Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Trouble in Paradise?

We went into the hives yesterday to put larger bags of syrup in and do an inspection since we haven’t really looked around for a week. I wish I could say it was all good but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Yellow Triangle Hive and their crazy comb building.
I started with Yellow Triangle hive. All seemed to be going well. The two quart bags we put in Friday at lunch were empty and the bees have been building crazy amounts of burr comb between the cover and the frames. I decided to set the outer cover aside while I looked through the frames after taking a pretty good look to make sure the queen wasn't on the cover. While going through the frames, I saw that this is a very prolific queen. There were eggs everywhere. Even where the workers were still drawing out comb. Anywhere she could lay an egg, she did. There was quite a bit of capped brood and syrup too. I have to do a bit more research about whether or not bees will cap pollen or bee bread as it looked like they had capped some but I wasn't sure if it was just the yellow wax or the pollen underneath. (Quick Vocabulary lesson: Bee bread is pollen that’s been mixed with a little honey or syrup and enzymes from the bee’s stomach. The bees eat it and it is also fed to the larvae)

We found the queen on one of the frames, and I’m relatively sure we saw her lay an egg which was pretty exciting. She lowered her abdomen into a cell and stayed there for a few seconds before crawling out again. I’m a bit perplexed with this colony though, as they seem to want to keep building burr comb up rather than draw out more comb to the sides. In an attempt to encourage them to draw out more frames, I moved one of the frames without any eggs and only open cells of syrup and pollen one more spot closer to the side and put an undrawn frame in its place. We’ll see what happens I guess.

I'm pointing at the queen of Yellow Triangle hive who I think was laying an egg at this point. She's facing to the right, her thorax is quite dark and you can see her wings extend off to the left of her thorax. There is also a ring of attendant bees surrounding and looking at her. In the picture below you can see the full queen after she exits the cell.

Still pointing at the queen of Yellow Triangle hive. This is just after she exited the cell from the above picture.

It took a while to clean the burr comb off of the outer cover. It was crawling with bees so I tried to be very careful and not take off any legs with my hive tool. I now have a jar full of burr comb from this hive and am going to have to either get another jar, a bigger jar, or melt what I have down into a small wax cake for easier storage. Being done with the inspection, I put a new baggie feeder in, a big gallon sized one this time, and put the inner cover on. We had forgotten the inner covers the last couple of times we changed the baggies so at least now if they build burr comb above the frames, it will be on the inner cover rather than the outer cover.

Ok, Blue Triangle’s turn. I had my first inkling that something wasn't completely right when the bees didn't buzz much when I puffed some smoke under the cover. Usually they buzz a bit and then settle down after a few seconds. Still not sure this wasn't normal, I pulled off the outer cover. Both the quart size baggies that we put in on Friday were empty so I took those out and started my inspection. This hive didn't seem to have as many bees in it as the other hive. They were still drawing out some comb and I saw some eggs so I felt pretty good but there weren't eggs everywhere like in the other hive. I continued with the inspection, looking for the queen on every frame as I went. There was capped syrup, and some capped brood. I was still surprised by how quiet these bees were. There’s usually a low level of buzzing but this time there wasn't much of that going on. Even when I lost my grip on a frame and dropped it on top of the hive they didn't get really upset like I would have expected. Not a proud or happy moment by the way, though in hindsight it was somewhat entertaining to watch A. hightail it out of the bee yard over the top of the electric fence because he hadn't suited up, not even a veil. Don’t worry, the fence was off.

Suspected queen cup on the bottom of the wonky comb in Blue Triangle hive.
Then I got to the frame where they appeared to be rejecting the foundation last time. I was intending to scrape it off and let them try again but I still hadn't seen the queen in this hive and I didn't want to risk injuring her. And then I saw it. There was a queen cup on the wonky comb and another one on the other side. I tried to get a good look but I couldn't tell if there were eggs in the queen cups. This is when I started to really suspect that the Blue Triangle hive may be queenless.

This is also when I started getting really frustrated with my bee veil. The mesh of the veil was getting in the way of being able to closely look at what I wanted to see. I may decide to go without it for the next inspection. After all, A. didn't suit up at all and he was fine. Admittedly, he wasn't handling the frames but it’s not like there were a lot of bees bumping into me while I was inspecting.

Anyway, at this point I wasn't really sure what to do. I saw eggs and larvae in different stages so the queen was around sometime within the last 3 days. Did the bees get upset that we were going in to fill the baggies too often and kill her? Did she just abscond? Did something else happen to her? Or was she still there under the wonky comb and I just couldn't see her? Some things I've read say that colonies sometimes build queen cups just to practice and then they let them sit empty for “just in cases” or tear them down after a while. In any case, I thought it best to put things back together and leave them alone for now while figuring things out. I think this warrants another call to Mr. Smith but I was pretty upset last night after we were done between the suspected queenlessness and the frame dropping incident that I didn't really want to call. So instead A. and I went out to dinner and decided that I would call Mr. Smith after work the next day. Well I've done a bit more reading since then and I think I have a fix. I can take a frame of mixed brood (eggs and larvae) from our stronger hive (Yellow Triangle) and trade it with an empty frame from the week hive(Blue Triangle). That way, if the Blue Triangle hive really doesn't have a queen they’ll have what they need to make a new one and if the queen was just hiding from us, they’ll just incorporate the new larvae into the brood and “no harm, no foul”. I still think it’s probably worth a call to Mr. Smith but at least I have a plan of action and I feel better.

Some more pictures from the adventure.
Taking the outer cover off of Yellow Triangle hive. You can see the empty quart baggies, and the bottom of the crazy burr comb project they have going on.

Ridiculous burr comb built under the outer cover. I wish they would spend less energy doing this and draw out more comb on the foundation. I get that there's a bunch of space to be filled due to the baggies but honestly?!

Various ages of larvae in Yellow Triangle hive. Youngest toward the bottom left.

Full frame and my burr comb jar, which is now full.

Scraping off some burr comb between frames. Look out ladies!

Close-up of some bees on the massive burr comb project under the outer cover.

They've just started drawing this comb out and the queen has already laid eggs in the center cells.

Removing the burr comb under the outer cover. This is me shaking the bees off the comb.

Excellent picture of how beeswax is created. You can see the scales of wax on the underside of the bee between the frames. It looks like dry skin flakes or fish scales.

Another view of the same bee from above. You can see the light yellow wax flakes.

Putting slices in the gallon sized baggie feeder.

Capped brood, I think, and a couple capped drone cells in Blue Triangle hive. Drone cells have domed caps.

Center left is either two drone cells, one capped and one not, or a drone cell and an emergency queen cup in Blue Triangle hive. The queen cup is on the other side of this frame.

1 comment:

  1. Hello C. and A. - great blog. Great text and great pictures. I'd just go into the Blue Triangle hive once it warms up a little bit and check for eggs and larvae. Queen cups don't necessarily mean you are queenless.
    See you at the next meeting - K.B.