How to Get Fuzzy Bees Drunk

We have Passiflora incarnata (maypop passionvine) growing outside our back door. I’ve written in the past about how to grow this native plant for its delicious fruit, but today I wanted to share a video of our “bee bar.” I’d say they show up at first light, but really, they never leave. These sluggish insects gorge on nectar, becoming increasingly clumsy, until the blooms close over them at night. When dawn breaks they repeat the process.

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This excerpt from an 1853 book entitled Wonders of the Insect World: With Illustrative Engravings by Francis Channing Woodworth has a delightful description of the phenomenon:

“I regret exceedingly to be obliged to announce the fact, that bumble bees are sometimes given to tippling. It seems that the nectar in the passion flower has an intoxicating effect upon these creatures, and that they now and then indulge in excessive drinking, when this beverage is within their reach. Instead of being content with a moderate draught, like orderly and temperate bees, they yield to temptation, and drink until they are quite drunk. They become so stupid, indeed, from their intemperate drinking, that they scarcely can fly home to their nest; and it sometimes happens, that one may see half a dozen of these poor creatures lying on the ground, near the goblet which has so grossly intoxicated them, and entirely unable to stir an inch. The dunces! They are almost as silly as the human drunkards that we too frequently meet with.”

Tippling is perilous indeed! We never find puddles of drunk bees on the ground under our plants… but perhaps our chickens find them first.

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

28 thoughts on “How to Get Fuzzy Bees Drunk”

  1. Mark Willis
    Twitter: marksvegplot
    - August 20, 2011 4:23 pm

    Where have you been all this while?? We missed you! How are the chickens?
    Mark Willis´s last blog post ..What’s in my garden right now?

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - August 20, 2011 9:35 pm

      I’ve been pretty focused on planning our wedding, which is in October. The chickens are excellent, though not laying yet. They’re excessively tame and endlessly entertaining, which makes up for it. :)
      Sustainahillbilly´s last blog post ..How to Get Fuzzy Bees Drunk

  2. Zoe / pearled earth - August 20, 2011 6:42 pm

    How wonderful! I grew this passionflower once, and loved its blooms… But alas did not notice any drunk bumbles. Of course I will have to grow it again in the future, because I can not resist the thought.
    Zoe / pearled earth´s last blog post ..The devil’s darning needles

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - August 20, 2011 9:37 pm

      I think these flowers win hands down for most exotic thing in my yard. Just love that they are native, too! We’ve been trying to figure out why they get their pollinators too drunk to move, though. This evening the bees were so saturated they had completely stopped moving (even if you poked them, which we did).

  3. PlantPostings
    Twitter: plantpostings
    - August 20, 2011 11:03 pm

    Wow, I’ve never seen bees move that slowly before! That is wild. Learn something new every day. Good luck with the wedding planning!

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 12, 2012 9:52 pm

      Thanks! It would be funny if they buzzed in slow motion, too.

  4. Fâneur Gardening
    Twitter: flaneurgarden
    - August 21, 2011 12:42 am

    I love that 1853 quote!

    Our bees are rather less given to excessive tippling – perhaps because we don’t have a passionflower? – but in a month or so we should have drunken wasps on the lawn, feeding on the fermenting fruit that falls off the mirabelle prune tree.
    Fâneur Gardening´s last blog post ..Garden and Gardener

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 12, 2012 9:49 pm

      Me too… and it just occurred to me to check for the entire e-book on Project Gutenburg. I love free books! Drunken wasps sound a bit more frightening to me than carpenter bees…
      Sustainahillbilly´s last blog post ..How to Find Unusual Vegetables & Fruits for Zone 7b

  5. Karin/Southern Meadows - August 21, 2011 7:42 am

    How funny! I just bought a passion vine from our Nature Center (along with several types of milkweed). I can’t wait until it starts blooming (next year) so I can watch the bees in slow motion.
    Karin/Southern Meadows´s last blog post ..Peek a Boo

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 12, 2012 9:47 pm

      This afternoon I noticed that we have an evergreen (nonnative) passion flower coming up in the rock wall of the herb garden. I’m guessing it is Passiflora caerulea, which I used to have and thought had passed on to the great garden in the sky. I’m sure the bees will enjoy the double buffet next season. Good luck with your bees!

  6. Donna - August 21, 2011 9:10 am

    I saw passion vine on Garden Walk Buffalo this year and the owner told me about this bee phenomenon. I am glad I saw it on your video. When I was on the walk, I saw the flowers opening for the day. That was cool too.
    Donna´s last blog post ..The Lost Art of Living-The American Porch

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 12, 2012 9:43 pm

      That sounds like a great garden tour!

  7. Lisa - August 21, 2011 12:41 pm

    Tippling? Egads!
    Lisa´s last blog post ..A Bee Massacre

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 12, 2012 9:42 pm

      Yup! Pickled, hooped, sauced, and snockered.

  8. Curbstone Valley Farm - August 23, 2011 8:46 pm

    Hic! Too funny. I swear, I find some of our honey bees buried in the squash blossoms in a similar state. I had no idea passionflowers were so intoxicating though!
    Curbstone Valley Farm´s last blog post ..Zucchini Fritters

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 12, 2012 9:31 pm

      I’ll let my daughter know about that honeybee preference next time she is trying to find flower retirement homes for the drones our hive kicks out.
      Sustainahillbilly´s last blog post ..How to Find Unusual Vegetables & Fruits for Zone 7b

  9. Casa Mariposa - August 25, 2011 5:42 pm

    That is too funny! They do appear a bit smashed and clumsy. I wonder if they end up wearing “passionflower goggles” and start hitting on each other.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 12, 2012 9:26 pm

      Haha! I’ve seen carpenter bees chasing falling cherry tree petals in the spring so they probably don’t need much to throw them off their game.
      Sustainahillbilly´s last blog post ..How to Find Unusual Vegetables & Fruits for Zone 7b

  10. Larissa - September 2, 2011 5:40 am

    I love fuzzy bees…such a lovely insects!
    Larissa´s last blog post ..Hottest Nail Colors for summer 2011

  11. Stephan Hilson - September 25, 2011 8:56 am

    This is the first time that I have learned about getting fuzzy bees drunk. I am not sure of the advantages of having drunk bees. It is because I was thinking that drunk bees could be easy to control. But I think the bees are more productive in making honey when they are in sober state.
    Stephan Hilson´s last blog post ..Comparateur de forfaits mobiles

  12. Mark - September 27, 2011 10:09 pm

    It now looks that they are having one fun drinking session. I have noticed this one bee being a little clumsy, I was waiting for it to fall but it decided to take another sip. It is really more risky for them to get drunk since a lot of predators out there would take advantage of their vulnerability.
    Mark´s last blog post dating book

  13. Athena Rayne Anderson - October 2, 2011 7:33 pm

    Hi there! Just found your site on Nature Blog Network. Great video! I’ve never grown maypop, and had no idea the nectar made bees drunk. The bees in your video are carpenter bees, though, not bumbles. You can tell them apart by looking at their abdomens- carpenters’ are not fuzzy, so they look shiny in the light. Also, the ones in your video with a white/yellow patch on their face are males. All male carpenters have that marking. Pretty funny that you have drunk males and females stumbling around on the flowers together! :)
    Athena Rayne Anderson´s last blog post ..Episode 3 podcast: An interview with Dr. Nathan Muchhala

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 12, 2012 9:17 pm

      Indeed! Though I regret I cannot go back to 1853 to inform dear Mr. Woodworth of that fact. It’s too bad, we owe him a fair exchange for letting us know about “tippling.”
      Sustainahillbilly´s last blog post ..How to Find Unusual Vegetables & Fruits for Zone 7b

  14. Tatyana - January 19, 2012 11:59 pm

    Drunk bumble bees??? You made my day!

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 12, 2012 9:17 pm

      :) Great!

  15. Donna - February 1, 2012 8:55 pm

    Sure is funny. I liked the video too.
    Donna´s last blog post ..January Weather Calendar – 3

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - February 12, 2012 9:24 pm

      Thanks! Love your recent cardinal magazine cover. :)

  16. Aaron - August 17, 2013 2:14 pm

    Haha! Really funny quote. We were curious about this phenomena so we googled it and you were #3 on the search results. Glad to know one of our dear friends already discovered this and wrote about it.
    Aaron´s last blog post ..Three Permaculture Lessons From a Great Summer Growing Season

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