Lazy queen bees love to sleep after hibernation, reveals new research.
It was previously thought that after hibernating in the ground over winter, queen bees would emerge and begin feeding before quickly dispersing to found their new colony.
But new research, by scientists at Queen Mary University of London, shows queen bumblebees spend the majority of their time hiding and resting among dead leaves and grass after hibernation.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests the behaviour of long rests with short intermittent flights explains how queen bees find themselves far away from their previous nest.
The researchers placed small antenna on the backs of queens that had just emerged from artificially induced hibernation.
At an outdoor field site, radar was used to track the bees via the antennae as they woke up and left the area.
The data showed that the queens spent 10-20 minutes on average on the ground and made short flights of 10-20 seconds in nearly random directions.
Observations of wild queen bumblebees verified this was not due to the study’s antennas but their natural behaviour.
Computer modelling also showed this behaviour can explain how bees end up many kilometres from their hibernation spots.
Study co author Dr James Makinson, now based at Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University in Australia, said: “We wanted to see what queens actually do right after they emerge.
“By combining state-of-the-art tracking technology with wild bee observations, we were able to uncover a never before seen behavior of queen bumblebees.”
“Better understanding the behaviour of queens during this crucial period of their lives can suggest practices to improve their chances of successfully founding new colonies and help their survival.
“Our findings suggest that creating pollinator friendly corridors between conserved landscape patches would be helpful. It would also be beneficial to plant pollinator friendly flowers and trees all year round, giving bumblebee queens ample access to food during their early spring emergence.
“And leaving vegetation, such as leaf litter and long grass, undisturbed until late in the spring would give queen bumblebees safe places to rest.”
Co-author Dr Joe Woodgate, of Queen Mary University, added: “Our study suggests that a few weeks of this type of behaviour would carry queen bees several kilometres away from their hibernation site and might explain how queens disperse from the nest in which they were born to the place they choose to found a new colony.”