How to Rescue a Honeybee

All Alone, Far From Home

A single honeybee alone cannot survive without its hive. If a foraging bee gets lost or trapped during its travel and is stuck somewhere overnight, most likely she will be dead by morning. I believe they die of loneliness. Here’s a simple method I found to rescue a honeybee.

Sometimes after dark I’ll find a bee in the house but since she can’t fly at night without the sun to help her navigate home, I can’t release her outside or she’ll simply be lost. Also we have multiple hives here so I can’t even deliver her to the correct hive to mingle back in because I don’t know which is her home. Alas, what to do?

Attempting to Rescue a Honeybee

I tried putting out a dish with a dab of honey on it then putting a jar upside down over the dish. That kept her confined so I could find her in the morning but I noticed she often spent her time buzzing against the glass trying to get out. When I thought of what her natural environment normally is at night, I came up with something different.

I put a few long chunks of empty comb and a smidge of propolis inside a pint glass canning jar. I pressed the edges of the wax so it adhered to the sides, leaving room between the combs so it appeared similar to the inside of a hive. Using a toothpick, I filled just one cell with honey near the top and put a single tiny drop of water in another cell. Really only a pinhead sized drop, enough for one bee. Using my finger I placed the bee inside the jar and let her walk onto the comb, then I screwed the top on (air-holes poked in it) and put her in a darkened room. Even better if I find two or three bees – they all have a friendly sleepover in the comb jar.

Bee and comb in jar

Read more: Attracting Pollinators to the Garden Year After Year

Don’t Forget to Free the Bee

This is a key point! I write myself a note, reminding me in the morning that my little lost bees are in the parlor. I write the note because I have twice woken up and gone about my day, not remembering the bee jar until later. By then their time apart from the colony was too long and the bees had died. Now I tape the note on the bathroom mirror or the kitchen table.

After the sun’s up I peek at the sleepover bees in the jar and nearly always they are just fine. Once they start moving around, I walk up the path to the hives and open the jar. They head immediately home.

Forager bees are used to being on comb for the evening. Knowing they were stressed about not making it home before dark, I wanted to recreate as much as possible a hive-ish place to give them a sense of familiarity about where they are, with known scents of wax comb, fragrant propolis, sweet honey and water.

Why Rescue a Honeybee?

Does it matter that one little bee makes it through the night?

I believe it does. Being kind to one bee, when it likely won’t make much difference to the hive or even the bee community, is a good thing for us humans to do. Maybe the world won’t change because I saved a bee. But too often the callousness of my inattention denies me the opportunity to develop benevolence. No being is inconsequential; every life matters.

When we treat all beings as deserving of our consideration, even a little bee can assist us in our task of becoming more gentle, more thoughtful, more human.

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  • DonJ says:

    Hi Jacqueline Freeman, it was nice to read your article on bees. Aloha from Maui, Don Jusko.

  • Debra says:

    I rescue bees from the swimming pool. I sweep them up on the back of my hand or catch them in a net. I love bees I just wish I was not deathly allergic to them

    1. Jacqueline Freeman says:

      Rescuing bees from swimming pools was how I got started with bees about 30 years ago! Back then I had no idea saving a few bees would turn into a world movement, but I’m glad it has. Keep doing that.

  • Sarah says:

    So much time, energy and written word is spent on how we can benefit from the bees. It’s humbling to see such a fresh perspective. Thank you

    1. Jacqueline Freeman says:

      I feel that same way, Sarah. I keep reading why we should “save the bees” because of all they do for us. That’s so human-centered and presumes nothing in the world has value unless it helps humans, like by pollinating our food. We need to gt a larger view of the world if we’re going to “save” anything around here. 🙂

  • Terri says:

    Thank you Jacqueline, I totally agree!It really does matter and make a difference.

  • Robert says:

    Great story about the rescue of bees. We feed humming birds and attract many wasps also.
    I catch the wasps in a plastic honey container with the top cut off and then invert the top back into the hole that I cut with the top off. I then duct tape the cut out piece onto the plastic container and then pour a container of apple juice into the jug for wasp bait. They enter to get the apple juice and cannot fly back out. They eventually drown in the juice.

    1. Jacqueline Freeman says:

      I tell the honeybee-eaters in my yard that they can eat whatever they want, but they can’t visit my bee yard and pick off my honeybees. I set a perimeter of about 200 feet that’s a “nobody can eat bees here” line. If you want to catch bee-eaters and not honeybees, be sure to put a dollop of vinegar in with the sweet, Robert. Honeybees and other native pollinators will try to eat the sweet, too, and you don’t want them to fall in there. If it smells like fermenting juice, the sweet bees will stay away, but the carnivorous bees will still go in. You can also put a few drops of dish soap in there to break the surface tension and then the yellow jackets will sink and not suffer. I really don’t like doing this because it kills another part of nature, but I found this method works and protects my bees, which is my real bottom line.

  • Carl says:

    Beautiful … and ingenious. I, unfortunately, never had the opportunity to live in a rural setting so I am always eager to learn from caring people such as you. Hope this new generation will somehow learn the interconnectedness of everything. It will be a daunting task to reach them.

  • Aude Sapere says:

    Reading this brought tears to my eyes. I don’t know why. Just the idea of understanding what bees think and feel, and intuiting how to help them. And especially the idea that the bee dies of lonliness – as happens with many humans.

  • romani bays says:

    Wow… how refreshing to read your article about rescuing bees.. a single bee… or a few… yes… they all matter ! All life matters… I am a bug saver, any bug (I am also an ethical vegan)…. they all go back outside, where thy really want to be…. this is very enlightening about how to save a honeybee.. I would never have known that the bee will get lost, or die overnight due to loneliness or any reason, thank you for this. Whenever I have found a bee or a wasp flying around the house I catch them and put them outside. So, where can I find honeycomb and is it something I could keep in the fridge just in case this situation comes up? The world WOULD change if all humans were predisposed to saving a bee… or a few….

    1. Jacqueline Freeman says:

      How generous of spirit you are, Romani. Next time you are at an organic health food store, or if you know an organic beekeeper, buy a small piece of honeycomb (be sure it’s organic, not chemical or processed). No need to keep it in the fridge, honey NEVER goes bad. And in truth, you only need a toothpick size drop of honey for that tiny little belly.

  • Larry says:

    Jacqueline, Great example set forth for all of us! Carl, don’t fret there are plenty of young people who understand. The Cosmos, Universe, the Ancestors, god, whatever you call her/him is the One who is teaching. We are like Jacqueline, but a vessel or conduit. Follow your heart and be an example for the new generation. Peace and Love…

  • Linda says:

    Hi Jacqueline ~ Just finished your book “The Song of Increase” today and loved it so much. Tomorrow I meet with my new beekeeper friend who reminds me so much of you. I’ve called her the bee whisperer. I am passing along my copy of your book to her and know she will love it as much as I do. She is helping me start all natural treatment free beekeeping this year with a top bar hive I purchased two years ago. I was really afraid of failure but after meeting her and now reading your book I know there is no time like now to get started! Thank you for your contributions to humanity and service to the honeybee.

  • Lorenzo Coquet says:

    This past year, in the dead of winter and with no nectar flows I decided to feed the wild bees in the area. I live in Arizona and the desert can be a cruel place where to survive. Following the instructions from a local bee keeper who taught me how to, I prepared a heavy syrup by diluting 16 lbs of sugar in one gallon of purified boiling water. After allowing the syrup to cool to room temperature I filled a ½ gallon glass jar with a metal lid that I had drilled full of 1/16 inch holes and placed it inverted out in the garden, supported on 2 wood blocks that allowed access for the bees to feed.
    Hundreds upon hundreds of bees showed up for the impromptu feast and drank the jar dry on a daily basis. I kept it up every day for the next 6 weeks. When the weather warmed up and my fruit trees bloomed, the bees repaid me by pollinating every single blossom. I have 10 different fruit trees in my yard, all of them with bumper crops. My sister says it is karma; that it pays to be kind to every living thing.

  • Daryle in VT says:

    Many years ago, I visited a friend on his 400 acre farm. I noticed his IH Scout was out in the field, under some apple trees, with the back open. He hands me a pair of beekeeper’s gloves and a veil. “You want me to do what?”
    So we reached into the back of his truck to lift out the hive that he rescued from an impending construction zone. I’m standing in the middle of the most bees I’d ever seen, yet not a single sting. We placed the hive in its new home and walked away. Within an hour or so, all the bees had moved back into the hive. It was almost as if the bees knew that no harm would come their way.

  • Of course every life matters. We are so separated from Nature we falsely think only we matter.
    I once had a wild hive of bees too close to a driveway for my visiting patients. I spent a couple of minutes every day for a week explaining to them why I didn’t want them there and other possibly suitable locations. It took them a month to find somewhere, but they did relocate. Never found out where. How obliging is that!

  • eliza says:

    Early one chilly/light frosty morning, we found a motionless bee (jumbo black kind) on a large flower. It hibernated there, as still as dead, until the sun gradually warmed it from cryogenic sleep and it flew away. We were so surprised and pleased to see that! – and Thank You All for your animal (& bugs & insects) communication stories.

  • june says:

    What can be done about carpenter bees? I don’t want to kill them but they are chewing the wood up on my house then the woodpeckers move in to get the larvea!

  • Chris Kemp says:

    Love this! Thank you 🙂 I have a honey bee that somehow tagged along on my backpack into the house. I gave him sugar water last night, just waiting for it to warm up some more..

  • Mary Brown says:

    I found your article bc I found a lone honey bee crawling around on a chilly, sunless day. I didn’t want her to die. I found your article so amazing. I agree that we need to be more gentle, compassionate human beings. You’re a beautiful person.

    1. Marjory says:

      Thank you, Mary!! I sure hope you were able to save her. Thanks for writing in. 🙂

  • Mehdi says:

    I came across your post tonight while trying to save a honey bee who was stranded inside my shed in the backyard. Luckily autumn nights here near San Francisco are not too cold. I followed your suggestion and left the bee with some honey inside a jar. The bee used the honey and got energized.
    Thank you for the write up and God bless you.

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