Saturday, June 25, 2011

A sticky situation

Rhododendrons have sticky sap. Especially the flower heads, even more so the aging, dying flower heads. Every time I deadhead our row of rhodos, my hands end up so caked with the glue that I have to scrub and scrape with soap and hot water several times. Last time, I used gloves; I had to throw away two pairs.

Thursday afternoon, I pruned one big rhododendron. Cleaning up the mess later, I noticed that a fallen flower had a bumblebee still working on it. "That's dedication!" I thought, and went for the camera.

Busy bee, as I found him.

But he seemed to be oddly scrunched up.

He kept his head down to the sap, antennae dancing. I figured he would leave when he was good and ready, and set the flower aside, where I wouldn't crush it doing the cleanup. Three hours later, I remembered, and went to see if he was gone. No.

He was still in the same position. I brought him inside, and we inspected him. I thought he just may have been chilled, but ...

See the problem? His head is glued to the flower.

I set him and his flower on a clean sheet of paper and we waited for him to warm up and detach himself. He tried, pulling and twisting. He got his head and front legs free, but his hind legs were firmly fastened. I teased them away from the flower stalk with a paintbrush, but over and over, just as one leg came free(ish), he panicked and twisted to grab the stalk, where he stuck again.

Head and front legs free. Unhappy bee.

Finally, I convinced him to grab the paintbrush instead. As soon as the last leg pulled away, I whipped the flower out of reach.

He was still all sticky; he kept dragging one leg under the other to clean it. As glue pulled off one foot, it stuck to the other. He walked around slowly, dragging the two back legs; he couldn't lift them off the paper. I hosed him down (well, sprayed him and the paper lightly with cool water) a couple of times. After about half an hour, he was able to walk almost normally, but he was exhausted.

Very sad bee. There's still debris glued onto the back legs.

What do you do for a depressed bumblebee? Give him something sweet! I brought him a dampened sugar cube, and he perked right up.

Drilling for sugar. You can see the tongue at the tip of the maxillae (long, tubular jaws). The hind leg still sticks to the paper.

An hour later, he was able to fly about, and anxious to be free. I noticed that he'd torn up some of the damp paper and it was attached to his feet.  Wait a bit longer, little bee! Another bath, another combing ...

Bee in glass, with paper slippers.

Eventually, I bedded him down for the night with fresh, clean paper. In the morning, I set him outside to wake up in the sunshine. When I looked again, he was gone.

'nother question; the bees are busy on the rhododendrons from dawn to dusk. Why don't they stick to the flowers like this one did?


  1. poor little thing! glad you were able to help him!

  2. You will surely go to heaven, where you will be greeted by happy bees...

  3. this was a great post and photos! So glad you had the knowledge to help the bee...many would have left him to his fate.

    I remember how sticky those Rhodo flowers is easy to go through a couple of sets of gloves when deadheading them.

    Great story, I really enjoyed it!

  4. Bless your soul! I don't know too many people who would go through the effort to help little fella =) Sweet story that made me smile.

  5. That is a puzzler as to why this bee got stuck while so many others never do. I’m so glad you were able to take care of it and help it on its way. Your telling of the story was gripping. I didn’t know what the outcome would be until the very end. :)

  6. What a great story and awesome pics! Never did see a bee or anything else caught when i used to deadhead my rhodies. Maybe your little bee had a freak accident but i bet he learned his lesson and it'll never happen to him again.

  7. On behalf of the bumblebee lovers of the world ... Thank you. You are amazing!!!

  8. I've just discovered this blog, and having read this story, I think I love you. I'll be back.


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