Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Summer busiest season for bees

Having had a mating flight soon after emerging from the queen cell, she has the capability of laying a fertile egg (to produce a worker bee) or an unfertilized egg, which produces the male bee called a drone. Because drones develop from non-fertilized eggs, they therefore have no male parent! Drones are lucky to survive through the winter, and a few old ones will be killed by the adolescent females, who then roll their dead bodies off the hiveís front porch.

Females do all the work in a beehive. In addition to housekeeping, these adolescent workers will feed and groom the queen, prepare the cells and direct her as she lays the eggs. They also guard the hive, flying back and forth as others exit.

The hives are stacks of white boxes, and each one is a separate colony. Their neighborhood is called an apiary and is made up of lots of hives. Each bee knows, perhaps by the aroma, which home is hers. On a warm, calm day, a beekeeper can open a hive to evaluate the queen and check on the health of a hive. Mites and diseases can quickly kill a colony and spread to others in the apiary.

It is easy to find the queen in a hive. She is larger than the workers, but she is not "queenly." The workers direct her every move. She is simply an egg-laying machine. Worker bees see to it that she lays thousands of eggs in time for them to be ready for the labor-intensive honey season, which begins in June.

Some queens are capable of laying as many as 3,000 eggs a day. The workers prepare each cell just before she enters. She inspects the cell, backs out and fertilizes an egg with a tiny bit of sperm from the supply she received during her mating flight. She turns around, backs in tail first and attaches a fertilized egg to the end of the wax cell. That egg becomes a larva and then a female worker bee. After 21 days, the new bee will chew her way out through the cell cap. She stretches a bit and makes a "beeline" for a cell to begin her housekeeping duties.

If workers detect a failing queen, they will direct her to lay unfertilized eggs in several large cells. These eggs will become drones, and one egg will become the new queen. The old lady will be killed.

As an aging beekeeper, Iím interested in what happens when usefulness is over. Some older bees work themselves to death, their wings wearing "threadbare." Sometimes young workers carry the old ones by each wing and drop them far from the hive. I watched this happen once in an observation hive that was housed in my kitchen. Iím happy to relate that the old worker bee put up a good fight, no doubt saying, "Iím too busy to go on this trip!"

Click here to return to the index

 Subscribe in your RSS reader

Copyright © 1994-2010 Sue Gerard. All Rights Reserved. No text or images on this website may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author, except small quotations to be used in reviews.