What are they up to now?

To my despair yesterday was a classic British summers day: dramatic grey clouds and rain coming down harder than a power shower. The week before we’d left five queen cells in Rose’s little hive. Me and Emma wanted to see what was going on!

By late afternoon things had improved slightly so we took advantage of the momentary lapse in rain to do some beekeeping. I looked in the entrance of Rosemary’s big hive and saw this:

Bees snuggling in rainy weather

A blanket of bees! All snuggling up to each other as if to provide a layer of insulation against the cold rainy air getting in. It was the same in other hives round the apiary. I’ve heard of bees hanging outside the entrance in hot weather to cool themselves and the hive down; this clustering just inside the entrance presumably must be behaviour aimed at keeping the brood warm and cosy? They were not aggressive despite me poking my camera in.

We left the big hive alone and took a peek in Rose’s hive.

They’re on about seven brood frames now (with no super). They are being slow at drawing the remaining frames out. It won’t help that Rose appears to be MIA. No eggs or uncapped larvae this week. Of the five queen cells last week, we could only see two, both capped. The bees were clustering round the cells and looked like they were chewing at the ends. What has happened to the other queen cells? Were they destroyed by the workers or have some of those queens emerged already?

I read a very interesting article this week, ‘Piping queens that toot and quack‘. It mentions that workers sometimes stop a new virgin queen from destroying her rivals (perhaps as a safety net in case she goes missing during her mating flight?). Meanwhile they also can keep other mature queens trapped in their cells, pushing their cell caps back down and adding more wax. These trapped queens, or princesses-in-waiting, often produce a low frequency ‘quacking’ noise by vibrating their abdomens against the cell walls, as if to say ‘let me out, let me out!’

So we may have a virgin queen on the loose in our hive, or we may not. The bees keep their secrets close. The other mysterious thing they are up to is chewing holes in their comb. This seems to be happening on the outer combs, and sometimes the holes are big and jagged and other times perfectly round where they have chewed neatly through a cell. Anyone have any ideas why bees might start eating their wax?

One golden bee

One golden bee

Can you see the one golden bee above? We thought it might be a refugee from Albert’s New Zealand hive, perhaps allowed in because she had pollen or nectar to offload. None of Rose’s dark daughters are so amber.

While inspecting Emma noticed a bee with a white stripe on the top of its thorax, just under its head. I couldn’t get it to rub off, so I thought at first it was a genetic mutation rather than pollen. But then we noticed other bees around the apiary bearing similar badger stripes, and remembered hearing about Himalayan Balsam, which leaves a telltale white streak on bees which visit it. The pollen rubs off from stamens in the roof of the flower and the foragers are unable to groom it off themselves because it’s so high up on their thorax. Nice photos here: http://cabinetofcuriosities-greenfingers.blogspot.com/search/label/Himalayan%20balsam.

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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11 Responses to What are they up to now?

  1. Anna says:

    I read that article as well-it was fascinating. Have you seen the video about bee vision? I’ll post a link on my blog.
    I’ve read that they’ll take wax from areas that they’re not actively using and use it somewhere else that is needed.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Haven’t seen the video, sounds good. What’s your blog address?

      Someone on Twitter also mentioned that nicking the wax to use elsewhere theory. I hadn’t thought of it but it makes sense! Maybe it went towards making some of those queen cells up in a hurry.

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  2. willowbatel says:

    They usually start eating the wax if they’re short on pollen if I remember correctly. Or if it’s too cold/ there isn’t enough of a nectar flow to make more. They’ll chew it up and move it around the hive to where it’s needed most. My bees started doing this at the beginning of the year before they died off and it was mostly due to low food levels. With it being summer (as opposed to early spring) I can’t imagine you’ll have to worry about it for too long.
    The book I’ve got says that if a bee thinks it’s in the right hive it will walk in as it would if it actually was in the correct hive. And since it’s not really “on the offensive” and it thinks its in the right place, the other bees don’t take much notice of it. Its funny that it’s such a different color though.
    My bees had that weird stripe on their backs too a few weeks ago. Except it was yellow. I assumed it was from the iris in my yard, though I never saw any bees even looking at the iris. I just googled the balsam and while I don’t think we have any it does look and sound familiar. And it’s common name “policeman’s helmet” is something I’ve definitely come across before.
    As for the piping thing; have your bees been piping? The last couple times I’ve opened my bees up I’ve definitely heard one random bee humming at a different frequency, and while I did notice it, I just sort of brushed it off as a random thing that was of little importance. After watching that video at the bottom of the page you linked to though it makes me wonder if I wasn’t hearing a queen. Hmmm…

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    • Emily Heath says:

      The moving the wax about wasn’t something that had occurred to me but it makes sense since it takes so much energy for them to make it. We’re in a patch of non-stop rain at the moment so that might be why, they’re maybe struggling to get out for food.

      ‘Policeman’s helmet’ is a cool nickname for a flower. I wish I’d heard my queens piping but I’m not there enough really, with the bees being in my local association apiary. You’re lucky 🙂

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      • willowbatel says:

        Yuck; I am so sick of this crappy weather. It was in the low 60’s here (around 17 C maybe?) today, but it was in the mid 70’s (23 C ish?) yesterday. The day before that it was cloudy and colder like today. And it’s supposed to rain for the next two days and then a good chunk of next week. When is summer going to get here!
        I love some of the names for flowers. Johnny jump-ups, lady’s slippers, lungswort, hellebore, red-hot-pokers, horehound, beards-tongue. They’re all such fun.
        I only heard it when I was actually working with them. I usually don’t go nearer than 5 yards to the hive. Unless I sneak around to the side quickly where I can hide behind a wisteria for a good 10 minutes, on a good day, before the bees notice me. I’m only a couple feet from the hive then. The only place to look at the bees is directly in front of it and that’s not a good place to be. I could turn the hive to the left and still see them, but the view wouldn’t be the same and it would change the flight path of the bees to a weird angle since they’d have to fly almost straight up.
        Do you have to pay to keep your bees at the apiary?

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        • Emily Heath says:

          I can’t wait to go to San Diego and get some proper sunshine in a few weeks. Feel sorry for all the tourists wandering round London in the rain.

          I pay to keep the bees there but only about £35 a year, not much at all.

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          • willowbatel says:

            its like 100 degrees down there. Washington is one of the coolest places in the country at the moment. Alaska was warmer than us a few days ago.
            Why are you going to California?
            Yeah but it’s london. It never stops raining really. its like here. It’s grey for most of the year. in during the summer we still get a bunch of clouds.
            Oh that’s not too bad. I’m assuming you have to pay for the class and all the equipment and stuff too, right?

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            • Emily Heath says:

              We’re actually coming to Washington DC first from the 11th-14th August for a taste of your cold weather! Going to a friend’s wedding in Washington, then flying to San Diego to see a different set of friends. They moved there recently so it’s a good excuse to see them in their new home which happens to be close to beaches and Mexico!

              When I first started learning beekeeping I took some formal classes run by the Association which I paid for. Now it’s casual learning and monthly talks which are free to go to. Equipment I pay for, but some I can get a bit of a discount on if I buy through the Association. Me and Emma are very lucky as Emma’s just been given an electric extractor by one of her colleagues who doesn’t need it anymore. No arm aching extracting work for us!

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      • willowbatel says:

        I live in the state of Washington, haha, not the district or whatever D.C. is officially known as. It’s not a state, but it’s got its own special rules and stuff I think; and it’s not part of another state. It’s just as hot as everywhere else in the country I think. Tell your friends congratulations for me!
        You should check out Disneyland. It’s pricey to get into but it’s definitely something you have to go see if you’re in California.
        I’ve heard that if you go to Mexico, you’ll want to go way down south into the heart of it. The stuff closer to the boarder isn’t too great. And only drink bottled water.
        I went to San Diego when I was little but don’t remember it too much. I remember loving all the old buildings and lovely architecture though. All the new things that are built nowadays just don’t look as elegant.

        I’ve been meaning to join my state beekeepers club. It seems like it would be such an awesome resource. Yeah, a hand powered spinner doesn’t seem like it’d be that effective. I’m looking forward to getting honey, but I’m really not interested in the spinning part. I was thinking I would take the foundation out of the frames on my super, so all I’d have to do once I was ready to harvest would be to cut out the whole big chunk of comb. And then to separate the honey and wax you just crush the comb and stick it in a solar wax melting thing. That way I’d get wax and honey, since wax is worth more than honey over here.

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        • Emily Heath says:

          Wow I am thick. I thought Washington DC was in Washington state for some reason, but looking at a map I see they are opposite sides of a very big country. Oops. Er, please ignore my dumb comments.

          I’ve been to Disneyland in Florida before and enjoyed the rides and water parks. In San Diego we’ll probably do lots of wildlife related visits and some walking and cycling in pretty parts. It’s true that new buildings often lack the care and attention to detail of older buildings.

          You should definitely join your state club if you have one near 🙂 I would be lost without the help of my local beekeepers. What would you do with the wax?

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          • willowbatel says:

            Oh no worries. For some reason everyone assume I mean D.C when I say I live in Washington. And the fact that you put the two of them in the same place is completely excusable because I couldn’t tell you what’s where in the greater European area. I know Norway is north and Spain is Southwest and anything in the middle is too confusing to worry about. It’s a good day if I can tell you where somewhere like Virginia is.
            I remember loving the zoo there.
            I think I’d make candles or something. Beeswax candles are supposed to be the cleanest burning and since they smell of honey anyway you don’t have to add any sent. You just melt the wax and reform it and you’re done. And it’ll be a while before I have too many candles so making them will just be fun!
            I really do need to join though. I’m just not sure of how much it’s going to cost this late in the year. The dead line is April and after that you have to pay more and more of a late fee until some random time when the year is considered to have started over. It confuses me.

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