Spring and summer are high season for honeybees, bumblebees, and native bees to forage and gather as much nectar and pollen as they can to make honey or create provisions for their young in the case of native bees. Pollen contains protein and other nutrients, while nectar provides energy. Bees are in a race against time to produce enough food to carry their species through the winter.
This is also the hottest time of the year in the northern hemisphere, and bees can become overheated from over-exertion. As a result bees can easily become exhausted.
If you have ever seen how bees go from blossom to blossom, and then from plant to plant, you won't be surprised to learn that heat and over-exertion tire them out.
Apart from the fact that these industrious insects work tirelessly to pollinate plants and gather food for their families, they are also very social and are loved by many people.
A typical bumblebee colony contains up to 200 worker bees. As they buzz from flower to flower, they appear to have endless energy, but they do get tired.
Bumblebees are always only about 40 minutes away from starvation because they have extremely fast metabolisms and burn through even a full tummy of nectar quickly. If there aren't enough flowers to forage on their way home, they may burn out.
This 2:53-minute video by Stuart Lee shows an exhausted bee being revived:
So, how can we help bees survive the summer heat, over-exertion and near starvation? There are many conflicting opinions on whether or not to use sugar water.
Feeding bees on any sort of regular basis with sugar water is a very bad idea. Using it to revive a struggling bee is quite okay.
Queen Mary University of London recently produced research that shows queen bees spend quite a bit of time resting on the ground in between flights, particularly in early spring. This may appear to human eyes as if the bee is struggling. Apparently, this resting is especially important to the bee life cycle, and in fact these queens spend very little time eating.
Should you find a bee in this sort of predicament, see if you can tell whether the bee is a queen or not. If it is not a queen, the bee is in trouble and an energy boost will help unless she is actually dying.
If there are nearby bee-friendly flowers, gently lift the bee with the help of a leaf or some such ‘tool’ to move her onto a flower and watch for a few minutes to see that she recuperates.
If you are at home and must resort to providing sugar water so the bee has enough energy to get going again, mix some white sugar and water in equal measure, then place a drop or two near the front end of the bee. Do not use brown sugar as it is harder for bees to digest.
If the bee is wet, place her in the sun to warm up and dry off. If the bee is overheated, move her to a shaded space to cool down, and the sugar water should perk her up within thirty minutes or so, after she has had a good rest.
Always choose flower nectar over sugar water if there are any flowers around. Nectar provides nutrients that bees need, like amino acids, trace minerals and vitamins as well as protein in pollen.
Sugar contains no nutrients for bees, just empty carbs, and is like giving them junk food. It should be a last resort in trying to revive a tired bee. However, if it is all you've got, then go for it. Either way, always save the bees!