Midnite Bee-Beekeeper's: Article December, 1999
More Honey and More Gentle Bees
More Honey and More Gentle Bees
THAT is what everybody wants to know! HOW does a beekeeper produce more honey,
and how to work his bees with fewer stings! You expect me, or famous Roger Morse,
or Mark Winston, or your local bee group, or the Internet Bee-L just to say
a short speech or write a few notes and THEN you will know. You must be kidding,
because IT AIN'T GOING TO HAPPEN!
A surgeon just doesn't learn how to cut with a scalpel; but, he has to learn
all about pharmaceutical drugs so that he prescribe them. An astronaut is not
just an accomplished jet-pilot; but, he as to study astronomy and trigonometry.
Your auto mechanic today must understand fuel injection as well as carburetion
and know that 12 mm wrench won't turn a 1/2" nut.
If you really want to be a beeKEEPER rather than just a beeHAVER, so that you
can truly produce more honey than others, work your bees dressed in shorts and
a tee shirt, or not have your bees die of diseases or pests, you will have to
LEARN more than putting some supers in place in the spring and removing them
in late summer.
If this article was titled: BEE BEHAVIOR, many of you would have laid it aside
for future reading or even thrown it in the trash. If you were a beeHAVER last
year, you will still be a beeHAVER next year; and you will never find the true
JOYS OF BEEKEEPING until you understand bee behavior!
More important, perhaps, will be MY feeling that "I have failed to upgrade
you" from the foolishness of just "having" bees, buying more bees when the die,
wearing a hot suit and gloves, losing swarms, not making at least 100 pounds
of honey per colony each year, and unable to publicly demonstrate your knowledge
of bees by performing an open hive inspection to prove to the neighbors that
honey bees are not naturally aggressive.
Let me stop this embarrassing rhetoric, and give you an initial understanding
Honey bees don't think like humans, nor do they understand ANGER, KINDNESS,
GIFTS, STEALING, CHEATING, INDIVIDUALITY, LOAFING, RETIREMENT or DEATH. Hence,
one of the major mistakes made by bee novices is being anthropomorphic, i. e.,
ascribing human characteristics to nonhuman things.
Bees think like bees, not like humans! You have to learn to think like a bee,
because a bee can never learn to think like a human. Honey bees do have brains,
but their knowledge was "put there when they were CREATED", and they have minimal
learning ability in their short six weeks of life. From the very instant that
they emerge from their wax cell, they know WHAT to do, WHEN to do it, and HOW
to do it! They do NOT have to be taught, shown, or supervised! In contrast,
I hope that I can tell you WHAT you can do and not do, WHEN to do it and not
to, and HOW to do it as well as HOW NOT to do it.
A paramount difference between how we humans think about the prime purpose
of our lives as compared to how a honey bee feels about life is about as different
as salt and pepper. Although humans have many purposes for living, some more
important than others, they are far distant from the single purpose of living
of a bee.
That single purpose of a worker bee's life is to provide for the continuation
and expansion of the COLONY! COLONY! COLONY!
Think about these examples: A worker bee is "born" on May 1st at the start
of the main nectar flow and drops dead from overwork six weeks later on June
15th. All that nectar she collected was done to provide honey to get the colony
through the coming winter, but she never felt a cold day in her life, and hence
has no idea of what "winter" is.
A foraging bee upon smelling the alarm pheromone, isopentyl acetate, stops
foraging, and in order to protect the colony's future, sacrifices her life by
stinging the beekeeper who was disturbing the colony. A worker bee takes part
in killing the old queen, her mother, who is being superseded by a new, younger,
highly, virile queen so that the colony can survive and expand. The great majority
of humans think only of themselves if getting ahead" rather than sacrificing
their lives for their sisters or half brother, or "working themselves to death"
to provide for future generations who are not their children or grandchildren.
BEE BEHAVIOR cannot be studied by OPENING a hive or using SMOKE, because both
of these unnatural things disrupt normal behavior! The use of a glass Observation
Hive 11 opened the door 11 to be able to delve into bee behavior; and now in
our day of advanced technology, we can use RADAR and even microchip transmitters.
As in so many other areas of life, often repeated speculation and theories found
in the beekeeping literature gradually assumes the status of FACT, and this
stifles further research.
WHY investigate something that is ALREADY "KNOWN"? These assumed FACTS have
usually been advanced by well thought of or well spoken beekeepers who are NOT
investigative SCIENTISTS, and these assumed facts delay research for long periods
of time. Like all scientists, I find it interesting that the more we know, the
more we want to know!
Almost 100% of all beekeepers begin their association with apis mellifera with
anthropomorphic thinking, and unfortunately only a few ever fully free themselves
of this faulty analysis of the rationale of apian actions. Such thinking indicates
that a bee stings because it is ANGRY; or that the ability of honey bees to
build a perfect wax comb without plans or instruction indicates a bee is CLEVER;
or a bee who works 24 hours each day for the benefit of the colony and dies
of cardiac arrest carrying a heavy load of nectar in flight is AMBITIOUS.
Nothing could be further from the truth! Bees react like biological robots
to the stimuli of their environment, because their nervous system is programmed
genetically to react in a prescribed manner. Bees react without thought or awareness
of the mechanisms and consequences of their behavior!
Since there is no "king, president, ruler, boss, supervisor, or teacher" who
dictates "who does what and when", what is it that directs the activities of
the colony? We know that it is not the queen, because we know that the activities
of a colony proceed normally for several days in the absence of a queen. Further,
scientists have placed brood combs and a queen cell in an incubator without
a single ADULT bee present, and observed the actions of the bees and queen AFTER
they had emerged from their cells. Although totally deprived of contact with
any experienced adult bee, these new bees behaved EXACTLY in the same manner
as a normal colony after the bees become old enough to behave in normal ways.
This is difficult for humans to understand, because we are NOT programmed at
birth, but have to be taught and learn as we age. One can only conclude that
bees are genetically taught and demonstrate the identical behavioral manners
in the year 2000 as they did in the days of Caesar and Cleopatra. Hence, again
I say: Since a honey bee basically can NOT learn anything, a beekeeper can not
change anything in the programmed life of a bee. Only by learning and understanding
BEE BEHAVIOR or "thinking like a bee" will a person become a highly successful
Why don't you take a "break" here, rest your eyes, get a coke, take a bite
of cut comb honey to give you energy and then I will provide you with many of
the details of bee behavior with which you should really be very conversant.
These are just the basic behavioral factors that anyone "alluding to be a KEEPER
of bees rather than HAVING bees" should know. There are many writings, notably
by Gary, Seely, Winston, and others, than you can avail yourself to in order
to learn more.
INTERNAL FACTORS AFFECTING BEHAVIOR:
The AGE of a bee is a major control of her wax glands, flight muscles, honey
stomach stretching, stinger development, and other parts or uses of them. Of
PRIME IMPORTANCE is the difference between a "nurse" bee and a forager bee.
After emerging from its cell through the next 18 days, this is a house bee or
"nurse" bee since nursing young larvae is it's principle duty. During these
18 days, it does many different house duties beginning with cleaning and polishcells
before a queen will lay eggs in them, building comb, cleaning house including
carrying away the dead, guard duty at the entrance, receiving nectar or pollen,
storing them away, ripening nectar into honey, feeding and grooming the queen,
and a dozen other jobs. After these 18 days of "house" duties, the bee has "earned
her wings" and becomes a forager for pollen, nectar, water, and even propolis
and remains a forager for the remaining 24 days of her life.
I will wager that you never realized that the longest a bee ever forages is
only 24 days and then it dies of overwork! Another internal factor affecting
behavior is the GENETIC makeup of the bee is based upon its race or the stock
of the race it came from. Let me give you an example of the differences in stock
that you are familiar with: Consider three HUMANS of the white Caucasian race,
but of three different "stocks": English, Norwegian, and Italian and all three
are bankers. The English man probably dresses in a suit with a vest, smokes
a pipe, drinks sherry wine, and enjoys quietness in his club. The Norwegian
banker also wears a suit, doesn't smoke at all, drinks brandy, loves the outdoors,
and probably is tall, thin, blonde and has blue eyes. The Italian banker hates
the indoors, conducts business on the sidewalk dressed only in a loose shirt,
chain smokes cigarettes, drinks chianti wine, is bald, brown eyes, has tanned
skin, and talks incessantly in a loud voice emphasizing many words with lots
of arm waving and hand action. All three are of the white Caucasian race but
of three different stocks. Both race of bee and the stock of that race have
very specific differing characteristics such as gentleness, wintering ability,
hygienic (housecleaning) behavior, disease resistance, foraging ability, population
control, use of propolis, swarming propensity, and many more differences.
Wow, there are SO MANY like odors, touch, light, magnetic fiellds, etc and
the honey bee has thousands of specialized sensory cells to detect any of these
many external factors. These cells can behave in different ways dependent on
the intensity of the stimuli or its duration. Further, these cells are subject
to fatigue and then the stimuli is not answered by any action. Examples of this
are the use of TOO MUCH smoke or TOO MUCH Bee-Go, because the use of TOO MUCH
of either make the bees agaressive (nasty)!
TIME is a behavioral factor. It is known that certain flora yield nectar only
in the morning hours, whereas other flora are barren in the morning but yield
copiously in the late afternoon. By painting foraging bees, research has shown
that- bees having found a flora source that bares nectar at a given time of
day only visit that source during those productive hours and either rest or
do another task during the dearth hours. It is rather interesting that bees
have been found to be quite "source true", meaning that a bee will NOT visit
more than one kind of pollen or nectar source on a single trip. This implies
that a bee will continue to work a single source on continuous trips even though
other sources all around the initial source have started to yield.
COMMUNICATION: I am communicating with you by writing this paper. Since bees
can't write, talk, or hear (they are very sensitive to vibration), their prime
sense is olfactory (smell). The prime example is a flower blooms and bears nectar.
The bee finds the nectar by its odor and in the process of sucking up that nectar
brushes its fuzzy body about the flower and hence pollinates it to produce fruit.
Upon returning home, it alerts other colony foragers of its find by distributing
tastes of the nectar to numerous other foragers and than performs the famous
von Frisch "dance" on the comb to indicate the distance and direction of the
source from the hive. In the dark interior of the hive, the "dancing" bee plots
the direction to the source by dancing up the comb on an imaginary line that
portrays the angle of direction from the position of the sun (bees do this in
the dark, and most humans couldn't do it at all). I have found it VERY INTERESTING
that scientists have transferred forager age bees from the Southern Hemisphere
to the Northern Hemisphere and found the bees to be totally confused in direction
in this hemisphere. This proves that navigation by the bees during their If
play flights" under the SOUTHERN sun prior to forager age does not allow a bee
to It change this genetically programmed learning"I When bees fly on badly clouded
days, they travel by apparently memorized local landmarks.
ACTIVITIES relative to behavior: Comb Building: Worker bees have 4 wax glands
on their lower abdomen, each able to produce 2 wax scales approximately 2mm
x 2mm. These scales are mixed with the secretion of the mandibular gland while
being masticated by the mandibles. (That is a high-powered way of saying "being
chewed with spit".) It takes a bee about 4 minutes to remove one scale, masticate
it, and affix it to the comb. Hence, it requires many bees to construct just
one wax cell! This is the work of young bees, normally 12-18 days old. About
8 pounds of honey are consumed by these comb building bees to produce 1 pound
of bees wax!
This explains HOW VALUABLE DRAWN COMB IS TO THE BEEKEEPER!
Feeding Brood: This is a TREMENDOUS amount of work done primarily by bees aged
from 3 days to 13 days old. As soon as the egg hatches into a larva, it is visited
and fed over 1000 times per day, or more than 10,000 times in the 8 day period
before the cell is capped. Lindauer(l 953) found that 2,785 worker bees spent
over 10 hours rearing just one larva in those 8 days! (I won't complain about
dinner being late any more.)
Sharing Food: During the 18 days from emergence to foraging age, bees donate
food to each other, at the same time continuously tapping each other with their
antennae. It has be found that the odor of each bee's head is quite important.
This sharing of food accompanied by touching antennae to the head area seems
to be a medium of sharing pheromones (communicating).
Colony Defense: (Many readers should read this section several times so they
better understand why they get stung.) Humans have difficulty understanding
"colony defense", confusing "defense" with "aggression". Honey bees have many
invaders, including other insects, animals, and humans, due to the ODOR of honey
around a colony. The amount of defense is directly related to the intensity
(or lack of) of a nectar flow. There are very few guard bees "on duty" during
a strong nectar flow, and even foragers from other colonies that are loaded
with either pollen or nectar can enter without being "examined" or "attacked".
However, some abnormal disturbance by humans, animals, insects, or "robber honey
bees" alerts the guard bees to perform detailed "examination" of all entering
"critters" and their colony will be DEFENDED by driving away the interloper
or stinging them. You would defend your home the same way, and this is not AGGRESSION!
It is interesting to note that young bees submit easily to examination, but
the "old foragers" are reluctant to be "examined". Bees do NOT get "anq[y" or
"seek revenge" because of human disturbance of colonies; but simply react instinctively
in a predictable behavioral pattern!
Unlike Africanized bees, all of this defensive behavior occurs in the immediate
vicinity of the colony, and the European bee does NOT chase the intruder very
far away. Bees that are foraging or searching when they are away from the colony
are NOT sting threats to humans unless there is some collision or entrapment.
Further, even when subjected to careless manipulation by a beekeeper, it generally
is only the GUARD bees that are stimulated to defend the colony.
However, the other bees can be easily aroused to a defensive position if the
human intruder uses POOR management techniques such as: wearing dark colors,
emitting strange odors like body lotion, perfume, hair tonic, using "fuzzy"
clothing like a wool sweater or having loose long hair that can entrap a bee,
and PARTICULARLY moving their hands TOO RAPIDLY or using tools that shine so
the bee's poor eyesight can easily see that movement.
Lastly, and perhaps most important, a sting deposited in your skin or your
clothes causes the immediate release of ALARM PHEROMONES that trigger other
bees to help defend the colony. The stinger should be removed as quick as possible
and the alarm pheromone odor emanating from the sting site should be "hidden"
by abundant use of smoke on the sting site.
To open a colony without being stung, blow dense, cool, white smoke into all
colony entrances, and then DO NOTHING FOR AT LEAST ONE MINUTE, TWO IS BETTER
and then proceed. (Waiting is VERY DIFFICULT for many beekeepers)
Since STINGING is the greatest deterrent of beekeeping as well as the fear
of your neighbors and the public, you should be much aware of those circumstances
that quickly trigger a defensive response of a colony. Some of these things
1) High colony population
2) Colony manipulations at the WRONG TIME OF DAY: too early in the morning
or too late in the afternoon, and never at night.
3) POOR QUALITY of smoke. Should be dense, white, and cool!
4) REDUCED flight activity at the entrance, which normally indicates poor
foraging conditions, or approaching inclement weather.
5) Bees crushed by careless equipment handling, including your GLOVES.
6) Colonies frequently bothered by pests: dogs, skunks,ants, or unskilled
7) Quick movements, dark or fuzzy clothes, shiny rings or watches, or long
8) Failure to remove or hide the alarm odor from a sting.
Robbing Behavior: Many beekeepers simply don't understand this, even
though a fine colony of bees can be totally killed in just a few hours in a
bad robbing situation. From the moment of their creation, bees are genetically
trained to seek out and gather all nectar or honey to provide their colony with
abundant winter stores, not for themselves, but for expansion and increase of
honey bees throughout the area. Most robbing occurs during dearth conditions.
Some races or stocks of bees are more prone to robbing than other races. It
is a well known fact that the Italian race has earned the number one title of
this offense in spite of their other good points. If a beekeeper opens a colony,
lays frames or supers out UNPROTECTED, keeps the colony OPEN TOO LONG, or drips
honey on the GROUND, bees from other colonies detect the odor of honey coming
from this "disturbed" colony, dashs back to their colony and alerts colony members
to "run over and get some 'free' goodies".
Why did I use the word "disturbed" colony? The beekeeper has demoralized the
colony with smoke, manhandled the colony "furniture" of frames and bodies, divided
the normal position of bee's living space, and opened the door to "thieves".
Imagine what might happen if a small new split of only 3-4 pounds of bees being
fed a big gallon of sugar syrup had a big wide front entrance, and was next
door to a strong honey production colony of 12-15 pounds of bees and the nectar
flow suddenly dried up!
Robbing is almost always the BEEKEEPER'S FAULT! It has been shown that feral
colonies are almost NEVER robbed unless their bee population is depleted by
disease or death of the queen.
Fanning: Your house environment is controlled by air conditioning, humidifier,
and kitchen exhaust fan. The honey bee does likewise by fanning. Fanning controls
the hive temperature and humidity, evaporates water from nectar, removes exhaled
bee breath, and distributes PHEROMONES throughout the colony which is important
for communicating vital information QUICKLY to all colony members present in
Scent Fanning: Some the bees elevate their abdomen, opening their Nassanoff
Gland, which exposes a membrane moist with a secretion whose odor is highly
attractive to other bees and says "Come here to me". The "scenting" bee FANS
this aroma about with her wings which directs "lost" colony members home. "Scenting"
bees are very valuable when hiving a new swarm, and particularly important to
direct the queen to her new home.
Hygienic Bees: We are going to hear more and more about the benefits
of hygienic bees in the coming 21 st century. Dr. Maria Spivak of University
of Minnesota is very active in this work, and Pat Heitkam features "hygienic"
bees in his advertisements for the sale of bees. About 40 years ago, both Steve
Taber and Walter Rothenbuhler showed that some bees are better housekeepers
than others. They observed that some bees remove dead brood from a colony faster
than some other stocks of bees.
Now we know that efficient housekeeping behavior contributes greatly to the
RESISTANCE of bees to various diseases. Many scientists and beekeepers feel
very strongly that using bees that are disease resistant is the ultimate answer
to many of our disease problems and that their use will eliminate the need for
Making Honey: Nectar is the sweet liquid secreted by the flower to attract
a bee to it who will POLLINATE the flower in the act of sucking up the nectar.
A bee can carry as much as 70 milligrams of nectar in her honey stomach, which
is almost equal to her body weight of about 82 milligrams! Most humans can't
lift this figure of 85% of body weight much less fly away with it! Although
there are great variations, the AVERAGE load has been shown to be 25 - 40 milligrams.
Hurrying back to the hive, this heavily loaded bee injects the enzyme invertase
into the nectar to convert the complex double sugar, sucrose, into two simple
sugars, glucose and fructose and enters the colony. If she has found a "new"
location for nectar, she "passes out samples for other to taste", and then gives
flight directions to it by performing the von Frisch Dance on the comb. Then,
she transfers the load of nectar to several "house" bees who widely distribute
it among many cells to make water evaporation from the thin nectar easier and
faster by fanning.
The house bee may also added more invertase into the nectar if needed and water
evaporation is continued until its content is less than 19% where upon this
new HONEY is sealed in its cell with a wax capping. Since perhaps 60 pounds
of nectar only yields about 15 pounds of honey, it does not take a rocket scientist
to understand why EXCESS super space should always be present to provide storage
space for this thin UNPROCESSED YET-TO-BE honey. Further, many scientists, particularly
Rinderer, have shown that the presence of large amounts of empty COMB, not foundation,
stimulates greater foraging activity for more nectar.
Need for Water: The most important need for water is to THIN honey to
make food to feed larvae! At the high brood rearing time in spring, it is estimated
that the average hive uses about 150 grams of water each day; and since a bee
normally carries 25 milligrams per trip, 150 grams will require about 6000 foraging
trips for water EACH DAY.
Water is sometimes necessary to COOL the hive on a hot day, so the bees forage
for water, distribute small droplets of it around the hive interior and then
Honey bees invented air conditioning - not man! To cool a strong colony on
a dry hot day might require a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of water, or about 40,000
foraging trips per day!
IMPORTANT NOTE: Brood rearing in Maryland starts in January or early February.
You MUST have some water source near your bees THEN even in this cold weather,
because once they have found a source of water, it is almost impossible to switch
them to some other source anytime the rest of the year! Pay attention to this
unless you don't care about your neighbor's swimming pool! You do not have to
provide distilled water or bottled water. In nature, bees prefer barnyard puddles
or farm lane ditches because of the vitamins and minerals in the water. Further,
you don't want running water or a pan of water where the bees might drown; but
you need a very damp surface or a faucet that has a very tiny leak dripping
on some sand mixed with pebbles and small stones for the bees to light on without
getting wet feet .
Swarming Behavior: We all know that swarming is the honey bee's natural
mechanism for reproduction.Swarming either expands the boundaries of that particular
colony by making two colonies out of one, or replaces a colony previously lost
by natural causes; but how much do you know about the behavior of the bees at
swarm time? Swarm season is that 4-6 week occurring shortly after both pollen
and nectar sources have become abundantly available. In central Maryland, our
swarm season is generally between April 15th and May 31st.
Whether or not the bees actually swarm primarily depends on the managerial
ability of the beekeeper! Frankly, I consider swarms UNUSUAL in my apiary. In
January and particularly February, in anticipation of spring arrival and the
need of lots of bees for colony expansion by swarming, the workers overfeed
the queen making her intensify her egg laying, and this will result in a hil-ghly
conciested brood chamber.
Eggs are laid in every nook and cranny, including the queen cups that are built
near the frame bottoms, usually 6 to 12 or even 20. As soon as eggs are laid
in these queen cups, 3 things are going to happen within the next 10- 15 days:
1 ) the queen cups are lavishly filled with royal jelly.
2) feeding the queen is slowed considerably and finally curtailed, hence stopping
egg laying, so the queen can lose weight in order to fly with the swarm.
3) scout bees leave the hive and search first for a close by location for the
swarm bees and queen to meet and organize, stay just a few hours while the scouts
continue their search for a new permanent home before they take off and fly
Since young bees don't begin foraging until they are 19 days old, the queen
has been heavily laying for several weeks, and diminished egg laying the past
10-15 days resulting in less larval feeding jobs of these young bees, they are
just "standing around loafing" in the hive, impeding the work of the foragers
and making tremendous congestion.
Just a day or so before the first virgin queen is about to emerge, if the weather
is nice, with great EXCITEMENT and a "WHIRRING" sound, half or more of all the
bees and the old queen leave the hive and form a swarm cluster in some nearby
tree or on some post.
After settling down and ascertaining that the queen is with them, scouts are
sent out to find a new home; and after several hours or maybe the next day,
the bees leave for their new home. This new home is BARE, just walls and roof
with no comb, no pollen or honey, and no brood. The swarm bees must go into
a "crash priority" of comb building for space to store some food and cells for
the queen to lay worker bee eggs to replace themselves who will all be dead
within no more than 6 weeks! Since the average swarm is largely composed of
YOUNG bees rather than the old forager bees, wax comb is built in a hurry, the
new young larvae is well fed, and by the time all this new brood emerges in
this new home, all the bees that formed the swarm will either be of foraging
age or dead of old age. It should be said that swarming bees (contrary to public
opinion) are LESS LIKELY TO STING than any other time of their lives, because
not only are they stuffed with food provisions for their new home, but they
have "no HOME and no BROOD to defend"!
Behavior of Queenless Bees:
Although the queen is not the boss, leader, or supervisor of a colony, she
has considerable influence on the orderly processes in the colony! When a colony
becomes queenless, the bees become quite agitated and commence scent fanning
hoping to "direct their queen back home" in case she is lost, and most normal
activities are stopped.
After several hours of queenlessness, the bees start building "emergency" queen
cells from EXISTING worker bee cells that already hold an egg or a larva; and
the resulting queen produced may well be a "lousy" queen because the bees selected
an older larva rather than an egg or very young larva so that the larva did
not receive a quality feeding of royal jelly for favorable development.
In those cases where there are no eggs or young larva present when the queen
disappears, such as a virgin queen NOT returning from her mating flight, there
is NO HOPE for colony survival; and shortly the queen pheromone that inhibits
worker bees from laying eggs will be gone. Some worker bees begin laying eggs,
but since they have never been mated with a drone, they cannot fertilize the
eggs they lay, and hence, all these eggs can only be drones.
The eggs are NOT laid in an orderly pattern but badly scattered, more than
one egg in a single cell, and the egg is rarely fastened to the bottom of the
cell as it would be if laid by a queen. Unfortunately, the colony accepts these
laying workers as queens which makes the colony almost impossible to requeen
with a real queen! In most instances, the best thing to do is either destroy
the bees or try to unite the whole colony with a strong queenrite colony. Colonies
become queenless much more often than most beekeepers think, so the beekeeper
should be well aware of these symptoms in order to make quick corrections.
Winter Behavioral Activities: Unfortunately, most beeHAVERS as well
as some beekeepers misunderstand the life of a bee in the winter or think anthropomorphically.
Except in our Southern warmer states, brood rearing ceases for about 30-45 days
some time between the end of November and Mid January in Central Maryland.
When outside temperatures become about 55-60 degrees, bees start to form a
cluster around the brood nest and this cluster becomes tighter and hence smaller
in size as the temperature goes down. Bees do NOT heat the space inside a hive
body or the area surrounding the cluster!
Temperature inside a broodless cluster remain between 68 and 86 degrees even
when the temperature go as low as -25 (25 below zero). In late fall, the cluster
is first formed in the front lower part of the hive and the upper part of the
cluster is in contact with stored honey.
As honey is consumed as the winter progresses, the cluster moves upward and
towards the rear of the hive, distancing itself from the front entrance. Honey
is converted into heat by the metabolic processes of the bees inside the cluster
and this heat is conserved bv the insulating qualities of the CLUSTER as well
as the enclosed comb!
Obviously, those bees most interior within the cluster rotate with the outermost
bees so that all the clustered bees get some honey to eat and distribute the
heat they produce to the others. Because the bees are dependent on the warmth
of the cluster to remain mobil, they dare not leave the safety of the cluster
for even an inch to secure more honey. Therefore, bees have difficulty moving
HORIZONALLY (sideways) to encompass a side frame.
This creates a "chimney" effect of honey use in the colony; i. e., consuming
honey VERTICALLY rather than horizonally. Bees do defecate in the hive, so when
the temperature raises to about 45 degrees or above and if the sun is shining,
the bees will take a very short "cleansing flight", but return quickly before
they become chilled and can't fly.
Bees can begin foraging for pollen, nectar, or water when ever the temperature
becomes 50-55 degrees. When brood rearing is in progress, in spite of the outside
temperature, the brood must be kept at 91-96 degrees; and feeding this new brood
rapidly depletes the store of honey in the colony. This is the reason that more
colonies die of starvation in March in the Maryland area than any other month
of the year.
Behavioral Activities of Queens: Let's start right at the beginning
of the queen's life: Newly emerged queens are very active to be sure that they
are the only queen in the colony. Unless prevented by the worker bees the first
emerged virgin queen travels through the colony and eats through the side wall
of every queen cell she can find and stings her "rival" sister queen to death.
She becomes sexually mature when she is 6 days old, and she mates on any day
that the afternoon temperature is above 65 degrees. Mating is always done in
the afternoon and never in the morning.
The whole hive becomes envolved, flying and foraging are reduced, worker bee
stand at the entrance scent fanning to attract the new queen outside, other
worker bees literally assault her, push her, and even bite at her legs to "force"
the queen outside and becomes airborne on her nuptial flight.
Generally the queen mates with several different drones on her first flight
which occurs at a drone gathering area 1-3 miles from the colony, and the entire
flight rarely lasts more than 30 minutes.
Upon returning to the hive, she might rest for a few minutes and then return
to the drone area for more mating, and quitting after she has mated with 10-
17 different drones.
Now her spermatheca is filled with 4-6 million sperm from numerous drones,
enough to last her entire life, and she is expected to lay up to 200,000 eggs
per year! She begins laying eggs about 3 days after her last mating. Hence,
depending on the weather, from the day a colony swarms until the new queen lays
her first egg back in the old hive is about 10 days or more, 12-14 days being
Many, many researchers and beekeepers have tried to measure the egg production
of a queen. Although the figure of 1924 eggs laid in 24 hours is the highest
recorded, bee scientists agree that the average queen lays 1000 to 1500 eggs
per day during the MOST ACTIVE brood rearing period which is probably April
and May in Maryland.
The MAXIMUM colony population that is attainable is: Assume the average worker's
life span is 40 days and a queen lays 1500 eggs/day yields a total of 60,000
bees. Obviously, this 60,000 is a high ideal figure., and not an average 40,000
- 50,000 might be the best figure for fine colonies having a young, well bred
queen managed by a good beekeeper.
Egg laying ability declines with age. Even more important, the queen's ability
to produce enough queen pheromone to "glue" a huge population of bees into a
single functioning unit without swarming radically declines with age! Hence,
the "smart" beekeeper requeens a colony EVERY YEAR regardless of how good that
queen was the first season. A real young queen not only can produce a larger
quantity of bees who can produce a higher yield of honey, but the beekeeper
is not bothered by swarming because a real young queen can produce a great amount
of queen pheromone.
WOW! I am worn out just trying to think of all these behavioral things that
are so important. It has been difficult for me is to try and present them to
you, most of whom do not have a scientific background, in a form and words that
you can understand. I have some hope that you will not think of me as a priest
or preacher trying to make each and every one of you perfect and a super beekeeper,
because I know that this is impossible. However, I do feel quite strongly that
a good understanding of the behavior of bees in various circumstances is the
real difference between just having bees as compared to really keeping bees
which pays you that extra dividend of discovering the myriad JOYS OF BEEKEEPING.
Have a Happy Holiday and a Happy New Year
George Imirie Certified Master Beekeeper