Morning sun hit the beehive today and drew them out in greater numbers than I have seen yet this spring. Later I walked out and found small splashes of orange on the snow, evidence that many bees came out for cleansing flights today.
Learning about honeybees is really learning about an alien species. The colony sustains itself in ways that boggle me. Humans are so wired to be aware of their sense of individual selves that it’s hard to imagine life as a bee. The survival of the colony is the most important thing to a bee, and they spend their short lives completely committed to this. They are fastidious and vigilant. They don’t hibernate in winter. Instead, they cluster in the center of the hive and remain fairly active. By “shivering” their wings,they maintain an ambient air temperature of about 57 degrees F, even when the temperature outside is below zero. They eat honey stored in the hive body, and do not defecate inside the hive unless they are ill. On mild days like today, they emerge for a cleansing flight. Bodily wastes disposed of and wings exercised, they go back inside. I suspect a few foragers also went on reconnaissance missions, but it’s still too early for pollen or nectar. When conditions are right, the queen will start laying eggs again, and the workers will rear the brood. As the larvae become young adults they will take over for their tired older sisters who lived through the winter. I’m always glad to see the orange spots on the snow–bee poop–and know that the cycle is coming around again.
Found this old drawing of a bumblebee, and that got me wondering how they get through the winter. I realize how little I know about our native bees. Do the Bombus spp. live in colonies? How do they rear young? How do they live through winter? When the crocus bloom and their Easter egg cups are full of honeybees, I’ll start seeing bumblebees too.
There is always something to be curious about!