Posts Tagged ‘drone’

A lesson in Beeing efficient

As I’m still reeling from learning about the amazingness of bees at a beekeeping course on Sunday, I’m going to give you some more bee facts that could potentially blow your mind. They blew mine.

There are 250,000 varieties of bee. Only one of these is a honey-making bee.

A bee hive is an extremely clean environment. When a bee knows it is going to die, it will fly away from the hive and die elsewhere. If the bee is very ill and cannot get away in time, the other bees will remove the dead body to a safe distance from the hive, to prevent disease spreading.

Bees also do not go to the toilet in the hive. They will fly outside and go somewhere else.

There are guard bees at the entrance to the hive. Each hive has it’s own scent (a unique mixture of the pollen that has been collected by that colony). As a bee approaches the hive, the guard bees will smell them to check they have the same scent. If they are not from that colony, they will be shooed away, unless they are carrying tons of pollen, then they will be allowed in.

When the young worker bees first leave the hive, they spend some time familiarising themselves with the hive and the local area. To help them find their way back, the guard bees flap their wings and fan the scent of the hive out into the air.

When a bee visits a flower to collect pollen, they will leave a scent behind that allows the other bees, who are also out foraging, to know that flower has already been visited. This prevents lots of other bees wasting time visiting the same flower.

A workers bee’s life lasts about six weeks in the summer, at which point they’re pretty knackered from all the flying and foraging etc. In the winter, because their main job is to keep the brood warm, as opposed to all the flying, they will live to about six months.

The personality of the queen bee dictates the character if a colony. If you have an aggressive queen, the colony will be more aggressive and you will get more stings, etc. If, however, you replace that queen with a more placid one, the whole colony will become more placid and calm.

Royal Jelly is produced by a gland in the bee’s head, which develops after a few weeks of life. The worker bee eggs will be given the Royal Jelly for two days only. An egg which is destined to become a drone will recieve a bit more and an egg which is to potentially become a queen bee will be fed solely on Royal Jelly. It is not that the Jelly is scarce. There is tons of it to go around. It’s that the worker bees need to be kept ‘stupid’ and so are rationed, whereas the drones and queens need to develop more and are ‘in charge’ of stuff, so they are given more.

I’ve just realised that this still doesn’t cover all of the bee facts I learned on Sunday.

A bee colony is the picture of efficiency. It’s funny to think that they don’t talk, yet they have developed all these complex systems to keep the colony running efficiently.

Prepare to Bee amazed

Yesterday, my mind was blown. My mind was blown because I never realised how amazing bees are. I went on the first of a two day course in beekeeping at Walworth Garden Farm in central London.

In central London? I hear you say. Beekeeping and a farm garden? In central London.

Well, yes. Yes, indeed. Walworth Garden Farm is near Kennington tube station. Put your hands up if this means anything to you. If it doesn’t, think council estates, think bricks, think high apartment blocks. And you can see why a farm would seem out of place here. Yet there it is and it thrives in the midst of the concrete.

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The morning was spent getting to know each other and getting to grips with the basics of bees, which consisted of the following:

There are three types of bees – a queen bee, the worker bees and the drones. They are all interdependent on each other and cannot survive unless each is present.

The queen bee, after she has hatched, will take trips out of the hive for the first few weeks of her life. These trips are to find male bees to mate with (which they do in the air). The queen bee saves up all the sperm from this mating period, as she will never mate again in her life. Her life is spent laying eggs and she uses the sperm she has saved to fertilise them. If she is laying a drone egg, she doesn’t fertilise it. It becomes an exact copy of herself. When that drone then goes out and mates with another bee, the queen bees DNA continues on.

The way a queen bee knows whether to lay a fertilised egg (which will become a worker bee) or an unfertilised egg (which becomes a drone) is by measuring the size of the cell the bees have built. The bees build bigger cells for drones so when the queen bee measures it with her legs, if it is a bigger cell, she lays a drone egg.

(By this point in the day, I was overwhelmed. I never realised bees were so mindblowingly clever.)

Bees also each go and collect one of three things when they go out – nectar, pollen or propolis. No-one yet knows how they figure out who’s doing what so that they have the rights amounts of each thing.

To keep the temperature of the ‘brood’ (the growing eggs and larvae) at 30 degrees, if it is cold outside, they will huddle together and vibrate their wing muscles (shoulder muscles, if you will) to keep warm. If it is hot, they will fly out to find water, then create an indoor aid conditioning system by spitting/spraying the water out and flapping their wings. The bees will all flap their wings in a certain direction to circulate the air one way and cool everyone down.

After sitting around being amazed all morning, it was time for a quick lunch break and wander in the garden…

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Then for the afternoon, we were split into two groups, with half of us going to look at the beehives. Off we went, to get kitted out…

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The guy in the blue t-shirt, Ian, is Mr Beekeeper and his knowledge of bees and their habits is so vast. He went in with no kit on and took the lids off the hives and showed us the cells and the workers and the queen bee and the honey and….

It went on and on and it was fascinating. I could have stayed there all day, in my unflattering beige suit, looking at the bees.

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Anyway, after some more bee chat, some of which is mentioned above, we called it a day and will be back next Sunday to find out about how to extract honey from hives and what to do with leftover wax.

Watch this space for more bee facts. I feel another post coming on tomorrow.

The course instructors were amazing yesterday. Everyone knows their stuff inside out and is passionate about what they do and about sharing their knowledge. If you can get to beekeeping course near you, I can fully recommend it, not necessarily to become a beekeeper, more to understand and appreciate how these fabulous little creatures help us and how they work. They are very, very interesting little things.

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