Bees!

Warning: there will be photos and video of bees on this post, so if bees creep you out, don’t proceed any further!

As I mentioned last week, I now have a hive in my backyard. It’s not my hive, I’m just the “landlord,” and that suits me just fine. I already have so much to take care of in my life between the house, garden, dog, chickens, job, and self, that I didn’t feel like I could take on any more responsibilities at this time. But I don’t have to take care of this hive since my dog walker, Paul, is the beekeeper. I just get to enjoy the bees. 🙂

The bees were installed in late April, and I took video of the process. Follow the link* to watch how Paul literally shakes the bees into the hive!

Paul adding bees to the hive

I was standing about five feet from the hive while this was happening, wearing nothing more than a light jacket and jeans. There’s a brief point where I blow a bee off my finger, making the shot go a little haywire, but otherwise I had no other bees make contact with me.

The hive had been put in place just the day before. There are two boxes of frames, a few of which had some comb already built out on them. The bees use comb for nurturing brood (bee eggs or pupae), storing pollen, and storing honey.

About a month later, here’s those busy bees at work.

Frame full of bees

Frame full of bees

Contrast that nearly full frame of comb with one that is still “under construction.”

Partially full frame

Partially full frame

Notice how calm the bees are. Whenever Paul has to work with the bees he uses a bee smoker to shoot a few puffs of smoke at the hive as he works. He’ll start the smoker, puff around the hive a bit, take the lid off, puff some more smoke into the hive, and add a bit more smoke here and there as he works his way through the boxes of frames.

Meanwhile, I’m usually right there with my camera taking photos and helping him work. I don’t feel the need for any protective gear, and have even  helped him with the hive while wearing cropped pants and flip flops. Paul owns a beekeepers veil, but he’s never worn it while working on the hive, either.

The bees are incredibly gentle. We had to pick up the entire hive at one point so we could position it inside a “moat” to keep ants from entering inside. My face was only about a foot from the entrance to the hive as we lifted it up and moved it around, yet I never felt in any danger.

We’ve already had a setback or two. A new hive is vulnerable to all sorts of opportunistic critters. Wasps may try to enter the hive to prey on the bees, and ants can enter the hive to steal food. While the hive was getting established they were fed with a sugar and water mixture. The ants were really attracted to it, which is why we set the hive inside a kiddie pool “moat” which would have required the ants to cross open water to get to the hive. It worked.

The other issue we ran into was that the queen disappeared. Paul thinks that it was because he didn’t have enough frames with comb on them available for her to lay brood. He could tell that the queen was missing because he was seeing less and less brood on the frames. So a new queen was ordered and shipped via UPS all the way from California. Here she is in her excluder, a special little cage she had to stay in for a day to make sure the hive acclimated to her.

Queen in her excluder box

Queen in her excluder box

The cage is fitted between frames in the center of the hive. Apparently it’s a good sign that the worker bees crawling on the cage are facing her and trying to feed her. If they were aggressive towards her, they would have been facing the other way and trying to sting her.

When the hive is open, I love watching the bees at work. I’ve watched them doing their little bee dance, and I’ve seen them raising their rumps in the air, fanning their wings to spread messages with pheromones. Watching the bees as they zip to and from their hive is also a treat.

Probably one of the most fascinating things I’ve seen when observing the hive was the work of undertaker bees. Paul had told me about them, but I didn’t think I’d see them at work. Undertaker bees are in charge of cleaning up dead and dying bees from the hive.

A few days ago I was in the garden and stopped to watch the bees. That’s when I noticed this entourage leave the hive flying in a poorly coordinated fashion. There were two worker bees carrying a third bee between them. They only made it about six feet from the hive before they fell to the ground. The worker bees seemed to be trying to get going again, but they were only rolling around on the ground and eventually first one, then the other worker bee took off and flew back to the hive. I noticed that the bee they had dropped was still moving its legs, so I picked up a stick and turned it around so I could observe it better. It’s wings looked in poor shape and it’s abdomen looked oddly deflated and not plump.

Apparently worker bees only live for a little over a month. They work so hard that they may actually wear out their wings. That dying bee may have been a worker or it may have been a drone that had recently mated with the queen, which would have accounted for the abdomen looking so odd. Apparently when drones mate with the queen, their endophalluses are ripped off and their abdomens are ruptured. Yikes! What a way to go!

*Apparently I can’t embed the video without purchasing more storage from WordPress. 😦 It’s a short but interesting little video, so I encourage you to follow the link to my Flickr account and watch it.

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3 thoughts on “Bees!

  1. How cool! Bees are wonderful little animals.

    So, your bee population has been Africanized, then? I understand the Africanized honeybees can’t live where the winters are colder. Here in Arizona, all wild honeybee hives are now Africanized. And those little gals are mean! Every year we get several horrifying stories of bee attacks on people and dogs who just happen to be passing by a hive. Sadly, we pretty much have to get someone come and exterminate a colony that takes up residence in or near a house — they’re just too dangerous to have around. The joys of globalization! 🙄

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    • Oh, no, these aren’t Africanized bees at all! They are Italian and Carnolian bees. The new queen is Carnolian, while the original bees added to the hive are Italian. Both of these varieties are known for being very gentle and hardy in areas with cold winters, although I think the Carnolian bees have a slight edge in cold regions. We’re not quite sure what happened to the original queen. If she didn’t have enough comb ready to lay eggs she may have left the hive with some of the worker bees in a swarm. I don’t see how that could have happened, though, as I haven’t seen any swarms in the area and there were so many worker bees in the hive even after she was detected as missing.

      I understand Africanized bees are much more aggressive about defending their hive and the area immediately around it. Luckily, Africanized bees wouldn’t survive up here. Some of their behaviors make it problematic for them to live in areas where there are prolonged periods without forage (i.e. winter).

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  2. Pingback: Various Cool Stuff | Funny about Money

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