Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hive Poised for Starvation

One colony of honey bees stood out as different from each of the others. When I checked the hives for stored honey for the winter, all were heavy in weight with the exception of one. Most hives were full of honey, located in the top of the hive, available for the bees to access during cold weather. However, one hive was extremely light in weight. Inside, I found yellow-colored bees as opposed to the dark-colored bees that occupied each of the other hives. Click on the photo and you can see the chewed-out honeycomb and empty cells where the stored honey has been removed. No, the hive has not been robbed; these bees simply consumed more stored honey than their neighbors. The difference between this hive and the others is the race of bees. The dark bees are Russian; the yellow bees are Italian.

Each race of bees has distinct behaviors. Russian honey bees tend to build up their population slowly in the spring. It was already mid-spring when I added the colony with the young Italian queen to this bee yard. Italian honey bees build up quickly in the spring and maintain a large population throughout the year. Both races of honey bees in this bee yard produced good crops of honey, allowing me to harvest some surplus honey from each hive. It was after the harvest that the difference in the races of bees became apparent. The Italian bees with a larger population simply consumed their winter stores early in the fall. Fortunately, I detected the hive’s honey shortage in time to add supplemental feeding. The Russian bees, popular because of their resistance to Varroa mites, over-winter with a smaller cluster of bees and require less stored food for the winter. Russian, Italian, and Carniolan queen bees are each selected for resistance to parasitic mites. It is easier for the beekeeper to manage bees with more similar behaviors than the two races occupying this bee yard.

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