Monday, April 8, 2013

Honey bee Zen, or Pipe if you are upset!

We all need order and a force greater than ourselves in our lives; most of us need someone to look up to for guidance in our daily routines of life.  Someone who communicates (through pheromones or otherwise) to us that life is well and our tasks are meaningful.  Absent that leader or force, we tend to go astray, or try to make it on our own; things stop humming along; perhaps we think we can become that leader, but we don’t quite have the skills to be in a position of authority. Perhaps in so attempting to become that absent leader, it goes well for a short while.  But ultimately, when we aren’t looking out for our sisters and our community as a whole, the wax that threads through our lives and our community becomes unraveled and even diseased, and the whole neighborhood collapses.  The universe is akilter.

Have you ever been in a disturbed or queenless honey bee colony?  It’s very easy to detect, even for newbie beekeepers!  You crack the lid off of the hive, and the noise hits you first thing.  This is not the familiar happy humming.  This is a higher pitched annoyed buzzing sound, called piping.  “What's happening to us or where is our queen? Where is our mom? I’m very upset!”  But, the noise is amplified by each individual,, make that about 3,000 times for a newly installed spring colony!)

Bees beat their wings to make the familiar buzzing noises you hear from them.  They know when the queen is present, happy and healthy.  When something is wrong or she may be diseased or dead, missing, or disturbed, the colony goes on high alert in their attempt to recreate a new queen as rapidly as possible.  This new higher pitched noise called piping is then heard.  And, supersedure cells, or emergency queen cells are then made; (interestingly by workers feeding the larvae royal jelly from glands in their heads).  But, it take almost two weeks for a new queen to metamorphose from larva to pupa and then emerge from an emergency queen cell; and then, she needs to become reproductively competent and take a mating flight and mate with the male drone and find her way back to the hive.  This early in the spring their are not that many males out there.  It's been way too cold!  During this wait time, things are out of balance for the colony, and the piping is heard.  A happy healthy hive is all about the queen and her happiness and health.  An unhappy one complains, and you hear it.

Along with this piping noise, there is a noticeable change in worker bee behavior in a bad hive.  The guard bees truly are on high alert, and fly at anything coming into or near the unsettled hive.  Not only are they more protective, they follow anything that comes to the hive and disturbs it.  This is more bravado than anything else, especially in the spring months.  But, without a queen and happy bees, one is more likely to be stung or followed around the yard after being in the hive to do work.  Some guard bees will be very persistent and buzz you for close to an hour after you are in there.  One really ought to stay out of the hive at this time and not disturb them!  Let the supersedure cells do their thing and develop.  Hope for the weather to break and for a newly emerged queen to take a successful mating flight.  Then, hopefully, all will be well once again.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

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