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I am taking a large, overgrown fern out of our backyard, to make room for more lawn (we are doing the opposite in other parts of our outdoor space). While I was cutting off the fronds, to get to the root, bees started to hang out near the cuttings. There seems to be a bumblebee nest at the base of our fern. I know that honeybees have been dying. Should I leave the bees' nest? They are not aggressive, but I would like to take out the plant. Is there some way to move the nest?
Bumblebees are bees native to North America, and they are above all important pollinators, so if you can leave them, that would be ideal. Fortunately, bumble bees nest for only one year, so if you don't mind waiting until fall to remove your plant that might be the best solution for you and them. This information, and more, is in Garden Insects of North America, by Whitney Cranshaw (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004). Like honeybees, bumblebees are currently experiencing a decline, so it's a good time to protect them. The Xerces Society has useful information on this and other bee-related topics.
Bees choose their nests in the spring, when a queen bumblebee comes out from hibernation. They often choose an old rodent or bird's nest, or something else with lots of good insulation, and establish a colony. Find more about the life cycle of bumblebees here. In fact, you can encourage bumblebees to nest in spring by building them a nesting site! The Xerces Society describes nest plans, if you would like to encourage bumblebees elsewhere.
If you do decide you need to move the plant before fall, you might be able to get information on moving the next by contacting the Puget Sound Beekeeper's Association or a Seattle-area stinging-insect enthusiast, Jerry the Bee Guy. Another local stinging insect removal expert is Dan the Bee Man.
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January 13 2017 10:35:53