Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Bumbles Nest

The blog is a way for me to share Georgia’s beautiful native plants, the insects, and the critters that depend on them, as well as my weekly discoveries and adventures in the natural world. Of all the things I write about, the stories that originate in my own garden are the most special. This week’s blog is about bumble bees in the garden.

Female bees pack pollen on their hind legs (on Monarda fistulosa)

Males bees are just looking for nectar for themselves (on Monarda fistulosa)
Bumble bees have always been a part of my garden. I see them visit many, many flowers. Right now they are squeezing into the beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) flowers and slurping up the last bit of nectar from the nearly spent wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Surely they must live nearby? 

Bumble bees are one of the few native bees that form a social nest, which is a collection of wax balls with eggs and a nectar pot. 

A bumble bee approaches Penstemon digitalis

Bees are excellent pollinators of milkweed (on Asclepias exaltata)
According to Heather Holm’s book, bumble bees nest in a variety of places: rodent holes, under plant debris, in old bird nests, and other insulated places. This spring I actually found one. In mid-April, I noticed that wrens were building a nest in the garage. Last year they had built one in an old straw hat on a shelf outside the garage. I decided to clear out that nest to encourage them to use it again. As I dumped the old nest onto the ground, an angry buzz came from it!

Puzzled – and more than a little alarmed – I poked it again and watched for any activity. Another angry buzz sounded but nothing came out. I left it for a day and pondered what to do. I reached out to Heather and she said that it could be bumble bees. She suggested trying to carefully put it back into the hat and return it to the general area. Armed with gloves and cardboard for sliding, I reassembled it that evening (also her suggestion). 

Bumble bee entering the nest
At that point, I could only wait to see if the nest would remain viable. This week, I was finally able to be around and see bumble bees entering the nest. It was still good! I’m sure there are other bumble bee nests somewhere in the garden, but I’m glad to have a confirmed discovery of one. (Maybe I can dissect it when they’re done with it.) Bumble bees are not aggressive around their nest like yellow jackets so I don't mind having it on the shelf.

Next week when I clean out the bluebird box, I’ll be sure to stash that old nest somewhere the bees might find it next spring.


  1. So glad you were able to rescue it.

  2. Very cool! Wonderful that you have a network to reach out to help solve the mystery. We've had bees in bird boxes before. We just left them and cleaned them out at the end of the season.