Thursday, November 28, 2019

Ejecting the Drones

Honey bee colonies are made up of large numbers of bees, but they rely upon only a few bees for reproduction. Each colony has one female reproductive member, the queen, and a few hundred male reproductive members, the drones. The remainder of the colony’s bees, numbering in the thousands, are workers, female bees that do not have complete reproductive systems. Each of these three castes of bees has specific roles in the life of the colony. The queen lays all of the eggs; the workers perform all of the tasks involved in collecting food and feeding the developing bees. However, the drones have a sole purpose: They provide sperm for the reproduction of new queens and workers. Drones don’t do any of the work in the hive; they don’t gather food; they consume the food produced by the workers. Drones are solely available to mate with newly emerged queen bees. At the times of the year when honey bees are producing new queens, drones meet these queen bees and mate in flight in aerial spaces known as drone concentration areas.

The time that queen production and mating occurs is spring through fall. Honey bees don’t produce queens in the winter, so there is no need at that time for drones. Keeping drones in the hive during cold weather drains precious winter food resources. As winter approaches, workers forcefully eject the drones from their hives. Some drones are drug out of the hive by workers, pulling the larger drones by their legs and wings as in today’s photo. Some drones are stung to death by their sister workers. It is common to find dead drones on the ground as cold weather approaches. The number of drones that beekeepers find in their hives depends upon whether the colonies are producing queens. Newly established colonies will have few drones, and there will be few drones during late summer nectar dearths. One exception exists: queenless colonies will often retain their drones through the winter.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The First Frost

The first frost of the year came two weeks earlier than normal, but the cold night didn’t bother the honey bees in their warm, dry hives. Their hives are already set-up for winter with the brood nests centered low in the hives and plenty of frames of honey above and to the sides. Ventilation ports are open to draw off damp air from the top of the hives to prevent a build-up of condensation. Screened bottom boards are open. Ensuring that the hives have enough stored honey located where the bees can access it and providing ventilation are the only requirements for wintering bees in Arkansas. Whenever the temperature drops to 57 degrees Fahrenheit, the bees draw into a cluster for warmth. They consume their stored honey and generate heat in their flight muscles to warm the cluster. The hives have plenty of food in storage.

With clear skies, the afternoon sun brought the temperature up rapidly. As the air temperature rose above 50, the bees poured out of their hives for cleansing flights and foraging. Many bees were bringing in pollen from bitterweed, goldenrod, and fall asters. The sight of bees foraging for pollen usually indicates that the queens are still laying eggs and the nurse bees are feeding larvae. Other workers were bringing in fall nectar, producing strong flavored honey for the winter. A few bees could be found on lily pads foraging for water, and a some were gathering wood sap and gums for propolis. The bee in today’s photo is struggling to forage some propolis. She will use this bee glue to seal off any hive cracks. The bees will even build barriers of propolis inside their hives to reduce entrances or to block cold drafts. Only a few drones were seen at the hive entrance. Most have been excluded from the hives. Only queen-less hives will keep their drones into the winter. It is too late in the year for the mating of queens.