The survival and well-being of honeybees is important, they are essential pollinators of many of the crops that we use, as well as the flowers in the countryside and in our gardens. They are also the producers of honey which is at the centre of a multi-million pound business involving not just honey itself but its many by products including health products and pharmaceuticals. Honeybees are under threat all over the world from our use of pesticides and introduced diseases spread through globalization. They need all the help we can give them.
Here in the museum, we have an observation hive where visitors can see bees at work and learn about their fascinating behaviour and life history.
In the last couple of weeks, they did what comes naturally to bees, they swarmed.
Why do bees swarm?
When a colony becomes overcrowded it becomes necessary for it to split into one or more smaller colonies, each of which must have a queen as only she is capable of laying the eggs which produce the workers of the future.
Swarming is the natural means by which honeybees are able to colonise new areas and perpetuate their species. Unlike queen bumblebees which not only collect pollen to feed themselves and their first brood of workers, even spending the winter alone in hibernation, honeybee queens need their attendant workers and cannot survive for long alone.
When the colony needs to split, honeybee workers begin producing queen cells which are larger than those produced for workers. The hatched grubs destined to be queens are fed a rich food called royal jelly throughout their life rather than for just a few days in the case of workers. This makes them much larger and most importantly, on reaching adulthood, fertile.
First swarm just outside Central Museum causing a bit of a buzz!
Swarming usually occurs in May and June, but in warm springs such as this one with plenty of flowers around, it may happen in April. At the same time as queen cells are produced, unfertilized eggs are laid by workers which produce male bees known as drones. Drones are driven out of the hive and congregate high in the air. Young queens also leave the hive, find the drones and mate with several of them. Drones only live for about 90 days at most and die after mating as the process of mating rips out their genitals and part of their gut. Mated queens then return to their hive. They never mate again.
Second swarm made their new home in the central reservation just outside the museum it’s a tough life on the road!
A swarm is a cluster of workers, usually with a queen at its centre. Before leaving the hive, all the workers will have all gorged themselves on stored honey and for the next few days they are at their most docile.
A new home
In a natural situation, the swarm sends out scouts to look for a suitable place to build a new hive, such as a hollow tree or a dense bush and if they find one, they all move off together. Usually, though, swarms are collected by experienced bee-keepers who carefully place them into a box and introduce them into a new artificial bee hive.
Here are the pictures from yesterday’s adventure with Ann Cushion coming along to collect the bees and Toni Mair taking pictures.
Ann setting up equipment needed for the bee rescue.
Getting ready to pop them in the Nuc box (Prepare to be nuked).
Ann popped out for a smoke. (It removes the Queens pheromones from the surrounding area).
Shhh Bee quiet. Waiting for the bees to settle down.
Heaven scent. The girls letting everyone know the Queen is in residence.
Don’t pick the fruit. The second hive to be collected.
Bit of a snip. Ann carefully removing the second hive.
Bee Careful! Your new home your Majesty.
The Royal Box.
Gone in a puff of smoke.
Come on girls the party is this way!
At first Toni thought she was part of a Swat team, but preferred being a Honey Rustler for the afternoon.