Monday, May 18, 2015

A Year of Beehive Adventures

Pacific Science Center’s observation beehive is great for seeing bees going about their daily activities. The queen is almost always visible. However, this wide, flat hive isn’t the typical design for a beehive in the wild. Bees would go for a much thicker and more compact construction that allows them to store more eggs and honey, as well as heat the space more efficiently. Therefore, our bees have had difficulty successfully surviving through the winter and into a new season. Our past year’s hive had such an eventful year that it seems worth taking a look back through their adventures.

Not long after our beekeeper, Corky Luster, installed the bees in May 2014, the hive was running low on honey, which was unusual with all the flowers in bloom. But then we realized that we were in a drought and those flowers weren’t producing very much nectar. So throughout the summer, we gave the bees sugar water to supplement their wild diet. Even that wasn’t enough. So in late July, Corky switched some of the empty hive frames, with heavy, honey filled frames from another of his hives. We also supplemented their diet with synthetic and wild pollen and the bees seemed to be doing well.

Then in October, the hive had another big challenge, intruders! A guest actually noticed something that wasn’t a bee in the hive. A couple of yellowjacket wasps had found their way into the hive and were attempting to eat the bees. To assist the bees, we covered most of the outdoor opening to the hive to make it easier to defend, and placed a couple of yellowjacket traps in the vicinity of the hive opening outside. Together, worker bees quickly destroyed the few yellowjackets that made it into the hive.

Something about the yellowjacket interaction or the narrowing of their hive opening must have confused these bees. The next day, when we looked through the Plexiglas, our hive population had dropped dramatically. Outside, there was a tight beard of bees over the opening. It took a day or so, but eventually the bees figured things out and returned to the safety of the hive. It looked like our hive was back on track.

With such a mild winter we were really in good spirits about the survival of our hive to another year; the population was stronger than it had ever been in years past. Maybe the narrowed opening from the yellowjacket incident helped them stay warm over the winter, too. But soon, we started noticing another problem: no babies.

Something was wrong with our queen. She was sticking her abdomen into cells to lay eggs, but clearly nothing was happening. There were no cells with larvae and no evidence of baby bees. We were noticing a buildup of bee feces inside the hive, indicating that the workers weren’t leaving the hive. Without any new young, our hive population started dropping.

Normally, if a queen is growing old, a hive will rear young on royal jelly to make new queens to take her place. But that isn’t possible without any eggs. Our hive was dying. So in late April of this year, Corky came in to remove the last of the bees. The workers would possibly join one of his hives and he had hopes for the queen to possibly lay eggs again after some care in a new hive. We would have to get new bees for PSC’s observation hive.

These new bees were recently installed. After such an eventful year with the previous hive, we’ve seen new challenges and new successes. We’ve learned new strategies to deal with their many adventures and we’re optimistic. This might be the year we get the hive to thrive all the way through!

No comments:

Post a Comment