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A blog following the beekeepers at the University of Washington.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

An unlikely encounter with a bumble bee nest

Salvage shopping for materials for the bee course, my attention was drawn to a "bee nest" in a corner of the yard at the Re Store in Ballard. A sign assured me (with Abe Lincoln guaranteeing it) that bees were at work. I saw none. Later, the counter person explained that bumble bees had taken up residence in the bird house above the sign. On closer inspection I could see that, sure enough, bees were very occasionally coming and going from the box. And they were indeed bumble bees, Bombus mixtus to be exact, a common local species. This is unlikely because this species is not well known to nest in such spaces but prefers ground nests close to the surface. They are often found in compost heaps, for example. Our main above-ground species is B. melanopygus, which often make nests in such bird houses, which are a good dimension for them and may contain fluffy materials from previous bird occupancy. But these B. mixtus, a later-active species, seemed to be doing fine in this abandoned avian apartment. Typical of b.b. nests, it smelled putrid and the entrance was smeared with crusty, caked up excretion. Unlike honey bees, bumble bees are not very clean, they don't really need to be - their colony breaks up and abandons the nest by mid-summer. With some observation I saw one large worker emerge and dash around the entrance several times, wiping her abdomen on the surface, before retreating inside. With some finger-scratching, I eventually coaxed another timid bee to appear briefly and feebly buzz its wings before also retreating. Not much of a defense, typical of this relatively docile species. The obstreperous B. melanopygus would have had me running in seconds.

- Evan

Welcome to our cozy mess!

Bumble bee!

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