Thursday, October 11, 2012

Good Bye Boys

I went to feed my ladies this morning.  Roughly weekly, I deliver a half gallon of nearly 2:1 ratio of sugar to water.  They appreciate a little fast food this time of year when the nectar is scarce and the air chilly.  Honey bees form a cluster at about 52 degrees F, which means they all clump together in a large ball, with the queen and brood in the middle.  Older bees make up the outside of the "bee ball" and swap positions to stay warm.  They vibrate their flight muscles, without actually moving their wings,  fast enough to heat the cluster to as warm as 93 degrees.  During these chilly days they may break cluster for only the warmest part of the day, and are happy to have some sugar water right nearby.  Of course I only took a tiny bit of their honey, so they have plenty of the real deal as well.  I'm hoping they're saving that for the really cold months when I won't be delivering.

I've affectionately referred to them as "the ladies" all summer, despite the few (several hundred perhaps?) brothers among them.  The drones live an easy life, of no work--aside from hoping to mate with a virgin queen, and eating all the nectar and honey their sisters bring in. (If ever their wish comes to fruition they will chase and catch said queen, and will begin mating while maintaining wing velocity so high they will actually "pop" and explode upon ejaculation, dying and falling to the ground*),  Not a bad life.  Until October.

A week ago when I made my sugar rounds I noticed maybe 30-50 bees swarming anxiously about the entrance.  At first I was afraid there was some kind of robbing taking place, since a few of the bees were yellow jackets.  But on closer inspection I realized that aside from the few foreign visitors, the panicky bees were all drones who were desperately trying to gain entrance to the hive, where their sisters had suddenly turned against them.

Today I discovered a rather large pile of dead bees, most of them drones just off to the side of my hive stand.  The poor boys must have formed their own tiny cluster and perished in the night, having been evicted.  Such is the life of a fall drone.  The ladies know they eat a lot--they're quite a bit larger after all, and since they do so little work its hardly worth feeding them all winter.  Out they go.  Its the way of things, but oh what a sad thing to find.

My ladies however were thrilled to have the syrup and I noticed a few brave souls still returning with pollen baskets full, and lots on tiny new bees gathered about the feeder.  These girls are the bees who may actually live to see spring.  I hope they eat up.  Winter is a hard time of year to be a bee.

*At least according to The Storey Guide to Backyard Bee Keeping

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