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How to help revive a cold or wet bee

Bumble beeI’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.

Quick Recipe

  • 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).

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33 responses to “How to help revive a cold or wet bee

    1. I’d say the likelihood of a sting is very, very low indeed, especially when the bee is cold, wet, or otherwise exhausted and in need of saving. That said, there is always the possibility (if the bee is female), however unlikely. Things you can do to minimize this possibility even further include using a leaf or something else to pick up the bee, and keeping a close eye on its behavior (if it’s very slow-moving, there’s really no reason to worry at all). And don’t worry if you see the bee’s abdomen pulsing… it’s just a way of moving air through its body, to breathe and warm itself!

  1. I cant believe this, I love Bumble Bees, and when i find one in the garden lying there exhausted, i mix a bit of sugar with water and let them crawl on my hand have a drink, then they sleep for 3 minutes and fly off revitalized. Well. i found one lying on the lawn in a bad state, so i did my usual, NOW he has stayed on my hand and wont go away, he stayed there whilst i mowed the lawn, and he is still here 1 hour later, he has stayed on my finger whilst I am typing, so i put him on a piece of kitchen roll next to me on the table. he then started searching for my finger after 10 minutes, i put my finger in front of him and he felt it with his antennas and then tried to climb on my finger, so I moved my finger to the left and he followed it, I did the same to the right and he followed it, I have let him climb back on my hand and he has now gone to sleep, so here i am 3 hours later he is still on my hand, he walks around finds a different spot on my finger or palm then goes to sleep again, I put him on a piece of white roll on tha table whilst i had my meal, now you will find this unbelievable, he panicked and walked around the table very quickly, I put my hand out and he climbed back onto it and settled down went to sleep. incredible. at to prove all this i have taken photographs, you are welcome to look at them. just ask and i will send them. at this very moment he is stretching his bck legs and just buzzed his little wings, hes adorable, and i am a 63yr old guy..

    1. That is a really charming story :)

      I can definitely bee-lieve it too (for one thing, they do like the warmth from our bodies). Though I’ve never heard of a bee sounding quite so attached to one person!!

      I’d love to see your photos when you get a chance to send them (see my email to you), and perhaps post one or two with your permission? It’s always nice for people to see how gentle and adorable bees are, and how there’s no reason to be afraid to help them!

  2. Hello :-) I have recently started providing water to an ever increasing number of honeybees. It is super hot right now in my part of Texas and though I’ve tried to create shade over the water source (flat dishes with rocks and clear glass marbles) it’s still super hot! Are they not affected by standing on the sun heated rocks drinking that hot water? I’ve found a couple of bees that died in the water but hundreds are drinking and it’s become quite the place to hangout, it would seem! I am just super worried for them. I do refresh the water multiple times each day, but the heat is extreme and the water is hot within minutes. Thank you for any input!

    1. Honey bees can take quite a bit of heat, so I wouldn’t be too worried about the water temperature. No matter what the season, they keep their own hives around 95 degrees (the optimal temperature for developing bees). It’s a little hard to say for sure how hot your water is without measuring it. If you’re concerned, what I would do is to use light- or white-colored dishes with clear glass marbles and light-colored rocks. It would be just a bit cooler for them that way.

      The reason so many honey bees are coming to visit you is to bring water back to their hives :) They store the water in a special stomach, often called the honey stomach or crop (usually used for nectar). The water is then used to maintain their hive temperature and cool their developing young. They spread the water in a thin layer across sealed brood, or along the edges of cells containing larvae and eggs. Other bees then fan the water with their wings, evaporating it and creating a cooling effect (in a similar way to an air conditioner)!

      1. A note about my previous comment: when you’re providing water in a dish for lots of bees (on a hot summer day), make sure only to use water (don’t add sugar). Honey bees need pure water in order to cool their hives in summer. Also, sugar is not ideal food for any bee… it’s good as an emergency measure (getting energy to an exhausted bee fast), but it’s important that bees get all the additional nutrients from flower nectar in their daily lives.

  3. Hi i have been finding dead bees of every species around my garden i fear a neighbour is using spray pesticides i found a red tailed bee in a poor shape yesterday looked on the outside beautiful but not moving very fast pulling her legs into her body i fed her sugar water which she took and sheltered her for the night she seems to become more active after a feed but is still not moving as i would expect i have rescued many bees over the years her wings are moving at times she cleans herself her legs are moving slowly but i am on night number 2 and there is no sign of improvement just the same im hoping she makes it through the night is there anything i can do with pesticide poisoning? I have approached the neighbour but i didnt get far…

    1. I fear you may be right with your diagnosis of acute pesticide poisoning, given the dead bees of other species you’re finding in your garden :( My first thought is to keep doing exactly what you’re doing, just making the bee as comfortable as possible. My next thought is to hope that flushing her system with sugar water might help remove some of the toxins from her body. I do not know of any other way to help her though, I wish I did… I don’t think there’s anything else that can be done. And I’m sorry to hear about your neighbor, it seems impossible to convince some people of the vital importance bees have to all of us.

  4. I just saved a bee from my pool. It was holding onto the hose for the vacuum and kept getting swamped by ripples. I managed to get them out of the water but it wouldn’t leave the hose until it had completed cleaning. I was so scared but when it stuck it’s toung out and started cleaning it’s antenna. I thought it was the cutest thing.

      1. I was terrified. But yeah they are cute. The problem is when they do a top gun fly by 1/2 an inch from my head and they scare the crap out of me

  5. I think we might have given the bee too much sugar water (before reading this page!) and it looks a little bit wet now….and still looks like it is struggling. What should we do – give the bee time to drink more of the sugar water before moving it (again….as we moved it from the floor on a bust high street to the floor of our balcony), or should we try and give it a chance to wash some of the sticky sugar water off? I don’t want to do more harm than good :(

    1. I’d advise holding back on anything further and just letting the bee rest on your balcony. I would give the bee plenty of time to clean itself off, and not disturb it further by moving it, unless it’s in danger of getting far messier still if it’s near a large puddle of sugar water. If it is near such a puddle, instead of moving the bee, try using a paper towel to absorb some excess (not on the bee itself, just nearby). I’d then let the bee alone, because moving it may stress it further. She (or he) will be able to clean their body off given time, and will absorb energy from the sugar water by doing so too.

      I hope this helps! Bees can clean themselves off very effectively, and I would just leave this bee to do so in its own time. Having had the sugar water to begin with should have helped, even if it did get everywhere! I’d just advise against any further intervention until the bee starts to look as though it’s recovering and moving about more again. Also, if it’s in the sun, perhaps shade it a bit (without moving it) so that it has more of a chance to clean off the sugar water before it dries.

      I wish you and your bee all the best! Thank you for caring about this bee and taking good care of it :)

  6. Um this isn’t really about a wet bee but when the beekeeper came to help us extract the honey the other day a couple bees got stuck in the honey and their wings were coated. I think they made it since I didnt see them where I placed them outside when I went back out but is there a proper way to address this problem?

    1. Their sisters will help clean them off :) It really takes another bee (or few bees) to address this problem. They’re able to clean each other off in a way we never could, using their tongues to remove all the honey. I’ve seen it once and been amazed at how they can clean each other up! So you did the right thing, just getting them out of the honey!

  7. Hi there. Today I found a bee in my pool. I have no idea how long it was in there for but when I got it out it was not moving. I let it go for a few moments thinking it was dead. Then about 3 minutes later I nudged it and it’s arms moved. I’ve been trying to put flowers near by it and give it a warm area however it’s about 60° f where I live and I’m concerned that the bee won’t get the sun that it needs to dry…. it’s also almost night… is there any alternatives I can do to dry it??? Thank you.

    1. Do you have a heat lamp that you could place perhaps a foot away or so? Or perhaps you might put the bee in something like a shoebox with a few smaller-than-bee-sized-holes for air, and then bring it into your house where it’s warmer for the night? You could then release the bee in the morning if she’s doing ok.

      It’d be great if you could also mix up some sugar water too, just normal sugar (not brown), mixed 50/50 with room temperature water. You could put a few drops on a small spoon near the bee in the box. If her tongue is hanging out, you might even maneuver a drop directly under her tongue?

      1. Hi there, thank you for the immediate response…. I’d love to take the bee inside however I have two cats…. The bee started to walk on its own. I put it in the bottom of a flower pot so it can easily get in and out…. I also put clovers in it… and it has the option to get out and roam, but it won’t even when I nudged it it kinda just moved around in there. I tried to give it some sugar water however it completely ignored it…. do you think I should try to put it in my shed with the show box idea or let it on its own??

        1. I probably wouldn’t put her in the shed, only because if she wants to leave, it’ll be harder for her (I was just thinking of warming her up by bringing her indoors, and keeping her safe from escape by putting her in a box). If you were to put her in the shed, I’d leave whatever she’s in open (flower pot or box), with the door ajar too so that she can easily leave if she’s interested in doing so.

          As long as she has some food easily accessible, I’m hopeful for her chance of success! Bees are accustomed to being cold at night, so don’t be surprised still to find the bee where you left her in the morning. Hopefully with the morning sun she’ll warm up (that is, if she doesn’t leave before then). Walking on her own already is a very good sign indeed! :)

          And if you do put her somewhere sheltered for the night, and she’s still there in the early morning, I’d make sure to move her into the bright sun as soon as it’s up, to speed her recovery further! The only reason to shelter her for the night, even outdoors, is that she’ll be a target for predators until she’s feeling better and can move quickly and fly again. But she might have her own plans (if she starts feeling much better), which is why I suggest leaving a door (or window) open for her so that she can go back to her nest if she’s able!

  8. Hi I found two bees in my pool today I scooped them out and put them on some kitchen roll I tried drying them off as much as I could and blew on them to dry them more then I have put them on more kitchen roll and left them on my windowsill in the sun will they be alright they are not moving at all and I fear they may already be dead

    1. Thank you for taking the time to scoop bees out of your pool!

      I fear though that they may have been in there too long, judging from your comments. If they do not respond or move at all when you gently nudge them, then they are indeed probably dead :( Unfortunately, they will have expended a great deal of energy trying to free themselves from the water, before you came to save them.

      If you find other bees that are still moving in your pool in the future, try giving them a 50/50 mix of sugar with room temperature water, placing several drops near them. This will help restore their energy after a near-drowning experience.

      It’s also a good idea to let bees air-dry in the sun, as it’s very difficult to dry them off. Bees can recover well after getting a bit wet, but the longer they spend in the water, the more trouble they’ll have. Giving them sugar-water and a safe, sunny spot to dry off helps in most cases.

      One idea to help is also to put out a shallow dish of water with stones in it for perches, placing it near your pool. Bees get thirsty too, and if they’re looking for a drink, they’ll find a safer place this way!

  9. i just found about 10 sluggish bees in my apartment’s stairwell (around midnight). i scooped them up and brought them out to my pool area where there are plants they can rest on. i found about 10 more bees in the pool and 20 just around the door. i scooped all the pool bees out ,and i could hear and feel them buzz, but there won’t be sunlight for another 7 hours. will the bees be ok? and do you have any idea why so many are crawling, not flying, down a stairwell and flying into the pool at midnight? is it the light in the pool maybe? thanks!

    1. This has me a bit stumped. I wonder if you might be able to send me a photo of your bees (if they’re still around)? Or do you happen to know if they’re honey bees, bumble bees, or some other type of bee?

      Bees aren’t attracted to lights at night, so that’s a bit odd too. Almost all bees (with a few tropical exceptions) are day-flying only, and stay in hives, holes in the ground, hollow tunnels in wood or dried stems, or flowers at night (depending on the type of bee and its gender).

      How are they doing this morning (if they’re still there)? As for flying into the pool, they may be thirsty (bees need water too). What I do is put out a shallow dish with some pebbles in it (for landing perches) on hot days. But that still doesn’t explain why they’re in the stairwell or around the door, which is really puzzling me!

      I’m hoping that seeing a photo of the bees will shed more light on this, because it does depend on the type of bee, in terms of what the reason might be for where you found them.

      Thank you for rescuing them from the pool and indoors, they certainly shouldn’t be in those places!

      1. It turns out these were honey bees. Apparently a colony had established itself on the roof of the building and needed relocating. If you ever know of honey bees that are unwanted in their location, call a local beekeeper. They will either come to fetch the bees themselves with proper equipment, or put you in touch with someone who will!

  10. I found a bee in my paddling pool today – I scooped it out and gave it a little bit of honey!! ( then I read this!)
    It is 7pm so no sunlight! Where is the best place for him overnight??

    1. How is your bee now? If your bee is mostly dry and moving around well (wings buzzing a bit?), I’d suggest putting your bee outdoors somewhere that looks safe and sheltered near where you found it (but not too close to the pool)! If your bee is still wet and not moving around much, I’d suggest putting him or her in a shoebox with holes punched for air, and waiting to release the bee in the early morning. This would keep your bee safe from predators while recovering. A snack of sugar water might be just the thing for the morning too, if you do keep your bee overnight… but your bee might well be nicely dry and just buzz right off by then!

  11. I found a bee who’s right wing was pretty tattered he was in the sink and I got him out with a spoon. I put him on a tissue after letting him drink his fill of sugar and water as said above. He appears to be sleeping. Do bees sleep? Email me please

    1. Is it sunny where you are? Can you put your bee out in the sun? They do rest and sleep, but not during the day (though they’re late up and early to bed, typically). Tattered wings are usually a sign of age, though if it’s just one wing, then maybe something else caused it (like struggling in the water). Was the bee simply struggling weakly when you got him (or her) out, or was the bee still energetic at that point?

      Thank you so much for caring enough to look this up and to try to save your bee :) Fingers crossed, your bee will get better… warming up in the sun is a good way to dry off and recharge after a near-drowning experience! Was it just water in the sink, or soapy water?

  12. Hi, I have a phobia of flying insects but understand the importance of bees. I just found a (large!) bumble bee in my toilet!

    I was about to flush it when I realised it was moving! I scooped it out with a mug (shouting “please don’t fly!” At it the whole time) and tipped it on to outside window ledge in my kitchen. I gave it some sugar water. It was upside down so I used a spoon to help it stand up. I was SO scared the whole time. I shut the window for 5 mins to wash my hands, and when I opened it the bee was gone. I hope it survived.

    Anyways my question is WHY was it in my toilet!? How did it get in my house, and why would it go in the toilet! Can they swim like that? How long do you reckon it would have been there for? I’m trying to figure out if it came in when I got home from work or if it was already in the house. I’m so frightened in case there are other bees! Please can you email me?

    1. That’s so great that you saved your bee!! :) She would certainly have not been in your toilet for long. They can only survive for some number of minutes (not quite sure how long) in water before drowning. It’s hard to say if she was already in the house, or if she came in later when you got back home. Either way, she likely stumbled into the bathroom, perhaps looking for a drink of water?

      If she was a big bumble bee, she was probably a queen bumble bee. She’ll be alone, so there won’t be others in your home, not to worry! She would have got confused once indoors, and if it was cool indoors, she would have been slowed down by that… and by falling in the water! Poor little bee, but you did all the right things, and not finding her on your window ledge afterwards is a really good sign! Giving her sugar water is absolutely the thing to do to help her on her way too :) And since she was a big bumble bee, probably a queen, you’ll have saved more than just her life, because she’ll start a little bumble bee colony of her own (somewhere safely outdoors), which is great, because we need every bee!

      If you’d like to put out water for bees (they need water too sometimes), a shallow dish with little pebbles in it is a great way to do that. Sometimes it’s hard for them to find water that’s easy for them to drink from without risking drowning!

What do you think?