Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

It was a surprise when Chub announced that...

It was a surprise when Chub announced that he’d like to have a couple of bee hives. That was great: He’d have an active hobby, and we’d have all the honey we could eat. It would be interesting to the children and would help us through our “birds and the bees” discussions with Walt and Nancy. I soon learned that bees do their own thing in their own way. Their reproduction physiology is not related to people.

Chub ordered two colonies of bees and bought some used hive boxes with frames of wax ready to be filled. While he waited for their delivery he boned up on care and feeding of honeybees. Weeks later, Barton Mitchell, our friend who worked at the post office, called Chub at work and said, “Gerard, come get your bees. They’re getting out and we’re all goring to get stung!” Chub found the cages sitting out on the loading dock with lots of bees flying around the boxes with screen wire sides. Not one had gotten out; the loose bees were hitchhikers that came along -- and possibly some local bees that came to investigate. Nobody got stung.

Inside the cages there were thousands of “three-banded Italians” workers and small wooden blocks just as the catalog had promised. Chub soon rescued the bees from the post office crew and installed them in the waiting hives at the edge of the woods near our home. Like Barton, I had no intention of ever messing with any of these little stinging insects

“What’s the purpose of that little block of wood in with the bees?” Nancy asked that evening at supper. “A queen bee is inside, and she’ll come out through that hole when the worker bees release her,” Chub explained. Walt asked how they did that. “By eating the sugar candy that now closes the hole. They would have killed her on the long trip from Texas if she hadn’t been protected. By now they know that they’re queenless, and they’ll welcome her as their egg layer. Otherwise, the colony is doomed.”

Thus Chub began sharing what he had leaned about bees. There are 50,000 or more female worker bees, several dozen drones and one queen in an active colony. The workers’ development is stopped near adolescence by a unique trick with their diets. A drone’s only function is to fertilize the queen.

A few days after she hatches, the queen flies out of the hive and high up in the air. Drones follow and vie for the opportunity to mate with her. Those that do will die.

The unsuccessful drones will loll around the hive, waiting for another chance. If something happens to the queen, they might be needed. Later, some of the excess drones will be killed by the workers who’ll roll their dead bodies off the front porch. The queen returns to the hive with about 5 million sperm in a special compartment in her body. She probably won’t see daylight again.

“Queen” she is called, but queen she is not. Although she’s longer, more highly polished and more slender than her adolescent daughters she is no monarch. She doesn’t boss the hive or even care for her offspring. Her undeveloped daughters feed her, groom her and create the wax cells in which she lays her eggs. She is “busy as a bee,” laying 1,500 to 3,000 eggs, one in each cell, each day during the honeyflow. Miraculously, she can fertilize an egg or lay an infertile one at will!

More about bees on another Tuesday.

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