Of winter snow and honeybees.

Posted by Eudaimonia 5 years, 11 months ago to Science
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So far, it has been a Wyoming winter. I've had to dig out twice. I've been caught on a major highway during a total white-out once. I've learned that, in direct opposition to weather reports in New England, predicted snowfall of 1 - 3 inches really means 8 - 12 inches with drifts up to 2 feet.

Before the cold snap, I wrapped insulating bubble foil around my hive of Italian honeybees. They don't winter as well as other strains. So, any small advantage could help the hive survive.

Yesterday, temperatures hit the high 40's. The bees took advantage of the weather to do housekeeping. Housekeeping for a hive of bees means removing their dead and taking flight to defecate. Honeybees will not defecate in their hive. Instead, they will wait for tolerable weather.

The average lifespan of a worker bee is six weeks. The bodies of a hundred or so dead bees lay on the ground under the hive entrance. I watched as the workers removed more. The number was reasonable - it looks like they are wintering well - so far.

I looked at the snow which was under the bees' normal flight path and saw one dead worker bee motionless on the surface. As I walked through the snow toward it, I noticed many holes sunk in the snow. I had seen snow patterns like this before in New England. They were formed by small clumps of snow falling from trees and sinking into the snow surface as they fell. However, Cheyenne has few trees.

I looked down into one of the holes and saw a dead honeybee. The other holes contained the same. The bees had left for their defecation flight, were too weak to make it back to the hive, and died on the snow under the main flight path. The sun had warmed their bodies and the combined heat and weight sunk each bee below the snow's surface.

I took a card from my wallet and scooped up the honeybee which I first saw on the surface of the snow. I brought it to my office. As this is my first year beekeeping, I had the intention of studying this particular bee's anatomy. Until, of course, its abdomen began slowly moving - that bellows motion which most assume is the honeybee showing aggression, but is, in fact, just the honeybee breathing.

So, unexpectedly, I had a live, albeit groggy, honeybee in my office.

I transferred it to a covered glass jar. I then sprayed a little sugar-water inside the jar. The honeybee ate and quickly recovered some energy, although it was still not flying.

After a while, I brought it back to the hive. I opened the jar. But, try as we both might, the bee could not make it back inside the hive. The cold had sent it back into a stupor. So, I placed the honeybee back in the glass jar and took it back inside.

The honeybee died later that night. But I was not overly sad. Winter is a season for honeybees as well.

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  • Posted by blackswan 5 years, 11 months ago
    That was a gallant effort attempting to save that bee. Nothing else could have been done, probably. BTW, how many bees make up a hive? How many hives are necessary to pollinate, say, 1,000 acres?
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    • Posted by DavidT 5 years, 11 months ago
      When you buy a package of bees it's about 3 lbs, 1 queen, a few (up to 100) drones (males) and maybe 10,000 workers (all females). A fully developed hive in warm weather, with good food sources, will have 40-60,000 bees. Average life for a worker is 6-7 weeks, the first half of which is spent inside the hive on various tasks, then out for collecting pollen and nectar until dead. Drones are normally expelled from the hive in preparation for winter, as they serve no useful purpose during that time. interesting bee fact: drones do not have a father, being born from an unfertilized egg, so you can never have a grandfather bee.
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      • Posted by $ MichaelAarethun 5 years, 10 months ago
        In my part of North America the honey sellers are a fixed item two times a year. honey, syrups, bee pollen all sorts of items and very inexpensive especially bee pollen. No sign of bee jelly yet. But having Maramite/Vegemite and bee pollen on hand gives me two of natures most nearly perfect foods. Two out of three isn't bad.
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  • Posted by UncommonSense 5 years, 11 months ago
    Thanks for the update on the bees. Yeah, Cheyenne winters can be most brutal. Meanwhile, in MO, the water has quite a ways to go before the rivers are no longer classified as "flooding". Blech.
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  • Posted by CBT 5 years, 10 months ago
    Excellent essay. You have a nice flow and rhythm.
    Good luck with the bees. I have several hives and going into my third spring. Our winter has been rather mild and the bees are still adding comb and pollen. I find watching the bees so often reminds me of human activity: sometimes cooperative activities, sometimes their activity emphasizes the failures of humans I see around me.
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  • Posted by $ jlc 5 years, 11 months ago
    Taking care of big vertebrate critters, in the (California) winter I make a mash using hot tap water (instead of cold water out of the horse trough). I did this for the sheep, Rags, this morning (no horse at the moment and coyotes ate the goat). This warms them up nicely.

    Perhaps you could place a shallow dish of warm sugar water just outside the hive so that the bees did not have to fly to get some food. That might help your hive winter over better - and a faster start to honey production in the Spring.

    You are right that there is Winter for Bees, as for all non-tropical creatures, but Mother Nature is a Bitch. She does not care if your hive dies, if you dog dies, if you die. She does not even care if your entire species dies (Hi allosaurus!). She is beautiful and terrible; she is not your friend.

    So, consider working against her for your own benefit.

    Jan, loves nature but tries to be aware of reality
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    • Posted by $ MichaelAarethun 5 years, 10 months ago
      Mother Nature Loves Gaia. You learn to live on it and with her ....or you become extinct. The only rule I've found that works in conservation of assets and be a good steward of nature's bounties. Love bees and kill wasps. All that buzzes is not your enemy.
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  • Posted by teri-amborn 5 years, 11 months ago
    That was very educational. Thank you.
    I also find myself in "rescue" situations.
    The latest was a white Persian cat that was sick and anandoned and somehow made it to my open front porch just before Christmas.
    She has miraculously recovered and has been dubbed: "Lamby".
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