Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Another Bee Chore - Heater Bees!

I'm devouring a fantastic bee book which I must tell you about. It's called The Buzz About Bees, Biology of a Superorganism by Jurgen Tautz. It was originally written and published in German and is translated (excellently) into English.

This book covers all the latest and greatest on the secret life of bees. Reading it has been fascinating with many "I never knew that" moments. Here's a few new things I learned from this book:

A Heater bee is actually another recently discovered task that some workers perform inside the hive. The heater bee will help to warm the brood in two very distinct ways.

Have you ever noticed how the queen doesn't always lay a perfect brood pattern and leaves the occasional cell empty? Well the heater bee uses that cell to warm the brood in the adjacent cells. Have you ever seen workers dunked all the way down inside a cell and not moving. For many years it was thought that the bee was cleaning but now they've used infrared and carefully sliced open the cell walls to observe.

The worker laying still inside the cell is actually moving her abdomen very quickly and is generating an incredible amount of heat, often up to 41 degrees Celsius. The worker will often continue in this activity for up to 30 minutes.

After that she'll be exhausted and all her energy reserves are burned up.... but that's when another newly discovered bee job comes into play. That job is for the Filling Station bees. These workers fill themselves and then go in search of energy starved bees in the hive. They give the heater bee that "sweet kiss", touching tongues together, which you'll often see when observing bees inside the hive.

Filling stations are those odd cells in the brood area which the bees fill with nectar to save long trips to find an energy boost.

Another task that heater bees carry out, also recently discovered, is to stand with their thorax resting on the cap of a cell. Then they do "stationary flying", which is vibrating their wing muscles which is how they warm themselves. This heat is transferred to the wax where it warms up that cell and the adjacent cells. For a long time it was thought these bees were simply standing still resting, but on closer study it was discovered they were busy working.

Bees of all ages will carry out the task of heater bee.
Did you learn something new? Stay tuned and I'll report on how similar honey combs are to dish soap bubbles and how bees can communicate their dances through vibrations in the wax.

You've got to get this book. Out of 5 stars, I'd rate it 10. It's full of great close-up photos too which are a pleasure to see. You can find it on Amazon at Buzz about Bees.
(My bees are doing great and I'll report on them later this week.... Gosh life gets busy in the spring doesn't it?!).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

They're Bringing In Pollen!

Yes pollen. In March. If you don't live in southern Canada, you may not know that it's still winter here. In fact, next week we're booked to have some snowy weather again.

(look carefully at the single bee sitting on the plastic wrap - she has yellow pollen on her back legs).

This week though we're having terrific warm weather with lots of sunshine and temperatures around 15 and 16 degrees Celcius. Many Canadians go to Florida during this week which is the Spring Break holiday for most Canadian children. But the weather is so nice that staying home is very pleasant indeed.

Yesterday we went to the bee yard to check on the bees and to give them pollen patties. As soon as I arrived I could see that there were lots and lots of bees flying around outside the hive.

The sun was starting to set, but still warm, and shining directly on the hives. When I opened the inner cover I could see many very healthy and young bees running around on the top bars.

I laid two pollen patties on the top bars of both hives. The bees were already landing on them before I had them in place. They must smell really good.

We had the smoker lit although we really didn't need smoke other than to clear the bees from the top bars so they wouldn't be crushed when the patties were set inside. (I forgot the camera so I only have small cell phone photos on this trip).

I was shocked and surprised to see yellow bumps on the back legs of a few bees returning to both hives. Was that pollen I wondered? I had to lean close and watch a minute. It didn't take long until I saw that the bees were actually finding pollen and bringing it back to the hive.

My respect and admiration for the clever bees grows all the time. How smart, to forage in old flowers from last fall for bits of pollen that wasn't collected last year. The bees are so resourceful it's amazing.

I'm very grateful to see the hives have survived our winter. This winter was not as cold as usual and we did not get the fluctuating temperatures from warm to cold to warm again. That is what my friend Henry says causes problems for the bees.

I am very much looking forward to another year with the bees. They've never been far from my thoughts.

I have ordered two more nucs for this spring so I'll be increasing from 2 hives to 4. Hopefully that'll mean enough honey for all the sweet tooths in the family.