Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It's No Zoo - Queens in Cages

Yes, these queen bees are in cages but it's not at the zoo.

I bet you're wondering why someone would put queen bees in cages. There's a really good reason.

In early spring in Canada (April and May) the bees are slowly getting busy as the weather gets warm.

Many beekeepers have hives with so many bees that they want to divide the hive. Beekeepers call it splitting or making splits. When they take the bees from one hive and separate them into two there's a small problem. There's only one queen.

Bees can make a new queen (I'll tell you how they do that another time) but it takes over a month for a queen to grow up, hatch and mate.

During that time the hive can't do very much. So many beekeepers purchase queens from Australia. In Australia the weather has been warmer and their queens are already grown up.

Australian beekeepers put a queen in each cage to send to Canada.

The queen can't travel alone, she's too important. The Australian beekeeper puts some ladies in waiting into the cage as well.

The ladies will feed the queen, give her a drink of water, and will groom her fur. She can't arrive in Canada looking anything less than beautiful and nicely groomed.

The cage has a small hole in one end. The beekeeper puts them into the cage and then plugs the hole with a cork plug. There's a hole in the other end too and it's plugged up with candy.

The ladies in waiting will feed the candy to the queen while they wait to arrive at their new home.

The bees will fly... but on a plane! Hundreds of queen cages are carefully packed in cardboard boxes for their trip.

When they arrive they are tired and thirsty. At the airport the beekeeper puts droplets of warm water on a small square of cloth so the bees can sip it and quench their thirst.

At the bee yard the queen can't just be put into the new hive in Canada. The bees don't know her or her special scent. If she was just placed in the hive, they might think she's an intruder and sting her.

The cage is put into the new hive and the queen is safe in her cage. The bees will chew and chew on the candy to open the hole and let the queen out. By the time they finish eating the candy they will know the new queen and her special smell (call pheromones) and they will happily accept her in their hive as their queen.

Do you think Australian queens buzz with an accent? Listen to the video of the bees in their cages (below).

(Thanks to John at Oxford Honey & Supplies in Burgessville, Ontario for allowing me to photograph the queens).


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Wash Day

Do you ever have to help out at home? Would your parents ask you to help them clean?

Bees like to keep their house (hive) clean.

There are bees inside that are assigned the job to clean.

These photos and video show bees cleaning outside the hive.

They use their tongues like brooms and they sweep back and forth.

If you watch the video you'll see it's almost like a dance as they move their heads back and forth in a steady rhythm.

There's a saying: Many hands make light work. It's true that when more people help out the job gets done much faster.

I guess the bees' saying would be that many tongues make light work.

They understand the power of working together to get big jobs done.

That's probably why your parents ask if you can help out to. It makes everyone's job easier.

It's more fun to work when others are with you too.

See the bees sweeping with their tongues in the video below.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Karate Bee

Have you seen the Karate Kid movie? Karate has some really cool moves and so does this bee.

She's a guard bee and she's striking her karate pose.

What do you think she's saying? "Don't mess with me I'm protecting my hive." That's what she's saying.

Compare the first photo to the second one of a standing bee pictured below.

See the difference? The second bee is relaxed and just hanging around. She's not a guard bee.

Guard bees have the job of protecting the the hive. They're like security guards.

They have to check the ID of every bee that wants to come in the hive. They check ID by scent.

Bees from the same hive all have the same smell. If you smell right then you can come in.

When field bees fly back to the hive they'll go close to the guard bee. She'll turn her head, her antennae can sniff them.

But if there's a problem and the hive has strangers coming by, maybe bees from other hives, a hornet or a wasp, the guards will stand back on their legs in an attack mode.

If there's an emergency or danger from a bear, skunk, raccoon or some other creature the guard bees will release a chemical scent that tells the hive to attack. That's when more bees will come out and sting the intruder.

The bees know that they make precious golden honey that many creatures want to eat.

They guard their gold very well.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Undertaker Bees

Bees and people aren't too much different.

When a person dies there are people who have the special job of taking care of the dead body.

When a bee dies there are workers who have the special job of taking care of the dead body.

See? Bees are like people... or maybe people are like bees.

Nature is marvelously designed so that each little bit and piece is not wasted. When we see a dead animal on the side of the road it can be sad. But nature will take care of these corpses by helping to remove them. Little beetles and flies that specialize with dead animals will come and do their job.

If a bee dies outside in the field, she'll fall to the ground. Her body will most likely become a meal for a foraging mouse, a bird, wasps or ants.

Where my bee hives are I've watched as a bird flew down to pick up dead bees to eat.

Inside the hive, if the bodies of dead bees can't be left to pile up otherwise there would be a crowded mess. And it wouldn't be clean.

Have you ever picked up a dead fly and found it to be very lightweight? That's because it's body has dried out over a few days.

Undertaker bees will sometimes wait a few days so a dead bee body will dry out. Then it won't be so heavy to carry.

They grab the body and half fly and half drag it out of the hive. Sometimes the bee will be heavy and big like the drone in these photos and video. Then another undertaker bee will come and help.
They'll pull and yank the dead bee across the platform outside the hive. At the edge they'll actually fly off, carrying the body and then they'll drop it.

It's all in a day's work for the undertaker bees.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lazarus, Come Forth!

The story of Lazarus is about a man who died and then came back to life. This is a story like that.

Last time we looked at how bees form a cluster inside their hive so they can keep warm all through the long cold Canadian winter.

We also looked at how bees are awake in the hive, eating their honey. Then on winter days that aren't too cold the bees will fly out to poop.

Before the bees fly out they warm up their flight muscles.

The bees in these pictures flew out but they must not have warmed themselves up enough before they left the hive. They fell to the snow where their bodies grew cold and they froze.

Have you ever gone outside on a winter day and you didn't dress warm enough? Sometimes I've thought it wasn't that cold and then after I'm outside I wish I had my hat or scarf so I could keep warm.

Once on the snow these bees would try to get warm enough to fly but usually they get too cold and they can't. It's sad that they die....
except for the day when I was there.
I scooped up a handful of bees and I held them in my cupped hands for about ten or fiften minutes.
Slowly I started to feel a little movement inside my hands, a little foot would wiggle here, a little head would turn there.
I'd keep my hands cupped so that the heat from my skin would warm the bees.
Like the story of Lazarus the bees came back to life. They woke up from their cold dead stupor. I warmed them up enough that they could fly.
Sometimes I wish I could be at my bee yard every day so I could warm the bees. But that wouldn't really be right. Nature has a plan and the bees live short but productive lives.

The queen, safe and warmed inside the hive will soon lay more eggs and there will be more bees.
This is a video of me warming up the frozen bees.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Snow Day.... for Bees

Winter in the bee yard can look very lonely and quiet.

The hives sit unmoving and there's very little activity outside.

We have cold winters in Ontario, Canada, so beekeepers put covers called 'wraps' around their hives.

The wraps are like putting a blanket on the hive. It helps to keep the bees warmer by stopping the cold wind blowing into the hive.

The beekeeper will also put a piece of wood across the large entrance of the hive, leaving only a small hole for the bees to come and go.

Are you wondering about bees coming and going in winter? They do, just not very much. You see bees don't actually hibernate. Hibernating would mean sleeping a lot and not eating. The bees stay awake all winter and they snuggle together on their honeycombs in a tight cluster.

They shiver their wing muscles, which is like exercising and it makes their bodies warm. By snuggling they share their body heat. Just like how penguins form a cluster and cycle from the outside edge where it's colder to the inside where it's warmer, bees will take turns being warmer in the middle.

Can you guess what food they'll eat? Honey of course. All their hard work all summer long is for this moment, the cold days of winter. They can eat their honey and use it's energy to keep themselves warm.

But there's something else that happens when you eat..... you have to go to the bathroom! On days when it's not so cold the bees will actually fly out of the hive to poop. If they don't get too cold they'll make it back into the hive.

[See this photo - you can learn more about how this became Yellow Snow here].

Unfortunately, some bees will get too cold when they fly out and they'll fall to the snow. Then they can't warm up their muscles enough to fly. That's sad because they'll die.... unless I'm there to warm them up.

I'll tell you about that next time.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Something Really Big

Here's something really simple but really BIG that you can do to help the bees.

It's really easy too.

Ask your parents, grandparents, teachers, friends and neighbours to let the dandelions bloom.

Many people don't like dandelions and that's okay. Ask them if they could just wait until the flowers die, before they go to seed to cut them down with the lawn mover or to pull them out.

That way the bees would get some time to visit them.

[Do you think this bee is using the cell phone to tell people about Dandelions? She might be....]

Dandelions are one of the best spring flowers to bloom that offer lots of pollen for hungry bees. After winter the bees need lots of protein for their babies and dandelions offer the perfect food for bees.

And if you were hungry you could eat the leaves in your salad. And you can roast the roots. Some people even make wine from them.

The more you think about dandelions the more they seem like the perfect flower food for everybody.

Before we looked at the importance of pollen as a protein source for growing baby bees. So doing this one small thing--letting the dandelions bloom--will end up being a really big thing for bees.

I just know the bees want to say thank you for helping.