Say hello to one of the busy ladies who now calls our backyard home. Our new hive of bees (called a "nuc") has arrived. They are filling their new home with wax and tending a burgeoning brood of offspring. The ladies would like me to share a little bit about their lives.
- These busy ladies build wax and tend brood on frames. The frames are housed in a large wooden box called a "super" This weekend we will add a second super on top of the bees' current home, which is almost full.
- When the second super is full, we'll put a metal grate above the second super and add a smaller box on top of the grate. The metal grate will allow the worker bees to get into the "penthouse" and fill it with wax and excess honey but will prevent the much larger queen from fertilizing the cells in the top box. We will rob, or harvest, any honey in that uppermost box later this summer. Since we are midst a drought, however, the bees may not make much excess honey this first year for us to rob.
- The worker bees are female and start their lives tending to the brood and cleaning the hive. After a few weeks, they leave the hive and become foragers bringing back pollen and nectar to the hive until eventually their wings wear out. Those who are born closer to winter may live a matter of months instead of weeks as they live off of stored honey during the cold months when minimal food is available outside. The hive dramatically reduces in size during the winter, and this is the time when a hive is most likely to collapse, as ours did in February.
- One of the most interesting behaviors is the daily scouting report. Early in the morning, while it's still too cool for bee comfort, brave scout bees leave the hive to search for sources of pollen and nectar. They return to the hive with a lively report. They dance! The vigor and movements of the dance tell the rest of the hive the location, quality and amount of sustenance within a radius of about 2 miles. The hive then makes a collective decision about where to focus foraging based on the scouting report.
- Unlike the short-lived workers bees, the queen bee may live for 2-5 years. What makes her a queen is her diet. All honeybees eat royal jelly for the first three days after hatching, at which time they switch to a diet of honey. A queen bee larva is only fed royal jelly. Royal jelly is not only what makes her a queen but is also the secret to her longevity. (Supplement and beauty product purveyors take note!)
- Workers may create a new queen if the old one isn't up to snuff or if the hive is getting so large that it's time to split up the collective, swarm and colonize a new home. The old queen slims down to improve her aerodynamics and takes some of the old guard with her to start a new hive. The new emerging queen will either also start a new hive (if it's still crowded) or will stay and be the queen of the current hive, in which case she will kill her still-pupating queen sisters so that she has no competition for the throne.
- The drones are the other residents of the hive. They are, in essence, the lazy, do-nothing males who sit around while the women do all the work. They are fed by the women and luxuriate while the females remain incessantly busy. Until....it's time for a new queen to mate. When that happens, she leaves the hive. The males follow and try to catch her. In true survival-of-the-fittest fashion, those with the best genes catch up with and mate with the queen, who may mate with up to twenty of the drones. Royal marriages are short-lived in the bee world. She returns to the hive to lay up to 2,000 eggs a day or 1,000,000 eggs in her lifetime.
- The drones, having had their jollies, return to the hive. The females, however, are done with the males at this point. They have served their one and only purpose, and the females have no more use for these slothful moochers, who are barred from re-entering the hive. They have neither stingers nor the ability to feed themselves, and so they soon die, having been discarded by the industrious women.
Our new residents thank you for your interest in their lives and ask you to select bee-attracting plants and minimize the use of pesticides so that they, in turn, can pollinate plants that add nutrition and beauty to your life.