Opening a bee hive engages all of one’s senses. We very quickly learn the condition of the colony within. As soon as we remove the cover of a bee hive, we smell the aroma of beeswax and honey. An unpleasant odor may indicate a brood disease or dead, decaying bees in the hive. Of course, what we see in the hive reveals much about the condition of the colony. We notice the bees’ activity in and around the hive. We find that from hive to hive the bees vary from calm to highly agitated. Some bees remain in the frames, while others fly out in response to opening the hive. The sound of the hive changes with different colony conditions. A queen-right colony with normal activity will generate a gentle humming sound. A queen-less colony will often buzz loudly for a few seconds when the hive is first opened. The beekeeper’s sense of touch comes into play, sometimes unpleasantly. Most bees in the hive’s brood nest will allow the beekeeper to handle the frames of bees bare handed, never stinging unless a bee is accidentally mashed by the beekeeper. The bees from some colonies will punish exposed skin with effective stings. Colonies that readily sting may be queenless; they may be experiencing attacks from skunks or other predators; or they may have inherited defensive behavioral traits. Even gentle bees may sting if the weather conditions are wrong; it is late in the day; or the hive has been opened too frequently. One hive condition seems to always involve my using my sense of taste while examining the hives in the early spring. An unidentified white substance found inside the cells of honeycomb tastes sweet and pleasant; it’s crystallized aster honey from late last fall.
As we inspect the bee hive, we always examine the brood. In today’s photo of healthy brood, we see, from right to left, eggs, young larvae, older larvae, pupae in capped cells, and adult worker bees.--Richard