Bees are fascinating! They are always telling you something, and they are great reactors to the environment. One of the first years I kept bees, we did not get any honey. My bee-mentor explained to me, “Helen, you’re a farmer. The bees react to the weather and your crop is honey. Bad weather, bad crop.” What wonderful words of wisdom Bob bestowed on me that day.
This past week, the bees were definitely reacting to the environment! This photo shows seven queen cells on one side of a frame. To explain how they are telling us something, let me first do a little Queen 101.
There is only one Queen per hive. Each hive holds about 40,000 – 60,000 bees. The majority of those bees are undeveloped female workers. The hive communicates through pheromones (scent). If the workers sense the Queen is not doing her job (not laying eggs fast enough). Or if they don’t like where they are living right now, then they will make another queen.
They do that by taking an egg that would normally develop into another worker bee, feed it royal jelly, and create a larger cell for the larvae to develop. The cells are those long hanging things you see at the bottom of the frame in the photograph. Royal jelly is super concentrated pollen and nectar. Worker bees have a honey gut (a place to store honey and nectar inside their abdomen). The nurse bees (they take care of the baby-larvae) concentrate the nectar and pollen by passing it back and forth between nurse bees. This concentrates everything good and nutritious for the bees.
Developing a queen is not easy. They need to really work at it. Besides becoming fully mature and able to lay eggs, another major difference between a queen and a worker is that the queen’s stinger is not barbed. A worker bee, should it use it’s stinger, will die because like a fish hook, the stinger stays with the victim. A queen, however has a stinger closer to a wasp. No barb, so multiple stings are an option.
Should one of these queen cells develop and a new queen hatches; she finds each of the other queen cells and stings through the cell to gain victory. Simultaneously, worker bees are touching her and passing her pheromone on to others. The current Queen-in-standing realizes there is another queen in her presence. Her subjects ‘tell’ her it’s time to leave (they have known this for some time and sent scouts out to find a new home). So she and several thousand bees leave the hive to the new queen and her new subjects.
That story tells us that the bees right now in our hive are not happy. Could it be that they are tired of the rain and want to go back to California? Or do they feel the hillside is a little too drafty? Or are they mad we took away the sugar water a couple weeks ago? That we don’t know -- if only we had smellivision.