Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Queen Bees Journey From The Hive

Queen Death Match

Over the last two weeks the new queens in the nucs will have emerged and hopefully mated.  The first thing a new queen will do is make a piping sound to announce herself to any other queens in the hive and battle them to the death.  She will also seek out and destroy any other queen cells that have not yet emerged by stinging them and biting a hole in the side.  If another queen has emerged already they will battle until one is victorious.  A queen is critical to the survival of the hive and two queens will not battle in such a way that they could deal a simultaneous death blow to each other.  In such cases they will break off the fight momentarily and start the battle anew.  This is quite amazing to think about.  How on every level a hive really is the sum of all the parts and there is no individual.

Drone Congregation Areas (DCA)

Once the queen has her house in order it is time to mate.  Mating will occur in the afternoon on a nice day and may occur over one or more flights to a  DCA .  Each  DCA  is a special place that exist in the landscape from year to year that drones and queens from different hives are able to find without any existing knowledge being passed on to them of its location.  Every day that the weather allows for it the drones from hives all over the area will find these locations and wait for virgin queens to arrive.  The queen will fly to a  DCA further than the drones of her hive will to find a  DCA  with drones from other hives which prevents inbreeding.  The queen will mate with 15-40+ drones in flight, with the strongest drones out-flying the weaker ones to mate with her and providing the best genetics.  The mating process comes to an unfortunate ending for the drones much like life comes to an end for a worker bee that stings you.  After mating in flight the drones fall to their death while another drone takes their place to mate with the queen.

After the queen has mated with a sufficient number of drones she will return to the hive to prepare for a life of egg laying.  The mating process also alters the pheromones that the queen produces and the workers will find queens that successfully mated with many drones to be more desirable.  The queen looses the ability to mate within several weeks of emerging and will never mate again in her life.  This is also the last time the queen will leave the hive unless there is an opportunity to lead a swarm to a new home.

The bees are loving all the varieties of Creeping Thyme in bloom right now.

While we wait for the blackberries to start here there is still a lot of forage available for the bees.  There are also several locust trees in the area that have started blooming.  The Linden trees are also blooming but I'm not sure if there are any in the neighborhood for them.  The locust and linden trees can provide a minor flow if there are enough of them in an area.

Locust Tree



The Swarm

To wrap up the weekend just when I thought it was time to relax on Sunday evening I got word of a swarm just a few blocks away, and thankfully they weren't mine!  From all the horror stories I've heard about hard to get swarms 30 feet up in trees or having them fly off on you just as you get there, this was a pretty mellow bunch.  They were just a few blocks away at Memorial Stadium on a staircase waiting to be taken to a new home.  There was actually a practice HS football game going on and people were walking by "cautiously" but otherwise not too worried.  Apparently they had been there at least all Saturday and they were having trouble finding someone to come get them and were getting ready to call an exterminator.  Thankfully I saw their post to prevent such a tragic end like extermination or having them find an unfortunate spot in someones attic or walls.

Swarm on side of stairs.  I'd guess around 9-12K bees.

When I got there I put on my suit to be safe (you never know how pissy they are going to be after a few days) which surprisingly didn't draw much attention from the people around.  I then setup their box and proceeded to lift them off the wall in handfuls into the box.  On the second handful I saw a pretty darker colored queen.  It took about 6 handfuls to transfer 90% of them into the box.  I then closed up most of the top and left a gap for them to fan the rest of the stragglers to come into the box.  I hung out for about an hour while the foragers came back in and then packed everything up and brought them back to their new home.

Fortunately I have a swarm hive ready to go for just this purpose.  It was used for a month last summer by the Geeks while I built their new hive.  This is perfect for bees needing a new home as it smells like bees and even has traces of wax in it.  I took a newer frame of brood from the Geeks and added it to the hive to give them some encouragement that this was an ideal place for bees to live in.  They seemed to agree and started fanning everyone to come inside.

The welcoming committee checking out their new home.

Justin already came up with the name "Icons" for these girls based on where they were picked up (Space Needle/Seattle Center).  That sounded pretty good to me.

Hive checks (6/2/2012)

Saw the queen and no signs of swarm cells yet, but they are still making lots of cups.  Lots of brood on the way as well and they are storing and drying nectar.  Opened up several bars in back for them to build out the rest of the hive.  Less cross comb than last week.

The bees seemed a little more runny on the comb than usual.  When a hive is this full of bees on every frame, runny is a bit relative.  Runny is a term to refer to how active the bees are as a result of the inspection when you open a hive.  Ideally you have bees that seem unaware of you during inspection and focus on what they are normally doing.

Such a well behaved hive with nice straight comb.  They hardly notice you are inspecting the combs and keep working away.  Lots of brood coming and I would expect them to peak for the Blackberry flow.  Both this hive and the Geeks take a lot of time to get through with the high number of bees in them.

Seems that this hive peaked 2-3 weeks ago and is just on idle now.  They have as much drawn comb as the Geeks and Engineers but the hive isn't boiling over in bees (I'd estimate 60% of their size in numbers).  I did see a lot of eggs in combs so maybe she slowed down after the maples and they are picking up again.

Nuc 2
The queens have emerged and a winner has been chosen.  Hopefully she had successful mating flights while we had a patch of nice weather last week.  She seemed to be calmer than the virgins I've seen in the past so hopefully that's a sign everything went well.

The new blond queen from the Engineer queen line.

Nuc 3
The queen cell in this nuc was still closed which means it should be dead.  I found it odd that it wasn't opened and am wondering if it might have been an unfertilized drone egg they turned into a queen cell.  I'll know if I see a big ugly drone in there.  I moved the now capped cells from Nuc 4 to this hive that I stashed behind the follower last week for safe keeping.

Nuc 4
Not sure on this one.  The cell is open, but could not find a queen.  Will wait and look again next week.

Nuc 5
New queen from the Geek queen line has emerged and hopefully has mated as well.  She has an interesting color pattern that goes from light to dark that I like.  I wonder how it will change as she matures.

A bit photo shy, but you can see her tail really well in this shot.

Hive checks (6/3/2012)

These girls are doing great and the hive is full of brood.  They have started taking syrup and are building comb quickly.

Saw the queen again, but no eggs yet.  They have started taking syrup and there are more cells open for the queen to lay in.  The frame of eggs they got last week has been capped and the queen was found near them which is a good sign.  They have also started taking syrup and are building comb.

So that was my busy weekend and now mother nature is providing us with rain.  The weather report is saying "Junuary" is back.  Just what a beekeeper with lots of hungry girls wants to hear as they are reaching their peak numbers and can't fly.  If it doesn't clear up in a few day I'll have to start feeding to keep them from starving.  I don't dare underestimate how quickly 60,000 girls will eat up their reserves this time of year in bad weather.  However cooler rainy weather is good for the blackberry buds and leads to a flowers with more nectar.

- Jeff

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