Cold Climate Honey Bee Behaviour?

The honey bee colony in our Hive #1 chewed out and discarded most of its drone papae and then shut down so early and so fast last September (compared to Hive #2 that kept going strong for another few weeks), we thought maybe the queen was dead. Seeing how the same colony is now the first to come back to life this spring, I suspect its bees have mostly Carniolan genes — cold-climate honey bee genes. I’ve read that Carniolans are more sensitive to environmental changes and behave exactly in this manner. The bees in Hive #2, on the other hand, foraged and took up syrup well into October last fall, but are showing hardly any signs of life now, which coincides with what I’ve read about Italian honey bees. They go as long as they can in the fall, but supposedly have a harder time coping with long cold winters and mild wet springs (like we have in Newfoundland). None of this is necessarily correct. But seeing how our first year of beekeeping is often a guessing game for us, I’ve expressed my best guesses to explain the differences in the behaviour of our two honey bee colonies. They definitely do not behave the same.

Here’s a long boring video of the bees in Hive #1 from earlier today. It shows them coming and going through the bottom entrance. The entrance reducer was removed only while I sat and watched them for about 30 minutes. There’s not much to see in the video, no special behaviour, nothing much except for the last few seconds (the 4:22 mark) when a worker bees pulls out one of her comrades who didn’t make it through the winter. That’s it. Jenny and I are extremely pleased that they’re so alive.

Hives in the Snow

I officially declare April 9th, 2011, as The First Day of Spring in our backyard. March 20th was technically the first day of spring, but that’s a joke, especially in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where it’s been cold or snowing pretty much every day since then (we got more snow last night). Although our backyard is still wet and slippery with the white stuff, the honey bees in Hive #1 are back in business and flying all around like it’s the middle of summer again. So that’s good enough for me. I’m going with that as the first sign of spring instead of waiting around for the first dandelion blossoms (who knows how long that would be). (Update: It was May 17th.)

The following was originally posted on November 23rd, 2010, and updated regularly to document our wonderful winter so we’d have a guide for next year’s winter weather conditions. I may add one or two more photos once all the snow is completely melted. But this is the end of it. Winter is DONE.

BEE

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Cranking Out The Nasonov Pheromone

THE FOLLOWING WAS LAST UPDATED ON MAY 9, 2011.

Here’s quick video of the honey bees in our backyard doing the Nasonov Boogie. Yesterday I said, “The sound of the bees scenting was intense, like the sound of tiny little chain saws.” Check it out:

The end of the video when it goes back to normal speed may not be 100% normal speed. I can tell by the way the sound began to flange. At any rate, during the slow-mo section, you can almost see the wings beating. I was able to slow it down even further on my computer, but the wings beating still only showed up as a blur. They crank it up a notch when they’re fanning like that.

Anyway, the pheromone is also used to orient the bees to food and water sources, but this early in the year when snow is still on the ground (it snowed again today) and 15°C is not a daily occurrence, I’d say it’s mostly for orientating the young foraging bees on their maiden flights.

I recommend The Biology of The Honey Bee, by Mark L. Winston for more info on the importance of pheromones in a honey bee colony (and a whole lot more).
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Discovering a Leaky Winter Hive

It went up to 2°C today and a few bees were flying around, so I quickly opened each hive and gave them what I have decided is absolutely their last feeding for the winter. I got it all on video but was by myself and didn’t have time to take any careful photos. All I got was this — Hive #1 after adding another candy cake and another pound of pollen patties:

Hive #1 was crowded with bees on top (both of them were). It seemed to have plenty of sugar left, though not much pollen. Hive #2 wasn’t a pretty sight when I opened it up. I’ll talk about that after the video.
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Ah… Spring is in the Air

It’s springtime in Newfoundland. Can’t you tell?


Some browsers seem to flatten the aspect ratio on this video and I don’t know why and I don’t have the patience to try and fix it. View it on the YouTube page for accurate playback.

The last time I took a look at the bees through the top entrances, they were nowhere in sight. Normally I can see them inside walking around doing their thing, but this cold wind and snow seems to have driven them deep into the hive, probably protecting the brood from becoming chilled. I don’t know how they manage to stay alive. It’s possible both colonies could be dead by the time the weather warms up enough for them to forage and feed on their own.

Today is the third day of spring, but I call that false advertising.
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Hive #1 Coming Back to Life

The honey bee colony in Hive #1 came to life in the morning sun like gang busters today. It was 13­°C by 10 o’clock. I noticed activity near the bottom entrance — for the first time this year. I removed the entrance reducer to see if the extra air circulation would bring out more bees through the bottom. It did. The temperature reached nearly 15°C by 10:30 and the bees in Hive #2 began to fly around too, though not nearly as much as Hive #1. None of this may seem like a big deal, but for a first-year beekeeper, this is huge. The bees have survived the winter (so far). How do they do it?


Some browsers seem to flatten the aspect ratio on this video and I don’t know why and I don’t have the patience to try and fix it. View it on the YouTube page for accurate playback.

The temperature continued to rise, but the sun disappeared and the bees went back inside after about 90 minutes. I then put the entrance reducer back on. It was warmer than usual, but not warm enough to stay out all day and start any kind of major clean up. (I didn’t see them pulling out any of the thousands of dead winter bees piled up inside the hive.) They haven’t survived the winter yet, but any kind of activity like this — I take it as a good sign.

It’s interesting that the colony in Hive #1, the same colony that shut down dramatically in the fall, is the first colony to show signs of life as soon as the weather warms up. Their behaviour seems to make sense for bees that may have some Carniolans bred into them. As usual, I don’t really know.