Thursday, October 14, 2010

Day #3 (only 597 to go)

Last night, I couldn't seem to sleep, so I got up and wandered out onto my back deck, where the bees will be installed come Springtime. I sat there for quite a while, absorbing the night sounds, full of insect noises and, unfortunately, the rumble from Interstate 85 a mile or so away. Fortunately that sound was somewhat muffled by all the trees behind my house.

Whales used to be able to hear other whales' songs half an ocean away, but now, with all the underwater noise from ships and boats and subs, and the supersonic booms from the air above, the world of the whale has shrunk. Honeybees, though, communicate mostly through smell and movement, so I don't think they're affected so much by our noise pollution. At least not in my back yard.

If you remove a queen bee from her hive, the workers will almost immediately know that they are queenless, because her uniquely-scented pheromones will no longer be present. The workers then will begin forming extra-large queen cells and stuffing them with Royal Jelly, the protein-rich substance that creates a queen bee.

Strange bees that enter a hive are challenged by the guard bees -- those strangers don't smell right. Baby bees that have died before emerging smell different than healthy babies, and the nurse bees will empty the cells of the corpses, pass the dead bees to the house bees to toss out of the hive, and clean the cells to make them ready for the queen's next egg-laying pass. Bees smell the pollen and nectar on their incoming hivemates; they smell the consistency of the honey as it is gradually evaporated to the correct consistency.

And then there's the movement. The ways bees dance to communicate is intricate enough to need entire books to explain how they do it. Suffice it to say that a foraging bee can fly home and do a special dance to tell the other bees the quality of a nectar source, where it is (both the direction from the hive and the distance from the hive), and probably a bunch of other things I haven't learned about yet.

As a writer, I'm a firm proponent of the power of the written word, but I must admit I'm awed by the ways whales and honeybees talk to each other. Wouldn't it be fun to speak their language?


AggiePete said...

Didn't know that when a hive was 'queen-less', they created their own? Is that correct? How do they choose which one they 'stuff with Royal Jelly'? Petie

Fran Stewart said...

Good question, Pete! They create several queen cells around eggs that have already been laid by the old queen. The first "new" queen that emerges promptly goes around to the other queen cells and kills the potential queens by stinging them right through the wax walls of the cells.

Worker bees always die when they sting someone or something, since their stingers are barbed. A queen bee, however, has a straight stinger. The only time she uses it, though, is to kill competitive queens in her own hive.

As to how the workers "know" which eggs to treat, your guess is as good as mine. I suppose it's the same sort of miraculous intelligence that allows butterflies or hummingbirds to fly thousands of miles to a winter resting place they've never seen before. Amazing!

AggiePete said...

That is too fascinating! I would definitely want to be the early riser in that bunch! Thank you so very much for giving us all a new 'road to travel'. Keep up the good work!