Thursday, September 18, 2008

Raiding Bees

I had stepped outside to empty the grey water.  The hive sounded different.  It was surrounded by more bees than I had seen since I brought home the old hive box that still had honey comb in it.  That was when our bees raided the unprotected, empty hive.  They had looked like they were going to swarm when they filled the air over the patio but the bees were in an agitated looking flight pattern instead of the smooth flight pattern of the swarm.  They had spent two days emptying the old hive box.  It was then so alive with our bees that at first I thought another swarm had moved into it when I looked inside. ( The picture shows the old hive box on the left that was empty of bees but had honeycomb in it.  On the right is the smoker hive with too many entry ways at bottom and where the lid fits onto the body of the smoker just above the handle.  A pan of water with rocks in it always sits next to the hive.)

This time it was not our bees doing the raiding.  It was bees from the neighboring hive 40 feet away and definitely in the agitated flight pattern.  I walked closer to the smoker hive and saw dead bees littering the ground and hundreds of bees attempting to gain, and many gaining, entrance to the smoker hive at a time of day which was not normal for our hive to have bees around it.  Our bees come home between 5:30 and 6:30 every evening.  This was 7:30 and there were far too many bees to be just ours and they looked blacker than our bees.  I watched the flight pattern of the raiders and they were definitely heading over the fence to the neighbors yard after filling up on honey at the smoker hive.  

Not good.  

Raiding happens to a hive that is either weaker than the raiding hive or has too many entrances to the hive to protect efficiently.  The smoker hive had too many entrances.  The hive is strong but indefensible.  Raiding bees are often blacker in appearance than normal bees.  These certainly were.  They get their blackness from battling to get into defended hives which knocks off their hair as other bees bite them.  The stiff hair on an insect is there to keep other insects from biting them easily and the hair on bees give them a golden coloration.  Under the hair their exoskeleton is black.  I walked into the swarming raiders and placed entry closures until just a one inch width of one entrance was all that was available.  They were able to protect the hive at this entrance and the raid stopped after another attempt to gain entry the next morning failed.  

All seems back to normal today but there is not the usual number of bees in the air at any one time and they are not at the right times.   It seems they may have avoided a food storage catastrophe and a very lean winter, if not outright death at the jaws of the marauders.  Tough life being a bee.  If they stay a viable hive into the fall, I will place honey in their hive this winter to be certain they have enough food to make it through until next spring, if I do not see new cells capped off in the currently uncapped comb before this Fall.  If the queen was killed, they are in big trouble and the hive will probably be weakened into next year.  They will have to replace the queen, a five week job before she can begin laying eggs, then another three weeks to get the eggs to bees and that takes them into October with winter staring at them.  Every day fewer bees are replaced until, after about three weeks, no more are replaced until the new queen's eggs mature so their ability to collect food and defend the hive is constantly reduced over the next two months.  Increasing attrition is a nasty situation to overcome.

The clover we grow in the yard is still blooming nicely and the eucalyptus nearby will bloom this Fall so food availability is not a problem.  The problem is how much food storage they lost and whether they have enough time to replenish their stores to a level that will carry them through the winter.  

If anyone is interested, I have not yet been stung even with all this "I walked into the swarming raiders" stuff I have been posting.  Probably, it is just luck but knowing how to move around bugs and other animals so they are not alarmed by having a large mammal so close to them is important.  Also important with bees is that I do not wear cologne or use stong smelling soaps or, in the case of bees, wear any black clothing, leather, or fur (clean, perfumed Goths are in big trouble around bees).  Maybe this all contributes to why I have not yet been stung.  The sting has to happen eventually.  I will post the exact details and my moanings and cursings when it happens.  I am assuming I am not allergic so will not die from it because I do DISTINCTLY remember being stung when in the second grade after stepping on a bee.  That is the only time I have been stung.  Should be interesting when it happens next.  I talked to a beekeeper of many hives that said he had been stung 150 times by July.  Just for this year.  A friend had a bee get into his bonnet as he was collecting a swarm and sting him next to his eye which swelled shut for a day or two.  Not so much fun but it's a good story.  Creeps me out thinking about stinging insects in my clothing.

Over the next few days we realized the bees had fled.  The hive is empty.  I dismantled it.  We have our feelers out for another hive and will probably pick up a swarm early next year when overwintering hives split and move.

I kinda miss those bugs.