Friday, April 29, 2016

Decoding the secret language of bee communication - By Lorraine Glowczak

Due to the profound interests in backyard beekeeping, join beginner apiarian; Lorraine Glowczak, as she shares her discoveries on her new adventure of keeping honeybees in this monthly series article. Part 2.

As I prepare for my Italian honeybees’ (Apis Millifera) arrival, I am developing a new repertoire of words and my vocabulary is quickly expanding. And yes, I have been asked by many and before the question crosses your mind, I am learning Italian. But that is in preparation for my trip to Italy in the fall and not for the bees themselves.

There are, however, two types of languages a new apiarian might consider. First is the everyday beekeeping terminology to be well-informed and successful. There is also the secret coded language of bee communication. To become well versed in the honeybees’ private exchanges to include specific flight patterns, dances, certain noises and even smells, one needs to have spent significant time with the bees themselves. Since my sweet Italians have not arrived and I have yet to be exposed to that form of private dialogue, I will share a few new terms that, with a brief explanation, have promptly become a part of my everyday lexicon.

         The Queen Bee. The single reproductive female in the hive and that is specially selected by worker bees when she begins life in the larvae stage by being feed a rich nutritious meal called “royal jelly.”  About a week after she emerges from her cell, the virgin queen leaves the hive for a date with a drone bee, or two, or fifteen or more (technically known as “mating flights.”) Once the dates are complete, she returns to the hive and begins to lay fertilized eggs within 48 hours. She is treated like royalty, with the worker bees cleaning up after her and offering the food she needs to keep laying fertilized eggs, about 250,000 per year. The Queen Bee can live up to 1 to 2 years.
         The Worker Bee. I speculate the term “busy bee” comes from this sexually undeveloped female. She certainly is one busy bee and much is expected of her. She must feed and care for the queen, do the housekeeping, handle incoming nectar, guard the entrance to the hive, and forage for nectar, pollen and water The worker bee lives about six weeks during the summer months whereas those that are born in the fall can live up to six months.
         The Drone. The male bee’s main purpose is to mate with a virgin queen, and once mated, will die soon after. Although an important part of the family, drones usually spend little time in the hive as they fly to drone congregation areas to potentially mate with a queen during the hotter part of the day. They have no stinger and do not eat from flowers, relying on the workers for their food. They live up to four months.
         The “Nuc”. Pronounced “nuke” and otherwise known as the nucleus colony, is one way to begin a new hive of bees with a new queen bee. It is a fully functioning but much smaller hive with queen, workers of all stages, drones, eggs, larva and capped brood.
         Packages. Another way to begin a new hive of bees. The package, a screened wooden box, includes a queen and approximately 10,000 worker bees. They are either shipped to you by the post office, UPS, or from a local supplier. Packages are easy to install and the colony tends to be slow in its growth, allowing for a learning curve of the new apiarian. I will be receiving my package bees from Cooper’s Charolais Farm and Apiary here in Windham.
         Supercedure – I have accidently used the term supercedure and swarming interchangeable but there is a difference. Supercedure is what occurs when the Queen Bee is no longer laying eggs as expected. Realizing this, the worker bees begin preparing for a new queen to replace the seemingly retiring queen. Once the new queen is born, the newly hatched queen will kill the elder queen, her mother, and becomes the new reigning royalty.
         Swarming – The hive is beginning to get crowded and once again, the worker bee develops a new queen. In the meantime, the current queen bee decides to leave the hive and about ¾ of worker bees follow her to create a new hive. Several conditions need to be present for a colony to swarm, a good nectar flow, a strong colony, crowded hive, the ability to raise additional queen cells.

For more information regarding the above terminology, please visit the websites below.

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