Earlier this week I was asked to look over a bee hive that had not been attended to since last fall. For a number a reasons the owner was not able to care for the hive.
Opening it up I found just a few bees and very little honey. There was however a serious infestation of Wax Worms.
Wax Worms are the larval stage of a moth that sneaks into weaken hives to lay its eggs which then hatch into larvae. A strong healthy hive will keep Wax Worm moths from entering a hive.
Something had happened to this previously healthy hive. Upon closer inspection, I was unable to find any bee larvae or eggs indicating that the Queen bee had died. With no Queen around to lay eggs, the remaining bees will simply live out their lives and with no young bees to replace them the hive will eventually be completely empty.
In the natural world, Wax Worms play an important part in the honey bee population. If a wild bee hive succumbs to a disease, the Wax Worms will move in and eat the remaining wax combs and other debris left over from the dead bee colony. This is good because the infected wax is destroyed and will no longer be able to infect other bees that may want to move into that space.
Wax Worms are the only organism that can consume and digest beeswax and thrive on it.
When beekeepers store their extra empty bee hives, they have to be careful to protect them from Wax Worms moths because the worms will destroy those hives too. They not only eat the wax combs but can chew through the wooden parts of a hive as well.
I will probably go back next week and clean up that hive and try to salvage what I can from it.
Last week I received some replacement bees that I ordered back in January. I needed them for the hives that were lost earlier in the year.
You can purchase bees from various bee supply stores. They are not sold by the dozen or by the gross, instead you buy them by the pound, usually in 2 or 3 pound packages. I bought the 3 pound size (about 12,000 bees). It makes sense that the more individual bees you start out with, the quicker you can get your beehive up to optimum working strength for nectar collection and honey making.
The packaged bees are raised and then shipped from Florida. They make it to their new home in Michigan in less than a day by truck.
The shipping container is a wood frame box covered with window screening.
By prying open the top cover you can see that the container includes a can of sugar water for the bees to eat on their journey north.
A small screened cage that houses the honey bee queen is suspended inside the bee package as well. Keeping the queen in her own protective cage keeps her safe during the journey.
I had to take out the sugar water can so that the bees could be released through the opening.
Then the queen cage was removed.
The queen cage was hung between a couple of hive frames. The frames are what holds the honey combs in place inside the hive.
The fun part is when you shake the bees out of the container. I shook a few over the frames.
The rest were poured out near the front entrance of the hive. They started up into the hive right away. The queen bee gives off a special scent that lets all of her worker bees know where she is at all times.
I added some sugar water in a plastic feeder and closed the whole thing up with an empty hive box.
Tomorrow I’ll check the new hives to make sure the queens are still alive . If so, then I’ll be pretty sure that the new hives have gotten off to a good start.
Here we are in late summer, most of the flowers of the season have faded. That means the honey bees have to work harder for their nectar.
I was watering the outdoor potted plants this afternoon and noticed the bees “working” the flowers of our Leonotis (Staircase Plant). Usually I don’t see any bees on this plant but today was different.
The honey bees were seaching for nectar. Some were flying franticaly from flower to flower, while others were spending some time at each blossom.
Looking closer, I noticed that the “frustrated” bees (the ones flying from flower to flower) were trying to get nectar from the tip of the elongated flowers. (Please excuse the out of focus shot, it’s pretty hard to convince a bee to stay still for a picture)
While those working calmly and deliberately were gathering nectar from the base of the flower.
Looking closer at the flower, I discovered that the petals of a Leonotis flower are wrapped in such a way that it forms a funnel shape.
If a honey bee tries to get nectar from the tip, it finds that it can’t reach the base of the flower where the nectar is stored. The flower is too long for the bee to stretch her tongue that far.
A smart bee learns that where the flower petals overlap, a small crack is formed at the seam near the base of the flower. This is where she inserts her tongue and is able to easily gather the nectar.
This was a very intriguing display of honey bee behavior. I could have watched it for hours, but I was running out of time and had much more watering to do.
So, I just continued on with my work and let the bees carry on with theirs.