Tag Archive for: Bee Behavior

Which Direction Should Honeybee Hives Face?

In the United States, honeybee hives should ideally face south or southeast. This is because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so a hive facing south or southeast will receive the most sunlight throughout the day. This is especially important in the spring and fall, when the days are shorter and the nights are cooler.

The sunlight helps to warm up the hive, which encourages the bees to start foraging earlier in the day. It also helps to keep the hive dry and free of mold and mildew. Additionally, a hive that is facing south or southeast will be less likely to be exposed to strong northerly winds, which can damage the hive and make it difficult for the bees to fly.

Of course, there are other factors to consider when choosing a location for your beehives, such as the availability of food and water sources, the presence of predators and pests, and the local climate. But if you can, it is best to place your hives in a location where they will receive the most sunlight.

It is not absolutely critical that a hive face the south or east.  Here at Wildflower Meadows, we have some apiaries that are excellent for our bees, but due to their layout, don’t accommodate a southern exposure for all of the colonies.  While this is not ideal, the bees manage anyway.

Here are some additional tips for choosing a location for your beehives:

  • Place the hives in a level spot that is well-drained and protected from flooding.
  • Avoid placing the hives in direct sunlight all day long. Some shade in the afternoon is ideal.
  • Place the hives away from high traffic areas and areas where people and pets congregate.
  • Make sure the hives are accessible for inspection and maintenance.

If you are unsure where to place your beehives, it is a good idea to consult with a local beekeeper or beekeeping association. They can help you to choose a location that is best for your bees and your needs.

How Long Can a Honeybee Colony Live When a Queen Dies?

The honeybee hive is a complex and intricate society, with each member playing a vital role in its survival. At the heart of this society lies the queen bee, the sole female capable of reproduction. Her presence is essential for the colony’s continued existence, as she lays the eggs that will give rise to the next generation of bees.

When a queen bee dies, the hive enters a state of turmoil. The queen’s pheromones, which regulate the colony’s behavior, begin to fade, and the worker bees become agitated and confused. This disruption can have a devastating impact on the hive’s ability to function effectively.

In response to the queen’s demise, the worker bees initiate the emergency queen rearing process. They select a few worker bee larvae, typically between five and eight days old, and begin feeding them royal jelly, a special nutrient-rich food that is typically reserved for the queen. This special diet stimulates the larvae’s development and transforms them into potential queens.

The worker bees construct special queen cells, which are elongated and hang vertically from the honeycomb. Each potential queen develops within her own queen cell. Once the queens reach maturity, they emerge from their cells and engage in a series of “virgin flights” to mate with male drones.

The success of the emergency queen rearing process is crucial for the hive’s survival. If the new queen fails to mate or if she is killed by the other queens, the colony will eventually die out. This is because worker bees are sterile and cannot lay fertilized eggs, which are necessary for the production of female worker bees.

In some cases, the emergency queen rearing process may fail, and the colony may become queenless. In these situations, beekeeper intervention may be necessary to save the hive. Beekeepers can introduce a new mated queen from a reputable source, such as Wildflower Meadows, or they can combine the queenless colony with another colony that already has a queen.

Without a queen, the colony’s population will gradually decline as older bees die off and there are no new replacements. The colony may also become more susceptible to diseases and pests. In some cases, the worker bees may start to lay their own unfertilized eggs, which will only produce male drones. This will further hasten the colony’s demise.  Usually a colony can survive no longer than a few months without a queen.

The loss of a queen bee is a critical event for a honeybee hive. If the hive is able to successfully rear a new queen, it can survive and continue to thrive. However, if the queen rearing process fails or if the colony remains queenless for too long, the hive will eventually perish. Beekeeper intervention can play a vital role in helping queenless colonies survive, but ultimately, the fate of a hive without a queen is a delicate balance between chance and intervention.

Unveiling the Mystery of Honeybee Queen Piping: A Symphony of Communication

The intricate world of the honeybee holds many secrets, and among them lies the fascinating phenomenon of queen piping. This high-pitched sound, produced by both virgin and mated queens, plays a crucial role in the colony’s social dynamics and queen succession.

A Cry for Attention:

Fully developed virgin queens engage in a series of vibratory signals known as “quacking” while still inside their queen cells. This acoustic communication serves as a declaration of their existence and readiness to compete for the coveted role of the colony’s queen. Once they emerge, these queens transition to emitting “tooting” sounds, continuing their vocal pronouncements to the colony.

Mated queens, though not as vocal, may also be heard piping briefly after being introduced to a new hive. This act is believed to be a form of introduction, informing the worker bees of their arrival and establishing their claim as the colony’s rightful ruler.

Queenly Battle Cry or Call to the Colony?

The exact purpose of queen piping remains a subject of debate. Traditionally, it was interpreted as a battle cry, a challenge issued to other queens in the hive, announcing their presence and readiness to fight for dominance.

However, recent research suggests a more nuanced understanding. Scientists now believe that piping is primarily a signal directed at the worker bees rather than a declaration directed at rival queens. The queen uses this vocalization to announce her presence, assert her fitness, and ultimately sway the workers to support her reign.

A Queenly Symphony in the Wildflower Meadows Shipping Room:

Beekeepers frequently encounter piping when dealing with multiple queens at once. During queen banking, where numerous queens are housed together in a confined space, the piping becomes a noticeable and rather loud symphony. Here at Wildflower Meadows, as we prepare orders, the queens in the shipping room become aware of each other’s presence, leading to a chorus of piping that intensifies with their number.

Even during transportation, the piping persists. As the queens journey to UPS, their collective calls fill the air. However, once separated during the shipping process, the piping ceases, signifying the end of their temporary communication network.

A Glimpse into the Queen’s Mind:

While the precise meaning of queen piping remains under investigation, it undoubtedly plays a crucial role in the queen’s communication strategies. Whether it’s a declaration of dominance or a call for worker support, this vocal behavior offers a valuable window into the complex social dynamics of the honeybee hive. As our understanding of this phenomenon evolves, we gain a deeper appreciation for the intricate communication systems that underpin the success of these remarkable creatures.

Valentine’s Day in the Drone Congregation Area: Where Honeybee Queens Find Love in the Sky

High above the honeybee hive, amidst the gentle sway of trees and the chirping of birds, lies a hidden realm known as the drone congregation area (DCA). This invisible airspace, about 100 meters wide and 15-30 meters above the ground, is a celestial love nest where virgin honeybee queens ascend to meet their destined mates.

Imagine a scene from a bee-themed rom-com. Thousands of male drones, driven by pheromones and primal instinct, gather in a swirling, buzzing cloud, eagerly awaiting their queen. The air hums with anticipation, a silent symphony of beating wings and hopeful drone hearts.

But why this elaborate aerial rendezvous? Why not mate within the cozy confines of the hive?

The answer lies in the unique biology of honeybee reproduction. A queen mates only once, and she does it with multiple drones – usually 10-20 – during a single flight. This “polyandry” ensures genetic diversity in her offspring, strengthening the colony’s resistance to diseases and environmental challenges.

So, how does this bee ballet unfold?

The Queen’s Call:

  • As a young queen emerges from the hive, her body releases a potent mix of pheromones, invisible chemical signals that announce her availability. These “queen substance” pheromones act like an irresistible perfume, beckoning drones from nearby hives.

The Drone Rendezvous:

  • Drones, equipped with special receptors for these pheromones, take flight, following the invisible scent trail like love-struck missiles. They gather in the DCA, forming a dense, swirling cloud, their excitement palpable in the buzzing symphony.

The Celestial Mating:

  • The queen, guided by the drone density, ascends into the DCA. As she flies, she releases even more pheromones, intensifying the drones’ ardor. The cloud condenses around her, forming a mesmerizing “drone comet” trailing behind her like a celestial fan.
  • Within this intimate dance, the most vigorous drones manage to mate with the queen. The mating process is swift and fatal for the drone. His endophallus, a reproductive organ, detaches inside the queen, providing her with a lifetime supply of sperm. As he falls from the sky, the remaining drones continue their pursuit, hoping for their chance at glory.

The Return of the Queen:

  • After several successful matings, the queen, now carrying the hopes of a colony, returns to the hive. She stores the collected sperm in a special organ called the spermatheca, using it throughout her life to fertilize her eggs.

The drone congregation area, though unseen by most, plays a vital role in the honeybee’s survival. It’s a testament to the intricate dance of nature, where love takes flight not in a candlelit corner, but in the vast expanse of the sky, ensuring the future of a buzzing kingdom.

How Far do Honeybees Fly?

The distance that honeybees fly depends on a number of factors, including the availability of food, the weather conditions, and the age and fitness of the bee.

Honeybees fly farther for nectar than for pollen or water. The average distance that a honey bee flies to collect nectar is 2 to 3 miles, while the average distance that they fly to collect pollen is 1 to 2 miles. Honeybees fly even shorter distances to collect water, typically flying less than 1 mile.

There are a few reasons why honeybees fly farther for nectar than for pollen or water. First, nectar is the main source of food for honey bees. They need nectar to produce honey and to feed the larvae in the hive. Pollen is also an important food source for honey bees, but it is not as essential as nectar. Honey bees can survive for several days without pollen, but they will only survive for a few hours without nectar.

Second, nectar is more concentrated than pollen or water. This means that honey bees can carry more nectar in a single trip than they can pollen or water. For example, a honey bee can carry up to 70 milligrams of nectar in a single trip, while it can only carry up to 25 milligrams of pollen or 40 milligrams of water.

Finally, nectar is more available than pollen or water. Pollen is only available during certain times of the year, and it is not always available in large quantities. Water is also not always available, especially in dry climates. Nectar, on the other hand, is available year-round and in most climates.

Weather can also affect the distances that bees will fly.  Bees fly shorter distances when the weather is inclimate.  Honeybees are cold-blooded insects, so their body temperature is regulated by the temperature of their surroundings. In cold weather, their muscles become stiff and their wings become less efficient, making it difficult for them to fly. Rain can also weigh them down and make it harder for them to keep their balance. Additionally, rain can wash away the nectar and pollen that honey bees need to collect. Wind can also blow honey bees off course and make it harder for them to control their flight. Finally, in bad weather, the availability of pollen may be lower because the weather conditions may make it difficult for flowers to open and release their pollen.

The age of the bee often factors in to how far a bee will fly.  Young honeybees fly longer distances than older honeybees for a few reasons. First, young honeybees are more energetic and have more stamina than older honeybees. This is because they are still young and have not yet used up their energy reserves.  Additionally, young honeybees are more likely to be inexperienced and eager to explore, which can lead them to fly longer distances in search of food.

Queenlessness

For most of its life, a honeybee colony has an active and well-accepted queen bee, which the colony rallies around. The queen herself, with her unique pheromone signature, is a key component of binding a colony together.

There are times, however, when a colony finds itself without a queen bee. This is known as queenlessness.

A honeybee colony can lose a queen for several reasons. Like any living creature, a queen honeybee is vulnerable to sickness, injury, old age, etc. But queen honeybees, being insects, are also vulnerable to the peculiarities of the insect world. Sometimes a colony intentionally kills its queen due to a disruption in pheromone signatures or some other environmental stress. Sometimes another virgin queen will appear—perhaps the colony raised another queen bee. An eventual fight to the death is almost guaranteed if a virgin queen emerges.

From both the beehive’s and beekeeper’s perspectives, queenlessness is precarious. The colony’s days are numbered if it cannot get a queen going. Time is of the essence. The longer a colony remains queenless, the greater its odds of perishing become.

When a colony suddenly goes queenless, it has only four or five days to raise a new queen. A queenless colony needs young worker bee larvae to raise a new queen. Once a queen is lost, there remains only a four- or five-day period in which young worker larvae will be present in the hive. After this period, all the larvae will be too mature for queen-raising.

A honeybee colony detects queenlessness when the queen’s pheromone disappears. This happens amazingly quickly. It usually takes a colony only about four to five hours to discover that no pheromone is being shared and that the colony is now without a queen. This is when the colony begins an agitated buzzing sound known as a queenless roar. Likely, this roar is an additional and urgent signal that queen-rearing must start, and it must begin immediately.

An experienced beekeeper can use this telltale roar (or its absence) as an essential tool when conducting a hive inspection. Another telltale sign of queenlessness is the disorganization of the bees. The bees have little to rally around in a colony with no queen and, eventually, no larvae. The colony has no larvae to feed, so the nurse bees wander around aimlessly.

As part of any bee inspection, a beekeeper should always be on the lookout for queenlessness and its telltale signs. Here at Wildflower Meadows, our beekeepers know that anytime a colony is roaring, or the bees appear disorganized, a further inspection is in order.

A Honey-Bound Colony

Who isn’t overjoyed with a beehive that’s filled with honey? Sometimes, however, there can be too much of a good thing. When a hive fills up with honey, and the bees continue to forage and plug all the extra space with even more honey, the bees face a real problem. So where will they store all this new honey if the hive is already full or near full capacity? Even worse, what if a honey flow is still in the works and fresh nectar continues to pour in rapidly?

Bees naturally like to store honey on the edges of their hive, as the sides and the top are their favorite places for honey. They also like to leave the central portion of the hive free from honey so that they have open space for brood rearing. The honey on the outside provides a natural layer of insulation. It leaves the center region of the hive available for egg-laying and brood-rearing. If all is going well, there typically is an equal balance of honey and brood in a beehive, with the insulating honey on the outside and warm brood on the inside.

When bees in a hive run out of open space to pack in new nectar, they really have no place else to turn other than to creep into the brood area. As the foraging bees in the colony begin to use the only available open space for offloading nectar—the central brood chamber—the beehive becomes out of order. This means that over time the queen’s area to lay eggs keeps reducing to the point where she finds less and less space to do her thing.

Honeybees never stop foraging. Even when their hive is full of honey, the bees can’t help themselves! They keep going, bringing in more and more honey. This means that unless the honey flow slows down or the bees somehow have more space, they will quickly encroach their brood area. In most cases, to resolve this problem, the bees’ instinct will be to swarm.

As a beekeeper, allowing a colony to become honey-bound and wanting to swarm is bad beekeeping. There is no reason for this to happen. As soon as a beekeeper becomes aware of a strong honey flow or the beginning stages of a honey flow, the beekeeper should provide sufficient space for the bees to store the honey. They can do so by removing honey frames or by adding an empty super.

Did you know that a beekeeper can even create honey-bound conditions by over-feeding? Sometimes, we have seen beekeepers go overboard with supplemental syrup feeding during a dry spell. This leads to the same effect, even without a natural honey flow! The bees store this abundance of syrup, so the entire brood area gets clogged. If this happens during the late summer or fall, when the bees might not be tempted to swarm, the bees shut down brood rearing due to the lack of space. The result is a colony that naturally shrinks its population for no other reason than being honey-bound and having no brood space.

Laying Workers

A funny thing can happen to a beehive when it remains without a queen for too long.  The colony becomes so desperate for a queen that some of the workers take on the role of the queen and begin to lay eggs.  This is what is called “laying” workers.”

Normally when a colony loses a queen bee, it immediately sets out to raise emergency supercedure queen cells from its larvae.  If all goes well, the queenless colony will have raised a new queen within less than two weeks.  Within three or four weeks, the new queen will have mated and will be up and running, and the colony will have recovered and be back to normal.

However, any number of things can go wrong in this process.  The original colony may not have had any viable larvae for the colony to use to raise queen cells.  Or the queen cells might get a virus or disease and not survive.  Or a queen could die while on a mating flight, or not mate at all.  In short, there are no guarantees that a colony can always successfully requeen itself.

Usually after about four weeks of not having a queen the colony becomes stressed and desperate.  So, the colony’s emergency “solution” is that some of the worker bees take it upon themselves to “become” a queen.  This doesn’t really work because the workers who now think that they are queens never actually mated.  These laying workers are infertile, and are only capable of laying unfertilized eggs, which, unfortunately, only mature into drones.

As a beekeeper, when you inspect a colony with laying workers, you may, at first glance, think that all is well.  You see eggs and larvae, and it can appear that a healthy queen is in place.  There are, however, a few ways of determining if your colony has laying workers.  Here’s what to look for:

The signs that you might have laying workers are that you may notice a disproportionate quantity of drone bees.  A typical strong colony can have up to a few hundred drones.  But if you are seeing more than a normal number of drones – especially in a weak colony – this is a red flag that you have laying workers.

Another telltale sign is noticing more than one egg or larvae inside a single cell.  Laying workers are not experts in laying eggs like regular queens.  So, laying workers make plenty of mistakes and will often lay two or more eggs in a single cell.  Also, laying workers do not usually center their eggs in a cell.  They sometimes miss the mark and leave eggs on the side of the cell, or off center rather than positioning them in the center of the cell like a regular queen would.

Your first thought of a solution to your laying worker problem might be to requeen the colony.  Don’t even think about this; a colony with laying workers will almost never will accept a new queen.  For better or for worse (mostly for the worse) a colony with laying workers already believes that it has a queen.  Therefore, when a new queen is introduced, since the colony sees itself as already having a queen, it will see the new queen as an intruder and will kill it.

The best solution for a colony that has laying workers is to combine the entire colony into a strong, queen-right colony.  The pheromone of the existing queen will quickly overpower the meager pheromones of the laying workers, so that the colony will soon forget about their laying worker “queens”.  Let the two colonies work as one for a while.  In short order, the bees from the colony of laying workers will completely combine with the strong colony, and become one with the original queen, long forgetting about the laying worker situation.

Later, you can make a new divide out of the strong colony, purchase a new queen for the divide, and start over fresh again.

Why Do Bees Produce So Many Drones?

Drone bees often get a bad rap—they don’t produce honey, don’t defend the hive, and they consume vital resources. So then why do queen bees produce so many of them? The answer, put simply, is that there must be enough drone bees available at any given time in order to sustain the reproduction of bees and the viability of the species overall.

All queen honeybees must mate with drone honeybees. This mating never takes place inside the hive but rather takes place outside the hive while in flight. Several days after hatching, a queen bee will leave the hive for her first mating flight. Queens will only mate during a brief period of their lives; however, they mate with up to ten to twenty drones at a time, collecting and storing their sperm. By the end of her mating flight, a queen may have up to one hundred million sperm stored within her that she’s able to utilize for egg fertilization throughout the next several years of her life. Collecting sperm from multiple sources allows the queen’s offspring to be genetically diverse. This genetic diversity improves the overall health of the colony, furthering a colony’s ability to fight off disease.

The queen bee mating ritual happens at “drone congregation areas” where the queen is greeted by hordes of drone bees. Drones leave their respective hives—sometimes venturing miles away from their colonies—in hopes of being one of the few lucky suitors. Unfortunately, the process of successfully mating often results in the drone’s death as its endophallus is ripped off, leaving its abdomen open.

While many drones are lost due to successful mating, realistically, drones only have a 1 in 1,000 chance of mating with a queen—meaning that many drones don’t actually die from mating at all.

In addition to the loss of drones that meet their ultimate demise through mating, many drones are lost from other causes. The flight to drone congregation areas can sometimes prove to be a difficult feat, resulting in drone loss due to natural and environmental reasons. These losses are normal and need to be made up by excess drone production in the individual colonies that surround the drone congregation areas.

What Happens When a Queen Bee Dies?

The queen bee is the heart of the hive and the life source of the colony. Without a queen bee, a colony cannot function.

A queen bee may meet her demise in various ways. Sometimes, death may come suddenly, perhaps from a beekeeping accident or an unexpected attack from other bees. Other times, a queen may live a long life and die of old age.

When a queen bee dies, the entire colony becomes aware of her absence within as little as four hours. The bees figure this out by the lack of the queen’s pheromone. In a healthy beehive with a queen, the bees constantly pass along a queen’s pheromone from one bee to another as the bees shuffle through the hive. This movement circulates the queen’s scent within the hive. The absence of this pheromone indicates to the rest of the hive that a queen is no longer present.

Once this realization takes place, the bees switch into emergency mode. The colony appears agitated, and the bees start buzzing loudly. This distinct buzzing is what some beekeepers call a queenless roar. This urgent realization of queenlessness triggers the raising of a new queen.

A healthy colony will attempt to replace a missing queen by initiating multiple queen cells. Producing a new queen begins when a few young larvae are chosen for special treatment and are fed a special diet of royal jelly throughout their development. It takes approximately 16 days after eggs are laid before any virgin queen bees hatch from these queen cells. Typically, the emerging virgin queens will fight each other, leaving only one alive to venture off to become mated and then mature to become a laying queen. This maturing process, which occurs after a successful mating, takes another 7 to 10 days.

This lengthy process requires the colony to continue without a queen. During this period, while the colony waits for the new queen to be established, it is especially vulnerable to becoming permanently queenless. If, for whatever reason, the colony’s virgin queen does not properly mate, or if the virgin queen gets killed somewhere along the way, the colony is sunk. The colony now has no more larvae to manufacture a new queen. Therefore, unless a beekeeper intervenes with a commercially raised queen, such as one purchased from Wildflower Meadows, the colony will eventually dwindle and die off.