Some of my bees got out for cleansing flights a couple days ago and a bunch of them landed on the side of my shed and began scenting, grooming each other, and I saw a little trophallaxis happening too. And it wasn’t a swarm. I’ve only been keeping bees since 2010 (not a long time) with a relatively small number of hives, and I rarely meet up with other beekeepers, so it’s not surprising that I’ve never seen or heard about this before.
My best guess is that the bees have been clustered deep down in their hives all winter, buried under snow for most of it, and they haven’t had a good day for cleansing flights until now. Honey bees communicate and get to know each other by touching (grooming, bumping up to each other) and feeding each other through the exchange of enzymatic fluids in their guts. It’s how the smell of each other and, more importantly, the queen is spread throughout the colony. It’s a big part of how they stay together and work together as a single super-organism. From what I’ve seen, they usually do this kind of getting-to-know-each-other-again-after-a-long-hard-winter socialising inside or near the entrance of the hive. But I guess they were just enjoying the fresh air and sunshine so much, some of them decided to stay outside and others joined in the party.
UPDATE: It’s obvious now what the bees are doing. They’re hanging out in a warm spot of sunshine just like cats do.
I saw some of the bees feeding or cleaning each other in front of the hive today. I don’t know. But they were out in large numbers again, so I’m happy.
The bees haven’t been too active for the past week. I thought maybe I squished the queen during my last inspection. I usual, I don’t know. But the temperature went up and they were back to normal today. If we get a warm, dry September, I think both of my hives will have strong populations and plenty of honey stores for the winter.
December 23rd, 2010: Most likely this is a forager coming back with nectar and transferring it to nursing bees who will feed it to the baby bees. Every bee has a specific duty at a certain time in its life cycle. Foragers only forage. Other bees take pollen and nectar from the foragers and store it or feed it to other bees.
January 24th, 2011: What we’re seeing in the video is called trophllaxis.