Wednesday, 12 October 2016

A journey bee-yond bee-lief

Blog post by Tom Aspinall:

The morning after a long day of field work at the Roaches in the south-west Peak District it dawned on me that upon arriving home in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire the evening before, I had not unpacked my rucksack.

I got to work removing my lunch box and the tools I’d been using only to hear a very strange sound emanating from the bottom of my bag.

At first I thought it may be air escaping from my half-drunk flask of tea but removing that did not stop the noise. Deciding something must have made a temporary home in my bag I took it outside and with trepidation emptied the contents on to the ground. To my surprise out popped a beautiful, fresh-looking, queen, white-tailed bumblebee!

Having travelled nearly 40 miles in my bag the previous day I imagined the poor bee was hungry and as she seemed unable to fly I fed her up on some sugar water which she seemed to enjoy as you can see in the video below.


After she’d eaten I placed her on an open flower so that she could warm up and hopefully get some sweet nectar inside her. Unfortunately the weather had different ideas and the torrential downpour that followed forced me to move the lethargic insect to a sheltered spot underneath some winter heather.

Bumblebee on the step - close to death
The following afternoon I thought I should check on my garden guest. Disappointment followed as I found that she hadn’t moved an inch and didn’t look any more active than before. I again moved to her into the sun on the open cosmos flower so she could warm up and eat. She had other ideas and after a couple of hours I found her on the garden step looking close to death.

One final attempt to rejuvenate her was needed so with garden gloves on I lifted her up and put her on the flower head of a nearby lavender plant. 

She quickly started lapping up nectar from the tiny flowers and once all were exhausted her little legs were waving at me to help her to the next one. I repeated this several times and while her energy looked to be increasing she still didn’t seem able to fly.

With hope dwindling my partner then had the great idea of pulling the lavender flowers together and trapping them against one another to form a network of bridges so that I could have a rest and the bee could make her own way between the flowers. This was the move that made all the difference! 

Just a few minutes later, to our astonishment, the bee lifted into the air and buzzed away. Her four day ordeal and epic journey had not, as I had feared, been the end of her and I like to think she’s now found a safe hole nearby to hibernate for winter so that she can visit us again next spring.

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