Monday, December 29, 2008

To review....

Here at the upper entrance to a colony, a bee is fanning air from the inside of the hive to the outside. Bees do this for two reasons. One is to help cool the hive. Another is to move the pheromones from the interior to the exterior as a means of communication. In this instance, I had just torn the hive apart, stacked the boxes all over the beeyard and then reassembled them. When a beekeeper does this, the air that was inside the hive dissipates. Once the boxes are stacked again, the hive is full of fresh air. Contrary to my Midwestern biases, I have had to accept that this is not a good thing. Normally, the air inside a hive is full of a variety of pheromones exuded by the bees that communicate everything from the identity of the queen to location of predators within the hive. When a hive is torn down, a lot of bees scatter, and are disoriented. This bee is spreading the scent of the colony into the adjacent air so that the lost bees can find their way back to the hive. Even more than visual cues, the bees rely on these pheromones to identify home base. The vibrating wings are visible if the photo is enlarged.

See the hind end of the bee, and how its stinger is retracted? Nevertheless, if a bee is blown into a person the stinger can be pressed out of the abdomen and into skin - if a person is stung by a bee (and hasn't stepped on it) away from the colony, this is how it usually happens. Bees rarely sting away from the hive. They don't seem to have any sense of self preservation - all their instincts are for protection of the colony. I frequently pick up foraging honey bees from flowers with no problem.

This second photo is of an upper opening to which the bees objected. So, they have begun to seal it off with propolis, the product they create from tree resin. They probably did this because the queen had chosen to move the nursery into this box, and she prefers laying eggs in the dark. It might also have been that the sun was shining into the opening and softening wax, beyond the ability of the bees to cool it off. Or there might be another reason for it - perhaps a predator had identified this as a space from which to pluck bees. I never found out, but enjoy this photo as an example of a bee product that I don't often see depicted. The propolis is not wet, but rather is shiny. When it is hard, it behaves much like the candy part of peanut brittle, although it also softens and becomes malleable and tacky. In either condition, the substance makes a great sealant. The bees use this substance to seal the inner cover to the top box, which is why you won't see a beekeeper just lift the lids off the hive. A special tool called a hive tool is required. I've used a screwdriver when my hive tool wasn't close by, and also a windshield scraper, but really, a hive tool is the best approach. A pry bar will be too thick and a credit card too flimsy. Keys are usually too thick to slip between the surfaces to be separated. Off season maintenance of hives includes cleaning propolis from the interiors of unused boxes. Again, the best tool for this purpose is the hive tool.

The hive tool is also useful for making futile gestures, such as clearing the air immediately around your face of stinging insects, for waving to a farmer three fields away for the purpose of summoning help, and for shaking in a threatening way in order to disturb the unrepentant sleep of the varmint sleeping in the tree that was probably eating up your bees the night previous. The hive tool is also good for prying off hubcaps, denting a stubborn jar lid to release the pressure holding it shut and for severing a long vine in order to obtain out of reach leaves that would work really well for certain personal needs. The hive tool can also be used to kill wasps that have entered the hive without permission, dig up root crops and to open the packaging on store-bought suet cakes. Or candy bars. Very useful little numbers.

1 comment:

twinsetellen said...

Lovely and instructive photos. And pretty vivid imagery in describing the many uses of hive tools!