it is best to leave it alone and avoid disturbing it. If you do approach the nest, be sure not to breathe on it, as this can make the bees behave defensively and possibly sting. Bumblebees are not generally aggressive but they might get aggravated if you interfere with the nest. They should just get on with life and carry on doing a wonderful job of pollinating plants, wildflowers and your vegetables. Even the very largest nests produce very little “traffic” in and out, so you won’t see threatening numbers of bees at any point during the summer.

Bumblebee nests don’t live for long, so the nest should die naturally within a few months. After that time, the new queens will have flown from the nest to hibernate in the soil elsewhere.

It is possible that a different bumblebee queen will find and use the same hole next year. The old nest will die in the autumn though, and all the bees will have left or died. If you don’t want bees in the same place again you can block the entrance to the nest up after it dies down to prevent a new queen finding the nest site in later years.

Thank you to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust for allowing us to use their information for our Blog. Here at Teign Trees & Landscapes we pride ourselves in our efforts to protect wildlife. We always check for birds & bee’s nests before we carry out any tree or hedgework. If you would like us to come out and take a look at your garden contact us via email: hello@teigntrees.co.uk phone: 01626 773499 or via our website

Image Michael Meijer | Adobe Stock