I’m often asked by folks what to do when one finds a cold, wet, or sluggish bee. Sometimes people rescue bees from water (tip: use a leaf to scoop them up!) Other times they see a bee that seems unusually sluggish and in need of a helping hand (often in early spring, when bumble bee queens have emerged from hibernation, but few plants are blooming).
If you rescue your bee from water, the first thing to do is to put it in the sunlight so it can dry out and warm up. While we generally prefer recovering in the shade, bees recover far faster in full sun. Avoid handling the bee much, or attempting to separate the wings or correct other things that appear amiss. Warm sun will help “reactivate” the bee, which can then clean its own wings much more gently than us.
- 1 part sugar crystals (not brown)
- 1 part room temperature water
Mix vigorously, then offer small portion
If your bee is sluggish, extra nourishment may be just the thing! Try mixing up some organic cane sugar or refined white sugar crystals into a solution. A 1:1 mix (50%/50%) is appropriate, and this can be achieved simply by stirring the sugar rapidly in room temperature water.
It’s also important to avoid brown sugar (which contains extra solids from molasses, which are difficult for bees to digest), and do not use boiling water (when sugars caramelize at high heat, they can create indigestible and possibly bee-toxic compounds). Place a few drops near the bee’s head (if you see its tongue outstretched, place the drops right near the tip). Not too much as a weakened bee may be clumsy, and you don’t want to make the situation worse by getting your bee covered in sugary water!
Last year, I read the most charming story about someone’s encounter with a bumblebee queen and how she rescued it with sugar water and a night in a shoebox. Read her inspiring story: The Plight of the Bumblebee
Following this advice should help your bee on its way to living another day 😌 It may take a few minutes or a few hours to recover. Don’t be surprised to find it gone if you’re not keeping a constant eye on it! In years past, I advised feeding a drop of local raw honey, but this can be a vector for spreading bee diseases, so to be safe, avoid feeding honey. If you’ve fed honey in the past, don’t worry about it too much, you likely helped more than hindered.
Avoid high fructose corn syrup at all costs, as compounds toxic to bees can be formed during manufacturing (as a result of overheating). And it should go without saying to avoid the fake stuff! I avoid conventional sugar because of possible pesticide residues (especially when sourced from sugar beets, which account for most sugar production and consumption in the United States; Monsanto licenses a Roundup Ready trait to sugarbeet seed companies).
Posted • Updated Apr. 13th, 2017 • By Elise Fog