Saturday, May 25, 2013

Forget Spelling Bees - today we're doing Bee Math

I haven't told you yet that at my last hive inspection on Monday 5/20, I could find neither the queen, nor any eggs in my supposedly 'good' hive. That is bad news, as without queen, no new worker bees, and eventually the colony will die.

But here's the good news:
This is a queen cell. If the worker bee democracy decides that for some reason or other, a new queen is needed, they feed one fresh egg in a certain way, and encapsulate it in this spectacular, large queen cell. In other words, the egg wasn't anything special, it's the nurture, not the nature, that makes a new queen. The queen bee, as important as she is, does not call too many shots in the hive. Very fascinating subject, you can read a little more about that here from a fellow blogger, or a lot more in this book that I'm about to order:

Now, my question is: How long will the hive be without queen? When should I check that the queen has successfully hatched, mated, and started laying? This is where the math bit comes in.

My handy dandy beekeeper's handbook tells me that a queen ecloses 8 days after the queen cell was capped. Of course I don't know when exactly that was, so we're doing math with a confidence interval here.
Once out of the box, she'll eat for about 6 days, and then fly out to mate for a few days, depending on weather. If you look outside today, you can tell it's not red hot bee dating weather.
The virgin queen will have to attract dates from a 'drone congregation area' which requires drones to be out flying (unlikely in rainy weather), and her pheromone to spread out to attract them. Here's a good description:  "Mating during the queen’s nuptial flight takes place in drone congregation areas (DCA), where many drones from nearby colonies gather. On warm sunny afternoons, sexually mature drones flock to these aerial zones. When a queen approaches a congregation area, drones chase her, forming a comet-like swarm in her wake. Several drones copulate with the queen in midair (Gries and Koeniger 1996), and then die immediately. The DCA’s persist from year to year whether or not a queen is present. It is still unclear why drones choose particular areas in which to congregate and how queens locate these areas, although DCA’s and the mating behaviors of queens and drones have been extensively studied."

It's the bee equivalent of getting a guy to like you enough to stop hanging out drinking beer at the bar with his buddies! Except, a queen is supposed to do this something like 10 times, for the sake of genetic diversity in her colony-to-be. Not sure if the guys know it'll be a one-time-deal.

After returning home from her adventures, she'll take another 3 days to begin laying eggs. And that's if all goes well. Doing all this math and looking at the calendar, I decided not to disturb the bees and start checking for new eggs no sooner than June 2nd, more likely the second week of June. And if I don't find eggs or young larvae then or soon after, I'll have to re-queen with a store-bought mated queen, as I did in the other hive.

The 'bad' hive with the new queen is doing OK. The population seems a bit low, but that's to be expected. And I found capped brood that, again, according to the bee math and date of the new queen's release, should be the new queen's own progeny. What's sort of cool in this picture is that you can see a young worker bee hatching, almost in the center of the picture. It's hard to take a picture with one hand, while holding the frame and camera in gloves and with a bee veil over your head, so it's not amazingly well focussed, but you can sort of see the still-pale bug-eyes and you can take my word for having seen its little antlers wiggle out first. A bee birth.

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