Science & Environment

Early birds catch bees not worms

Great tits have been filmed eating nesting bumblebees for the first time.

In a study carried out by researchers from the University of Stirling, Scotland, the birds were seen lying in wait for bees as the insects emerged from their nests.

Crows, mice and squirrels were also caught on camera raiding bumblebee nests.

This is the first study to show native British birds actively hunting and killing nesting bumblebees.

"Many studies have observed bees as they forage on flowers but comparatively little is known about nests and their predators," Ms Stephanie O'Connor told BBC News.

Other mammals such as badgers, foxes and mice have been accused of hunting bees. But while suspected, no observations of British birds killing bumblebees have ever been made.

During the new study, Ms O'Connor recorded the entrances of 19 bumblebee nests from when the nests were initially found, up until the time the nest died, a period of up to nine weeks.

"I witnessed either kills or attempted kills at five of my 19 nests," explains Ms O'Connor.

"Ten bees were certainly taken, 18 more were either closely missed or chased off screen, and so I don't know their fate."

Great tits were found to focus on large nests, with lots of bumblebee traffic.

The study found that the nests were able to recover from the attack and produce a new generation of daughter queens.

"However, this study focused on common species of bumblebees. In the case of very rare species of bumblebees, even low levels of predation might cause problems," Ms O'Connor adds.

Crows, mice and squirrels were also filmed hunting bees as they frequented the nest.

Ms O'Connor believes the birds avoid being stung by pecking out the sting or 'wiping' the sting on branches.

Join the BBC Animal's Guide to Britain team tonight as they meet up with Ms O'Connor to explore life as a bee in Britain.

The Animal's Guide to Britain is broadcast on BBC Two on Thursday 21st April at 20.00BST.

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