• Fiona Ferguson

Help! There’s a huge bee in my house/shed/conservatory/general vicinity!

It’s early spring, the weather is getting milder. So mild in fact you decide to open the windows, let some of that fresh spring air in the house. Next thing you know there is a HUGE bee - at least twice the normal size – flying about.

Or maybe you are out in the garden, enjoying the spring sun. When you are buzzed by a GIGANTIC bee hovering about with what seems a great sense of urgency.

Bumblebee queens are now emerging from hiberation to forage and find nesting places

Relax. Well, relax-ish. Yes, the bee/wasp/buzzy creature is bigger than normal, and yes it can sting you (but is very unlikely to unless you start swatting at it). Instead, savour this moment, for you are most likely in the presence of royalty.

Most people are familiar with honey bees, who generally overwinter in hives, but they are just one kind of bee. In Ireland we have 20 species of bumblebee and 77 types of solitary bees, not to mention wasps and hoverflies.

Bumblebee and wasp queens are larger then the average worker from their nest. During the rest of the year we are used to seeing the average size worker bees so as the queens come out of hibernation at this time of year to establish nests they seem larger than a “normal” bee.

Right now bumblebee queens, who overwinter in a little bed of leaves or soil, are starting to emerge from hibernation and can be seen making exploratory flights. They will forage on flowers to build up reserves before looking for a place to build a nest.

The bumblebee queen, who mated in the autumn before going into hibernation, will start laying eggs in her nest and once these emerge they will be the female worker bees. Later in the year the queen will lay male and new queen bees who will leave the nest to mate.

The entire nest - old queen bee, workers and males - will die in the autumn. The new mated queens will find themselves a dry spot to over winter and emerge in the spring.

Similarly, wasps nests die out in autumn each year and only the mated queens hibernate for the winter. They will emerge in spring and look for a site to build a nest.

Wasps - pollinators who need a little more personal space

So any bee you come across in the spring will have much more important things on her mind then you. Open a window, guide her outside and let her continue on her way.

Honeybees may be the darling of the public at the moment but wild bees, and that includes wasps, are just as effective pollinators. Plus a significant portion of wild bees are in serious decline so they need all the help they can get.

If you come across a nest of bees of some description later in the year in your home or some other inconvenient place, please don’t go at them with a can of pesticide - contact your local beekeeping association *with pictures* and they will be able to advise you on the best course of action.

Bee etiquette:

- don’t swat at them, you would be annoyed if someone did it to you. Bees interpret jerky movements as a threat.

- don’t squash them, especially if there are other bees or wasps around, an “alarm“ pheromone will be released causing other bees to react defensively.

- if the bee appears to be struggling or tired, you can try to offer it a few drops of 50-50 sugar water to see if that revives it

Sources/further reading:

Federation of Irish Beekeeping Associations: https://irishbeekeeping.ie

All Ireland Pollinators Plan: https://pollinators.ie

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