Thursday, July 9, 2009

Honey Bees in the Wild

The natural home for the honey bee is a cavity. Usually this natural cavity is a hollow tree. Around people, the bees may find a hollow cavity in the walls of a house, a hollow porch column, a bird house, mail box, or barbecue pit as an acceptable substitute. The modern bee hive is actually designed to be like a hollow tree. In areas where they are available, honey bees also build their nests in natural cavities in rock structures, like crevices in rock facings. You won’t find any such natural structures in the table-top flat Mississippi River Delta of Arkansas. Rocks are not even to be found in the alluvial soil of the flood plain. Returning from one of our outlying bee yards, I did spot a natural honey bee nest in a concrete drain under Interstate Highway 55. The concrete structure made a cave to attract a swarm of honey bees.

I ventured down into the ditch for a closer look. If you click on the picture you can see that there are no bees in this natural nest, just sheets of empty comb. The bees have died or abandoned the nest. The lower sheets of honey comb are black in color, the result of earlier flooding in the ditch. The lighter colored sheets of honey comb are more recently built. They are broken by flash flooding from recent thunderstorms. Wax moth larvae have just started to mine their way through the combs. It won’t take long for them to destroy the entire nest. The cells are all empty, robbed of stored honey by robber honey bees from distant colonies. A queen cell hangs in the upper left corner of the nest. This location proved to be an unsatisfactory site for a honey bee nest. Only about 20 percent of honey bee swarms survive. Many build their nests in poorly protected locations. If they do survive their initial move, swarm colonies often live for a number of years.

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