Thursday, August 21, 2008

Swarming Bees

This was the first view of the swarm out the back window. Estimated to be about 40,000 bees.

Toward the end of the swarming bees

Beginning to settle onto the tree.

At one point, after about half of them had settled on the tree in a cascade of bees, I had to walk out into them to close up an open access into the attic. Definitely did not want those bees inside the house. Walking into a swarm of bees is not highly recommended because it is usually difficult to be certain how long they have been swarming. A dry swarm, that is one that has been flying for more than a day and is getting hungry, can be a stinging swarm. Not something I want to get involved with on any given day. This one, however, had just taken off from next door and each bee was full of honey and no longer had a hive to protect so it was very docile. That's why I felt relatively good about my safety when walking outside into a back yard full of flying bees. Took me a while to get out the back door even knowing that, however. I had to go over in my head a few times why it was OK to open that door and walk into a cloud of thousands of bees in flight. The avoidance of the potential for receiving multiple stings can be a very visceral thing.

Here is the bee cascade in the apple tree. The queen is near the top.

I calculated there were about 40,000 bees flying above the patio before they had settled onto the tree. The swarm was a 15 foot cube of bees about 4 inches apart from each other. Amazing stuff.

Another kind of bee rarely seen in person

This bee variety is sometimes called a solitary, leaf cutter, blue orchard, or a self employed bee.  It is really hard to get one of these to sting and I have never known it to happen.  They are startlingly iridescent in coloration from an emerald to a stunning, electric blue.  They live in holes in dead wood and seal them off with bits of leaf and mud.  They are much smaller than honey bees.

The top photo is the "hive" constructed to attract them to the yard.  The bees are rarely seen but the cut leaf margins on our climbing rose appear around the time they begin laying eggs in the five inch deep holes I drilled into the aged wood.  That seems to be the preferred plant for making beds for their larvae.  

The next photo is a close up of a few completely filled holes that are sealed off with mud.  There is a bowl full of mud and water kept at the base of the posts holding up the nest logs until midsummer.  There are about five larvae per hole and they will exit next spring about the time the apple blossoms happen.  Last year we had five holes filled.  This year we have eleven.