Beekeeping season is already well underway.
Anybody who has ever been a beekeeper knows that the first hive inspection of the year can be nerve wracking. What should you expect and what might you find?
To a large degree what you find during that first annual inspection sets the tone for what you will probably run into for the rest of the beekeeping year ahead.
How well did your hives survive the winter, if you have a winter season in your area?
Are there any signs of disease or unwell bees?
Are your queen bees laying eggs as they should be?
One beekeeper in the UK recently reported that when he did his first hive inspection of the year right after winter, he found a new queen happily laying eggs in one of his hives. He knew she was new because she was unmarked, and he had marked his queens with colored spots on the thorax behind their heads last autumn.
This 5:06-minute video by Zaur Man shows us how bees in a colony react to a new queen bee when they accept her:
The reason beekeepers mark their queen is that it makes it so much easier to find her in a crowded hive. There can be anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000 bees in a hive. Trying to find one, even if she looks a bit different, can be like seeking a needle in a haystack.
Honeybees sometimes replace their queen bee, and this can be a risky strategy for a hive since fewer drones are around late in the year. Maybe their queen was injured or is under-performing when it comes to laying eggs. Maybe she is getting old and her pheromone production and therefore her scent has weakened.
The reason pheromone is so vital is for honeybee communication. Worker bees each receive a certain amount of 'queen substance' everyday. The way it is passed around the hive by worker bees is via food transmission. If a queen bee begins to fail, she will produce insufficient queen substance, therefore she also receives back less of the pheromone by her retinue of bees.
In the case mentioned above, she probably ‘took the throne’ before winter began since she was mated, and there were few drones around for her to mate with post-winter.
On a different note, managed honeybee colonies are said to be in decline, but are they out-competing other pollinators when it comes to foraging? There is only so much habitat to go around, and bees and other pollinators have suffered much habitat loss in the past decade.
If there is less ‘food’ to go around, weaker insects will start showing signs of decline compared to their stronger competitors. And if there are less insects competing over time, it seems that each should have more food available to forage with less competition. But according to studies, that is not the way it goes.
Scottish worker bumblebees appear to be much smaller when foraging beside honeybees, according to recent evidence. A separate study in Sweden indicated that other pollinators were displaced when honeybees arrived on the scene in a forage-rich area.
What is the solution to such problems? Many beekeepers are pondering this dilemma now, and it is good that their attention is focused on the natural world and on bees in general. In this, as in so many other things in our world these days, it seems wise adjustments must be made for the greater good of all bees.