Beware of sleeping queen bees underfoot this spring! Royal insects emerging from hibernation rest amongst dead leaves and grass, cutting edge tracking tech reveals

  • New research has shown that after hibernating they rest among dead leaves
  •  It  was thought that the queen bees dispersed in the spring to find new colonies
  •  This is their way of conserving energy which gives them a much longer range
  • The findings showed that queen bumblebees spent an average of 10 to 20 minutes on the ground between brief flights lasting just 10 to 20 seconds 
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If you go down to the woods today, watch your step as you might accidentally tread on a sleepy queen bumblebee.

New research has shown that, after hibernating through winter, bumblebee queens spend most of their time resting among dead leaves and grass rather than flying.

Previously it was thought that the queen bees dispersed quickly in the spring to found new colonies.

The new evidence suggests that instead they make short flights punctuated by long rest periods on the ground. 

Conserving energy in this way gives them a much longer range as they search for a new site to colonise.

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If you go down to the woods today, watch your step as you might accidentally tread on a sleepy queen bumblebee. New research has shown that, after hibernating through winter, bumblebee queens spend most of their time resting among dead leaves and grass rather than flying

The study was carried out by experts at Queen Mary, University of London, who attached small tracking antennae to the backs of queens that had just emerged from artificially induced hibernation.

Co- lead author Doctor Joe Woodgate said the study suggests that a few weeks of this type of behaviour would carry queen bees several kilometres away from their hibernation site.

‘This might explain how queens disperse from the nest in which they were born to the place they choose to found a new colony,’ she said.

The findings showed that queen bumblebees spent an average of 10 to 20 minutes on the ground between brief flights lasting just 10 to 20 seconds.

When they flew, they took off in random directions.

Computer simulations showed that the short flight strategy could explain how queen bees ended up many kilometres from their hibernation spots.

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Previously it was thought that the queen bees dispersed quickly in the spring to found new colonies. The new evidence suggests that instead they make short flights punctuated by long rest periods on the ground


Conserving energy in this way gives the queen a much longer range as they search for a new site to colonise. The study was carried out by attaching small tracking antennae to the backs of queens that had just emerged from artificially induced hibernation

Co-lead author Dr James Makinson, now based at Western Sydney University in Australia, said: ‘Our findings suggest that creating pollinator-friendly corridors between conserved landscape patches would be helpful..

‘Leaving vegetation, such as leaf litter and long grass, undisturbed until late in the spring would give queen bumblebees safe places to rest.’

The researchers had advice for anyone stumbling on an exhausted queen bumblebee around this time of year.

They suggest filling a teaspoon with a half water, half sugar solution and moving it gently towards the insect’s antennae or mouth parts.

Sipping the sugar water will help the queen to re-fuel and prepare for the next flight, they said.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Scientific Reports. 

WHAT IS THE HONEYBEE CRISIS?

Honeybees, both domestic and wild, are responsible for around 80 per cent of worldwide pollination, according to Greenpeace.

But bee colony collapses across the globe are threatening their vital work.

Bees are dying from a combination of pesticides, habitat destruction, drought, nutrition deficit, global warming and air pollution among other factors.


The global bee crisis can potentially be solved if dangerous pesticides are eliminated, wild habitats are preserved and ecological agriculture is restored, according to Greenpeace (file photo)

Greenpeace has reported: ‘The bottom line is that we know humans are largely responsible for the two most prominent causes: Pesticides and habitat loss.’

This is important for a number of reasons, chief among them the amount of work bees put into our food production.

Vegetables, nuts and fruits are pollinated by bees. Of the top human food crops, a whopping 70 of 100 are pollinated by the creatures, which account for as much as 90 per cent of global nutrition.

Greenpeace has suggested the following solutions to the problem:

  • The preservation of wild habitats in order to protect pollinator health
  • The restoration of ecological agriculture
  • The elimination of the world’s most dangerous pesticides 

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