Friday, December 26, 2008

A fine winter's day

Could the day have been any nicer? I thought it was supposed to snow, but it looks like that big ol' storm is stuck over the mountains.

Down here in town, it was in the upper 40s and sunny. Warm enough for the bees to do a little housecleaning.
Yes, that's an undertaker bee hauling a body out of the hive. A good sign, as it means the bees are healthy and strong enough to clean up after themselves. Their lifespan ranges from 6 weeks in summer to a few months in the winter, so it's inevitable that you will have some losses from age.

In warmer weather, bodies will be carried away from the hive, sometimes a pretty good distance. This undertaker just made it a couple of feet (bees don't like to fly below 50 degrees) before discarding the body on some leaves. (As always, you can click these photos to see them larger.)
I also would not be surprised if some bees froze to death last week. Bees don't heat the space they're in, rather, they heat their cluster. They pack themselves into a tight ball around the combs, solid on the outside and looser on the inside. The bees vibrate their wing muscles to make warmth as the bees inside go about their business of eating, grooming and maintaining the brood comb. The inside temperature can be in the 90s!

Bees on the edges will take honey there and pass it in. If the weather warms up a little, the whole cluster moves to access more honey. If the weather stays really cold for long, they can't move at all and may starve to death just inches from food. Bees on the outside of the cluster who get too cold will fall off and die. They may also freeze to death trying to get to honey that is just out of reach.

I am still investigating feeding possibilities for this bunch, but not knowing the configuration of the hive makes it difficult. Apparently you can make solid sugar-based foods or get pollen patties (!).

I put a drop of syrup at the entrance and one girl slurped it up:
But it was a little cool to be luring anyone outside too much. Maybe on Monday, when we're supposed to get close to 60.


  1. I have a whole new respect for bees after reading your blog :)

  2. I love how interested you are about the bees (and how interesting!). Good luck - hope they make it through the winter!

  3. I love reading about this project of yours. I wish you lived around here, so Pipsqueak and I could come over for an educational field trip.

  4. I'm reading a book called "When Science Goes Wrong" and there's a chapter about .. well, it doesn't matter what it's about... but in this chapter there's a mention of the "yellow rain controversy." In 1981, Al Haig (former Sec of State) accused the Russkies of poisoning the Hmong tribespeople in Vietnam with poisonous fungi, described as like yellow rain falling from the sky and coating the ground and plants with a yellow dust. Supposedly when the yellow dust came in contact with human skin the victim died quickly from the poison. After some investigation, British scientists discovered that the yellow rain was actually partially digested pollen, AKA bee feces. Apparently from time to time swarms of bees engage in "mass cleansing flights." So if you see yellow powder in your yard or on your plants don't be alarmed. It just might be bee poop!

  5. Julie, love the bees. They need it!

    Zoomie, thanks! My fingers are crossed.

    Betts, that would be quite a trip, but you're welcome to come over! I'll bet there are beekeepers in your 'hood you could visit.

    Pam, that's fascinating! I'll have to research that story more. I knew about cleansing flights (bees won't poop in the hive, so on warm days in winter they all come out and relieve themselves at once) but that would take a lot of bees to create that much "yellow rain."