Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bee-Lining in the Ozarks

The Arkansas Beekeepers Association hosted Dr. Tom Seeley of Cornell University at its fall conference in Mountain View, Arkansas. Dr. Seeley shared his research findings based upon years of observation and carefully designed experiments that revealed much about the behavior of honey bee colonies. Much of Dr. Seeley’s research was conducted in Cornell’s Ithaca, New York Arnot Forest, a 4500 acre old-growth forest with ample mature, storm-damaged trees providing natural nesting cavities for feral honey bees. Dr. Seeley employed a technique used by honey hunters of earlier times to locate bee trees holding active honey bee colonies: bee-lining. Dr. Seeley brought a bee-lining box, the small wooden, two-compartment box shown in today’s photo. Between speaking presentations, Dr. Seeley and other interested beekeepers used the bee-lining box to capture foraging worker bees at the Ozark Folk Center’s native plant pollinator garden. At the box, foraging worker bees were fed honey or sugar syrup placed on a small piece of honeycomb. When a bee’s honey crop was full, she was released from the box to fly. The beekeepers watched the bee circle, orienting on the sun, and then fly away in a “bee line” to its hive, likely a hollow tree. Watching the bee silhouetted against the sky provided an accurate direction to the bee tree.

University of Arkansas Extension Apiary Specialist Jon Zawislak painted a red dot on the thorax of a forager as she engorged on honey at the bee-line box. She flew away, and then she returned eight minutes later. Timing the bee’s two-way flight plus the time involved in her dancing and passing off her gathered honey provides an insight into the distance to the bee tree. Employing bee-lining, Dr. Seeley determined that honey bees choose natural hives that are at least 10 feet above the ground, highly visible, well shaded, and with an entrance facing south. Dr. Seeley, by the way, has a bee species named after him: Neocorynurella seeleyiHow cool is that!

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