Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Storm Fells Bee Tree

A series of severe thunderstorms moved through the Mid-South. Strong winds broke limbs and brought down trees across the region. Memphis’ older neighborhoods with their mature oaks showed the effect of the storms. A large red oak located only feet from our bee hives in the Memphis Botanic Garden snapped in two at a point about 20 feet above the ground. The large section of tree that crashed to the ground revealed the tree had a large cavity which served as the home for a colony of feral honey bees. A cavity in a hollow tree is the natural home for the honey bee. Our modern bee hives are designed to match the characteristics of hollow trees. The hives are made of wood, and they contain frames designed to hold honey comb in the exact spacing of parallel sheets as exist in natural honey bee nests. The entrance to modern hives is at the bottom. The entrance to natural honey bee nests in hollow trees is often in the lower part of the cavity. The bees entered this large oak tree through a knot hole, the result of an earlier storm’s damage. Our screened bottom boards used as part of an integrated pest management program are actually designed to serve as open cavity space below the honey bee nest. Parasitic mites in natural cavity nests fall into the empty cavity space below the brood nest where they are eaten by ants; when mites fall through screened bottom boards, they fall to the ground where they are likewise eaten by ants.

In the photo, Rita peers into the cavity housing the feral honey bee colony. The tree held the fragrant odor of beeswax and honey. Thunderstorms with wind and lightning are continuously damaging the large trees. The damage results in an abundance of natural honey bee tree cavities. This was the second massive oak to fall close to our bee hives within a year.

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