Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fighting at the Hive Entrance

With fall weather bringing cool nights and warm days, the honey bees are able to fly during the daytime when temperatures rise above 50 degrees. However, the bees are finding very few plants in bloom to forage for nectar and pollen. With the hives still holding large populations of foraging-age bees, they are ready to exploit any source of available food. Any unprotected honey is eagerly gathered by these foragers, which will rob the honey stores from any hive that they can overtake. Healthy hives that have been successful in building up winter stores are holding many pounds of honey.

With the conditions set for robbing of the hives, we need to reduce the size of the entrances to the hives. Reducing the entrance serves two purposes: It helps keep mice from entering the hive, and it gives the guard bees an advantage in their efforts to protect the hive. It is easier for the guard bees to protect a smaller entrance. Honey bee colonies, when they swarm, often select cavities with very small entrances. Click on the photo to see the hive entrance reduced by a notched stick. Notice that the opening is placed upward. This arrangement often fools mice, which scurry along the edge of the stick and don’t climb the one half inch distance to the entrance. On the hive’s landing board, guard bees with potent stings stand poised on their four hind legs with foreleg raised. They check any bees approaching the hive entrance with their antennae and mouthparts. Guards recognize bees of their own colony by odor, and any bees foreign to the hive are repulsed. On the lower-right corner of the entrance, three guard bees are stinging an intruder. A pair of robber bees with shiny, black abdomens can be seen; one is located on each side of the entrance. Robbers get this shiny appearance as they lose the hairs on their body while fighting with guard bees.

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