The Buzz About Beekeeping

The trip to the GMU beekeeper’s hives was really fascinating to me because of the recent massive decline of pollinators. Honey bees are key pollinators around the world and critical to many species of flowering plants. At the hives we wore protective gear to avoid being stung by the bees. The bee suits are extremely hot to be in and it was a cooler day, actively working in those during the summer would be smoldering. The bee hives were different sizes, the larger ones for the colonies that have grown from their original size. Each hive had slots that provided areas for the bees to store honey and the queen to lay eggs.

Currently weird behaviors surround honey bees as colonies up and leave productive hives at times that have low survival rates for bees establishing a new hive. Queens will abandon hives, bringing the rest with her. These colonies that act strangely also abandon their larvae, something healthy bees never do as well as leaving large deposits of honey unconsumed. The hives that these bees abandon are never used by another colony again, scientists believes the stressed bee colony that abandoned the hive leaves some kind of hormone that signals other bees to stay away.

In order for a new queen to be born a hive must have grown to a certain size that it can split into two colonies. The queen bee will release a hormone signaling the bee larvae to be fed the royal honey that will allow the bees to become queens. The larvae then develops into several queen bees that fight to the death, the survivor then takes half the colony and leaves to start a new hive while the old queen remains with her colony. All larvae is fed this special honey up until six days I believe, at which point the diet is changed, which will in turn prevent any of the larvae from becoming queens.

In a bee colony there are many different roles. Drones and guards are two roles of bees in the colony. An individual bee’s role is determined by its age alone. The older the bee the less it is in the hive I believe. The oldest bees seek out pollen to turn into honey while the youngest defend the hive from attack. All working bees are female. The males almost never leave the queen and their sole purpose is to mate with her.

In order to work a bee hive the colony must be smoked, using white smoke only, which is produced from something organic like pine needles. This smoke sends bees into a panic of eating honey in case a fire should destroy the hive, that way they all have the energy to escape and build a new hive. Honey is made by the bees as their source of food. Honey is stored for the winter and consumed then, as the bees do not leave the hive when it is col and no too little pollen can be found.

I personally want to know more about what may be putting pressures on the bees and what is causing colonies to abandon their hives and larvae at times of high risk.


One comment

  1. rogerwleblanc · October 29, 2015

    Nicole – great blog post. It’s clear you learned quite a bit about bees during our visit. I am really glad you enjoyed it. Bee’s pollinate 1/4 of our entire food system – so we are quite dependent on them. Consider taking the bee keeping course with German while you are at Mason if you get the chance. I know that the trip to Environmental Studies on the Piedmont that Emily is planning will involve working with bee apiaries there too. I hope you get the chance to go. Great having your involvement in class – you are a superstar. – Roger


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