We previously reported that February was an unusually warm month on the mountain. The 70° weather combined with longer days triggered the red maple trees to bloom several weeks early. Red maple is one of the first trees to bloom in the Appalachia’s. Luckily, it is also a prodigious pollen producer high in protein. Pollen is the key ingredient in feeding larvae. The warm, longer days combined with the springs strong pollen yield signaled Queen Regina Margherita of The House of Savoy (Queen Marge) to begin laying eggs. Throughout the winter, she was dormant and snugged away deep inside the center of her court. The sole purpose of her ladies in waiting was to keep her warm throughout the winter. The advent of spring, or spring like conditions triggers a response that is as old as composite flowers: swarming.
We discussed in an earlier blog that biologists consider apis mellifera, or honeybees as a “super organism.” A eusocial unit consisting of many members. Colonies that survive the winter begin preparations to multiply their species with the queen laying eggs so that she can leave behind brood and virgin queens while she departs to start another one. Like human cells dividing into two through mitosis, bee colonies divide by splitting. Okay…that was an obtuse and weak metaphor, but you get the idea.
Put it this way: it’s Queen Marge’s third year in the hive and she’s thinking of leaving her crib to new digs. But before she does, she has to lay eggs. Lot’s of eggs. She not only needs to expand the work force for a spring honey and pollen flow, but she has to give her minions choices to make a dozen or so virgin queen cells. Three weeks ago when we had 70° weather, I opened Queen Marge’s castle and found eggs, larvae and capped brood. Several frames in both hive bodies were wall-to-wall brood. Queen Marge was a laying fool!
Then came a snowstorm with its complimentary cold snap.
The above image is of Queen Marge’s crib, but the two photos of the same hive depict two different days. The photo on the left was taken January 8, 2017. The one on the right was taken March 15, 2017. On both days the outside temperatures were in the single digits, but the thermal images of what is happening inside the hive shows a world of difference. The left, or December photo shows the bees in the upper hive body producing enough heat to keep themselves and Queen Marge warm enough to stay alive, around 80°. The Ides of March, or right photo shows a huge heat signature in both upper and lower bodies. The difference between photos is that the bees in the March photo are working furiously to keep the brood warm. Point of fact, it’s 8.3°F outside the hive, but it’s probably in the low 90°s inside. If they fail in their efforts, they will have what is called a “chill brood.” The eggs and larvae will die from the cold. How do the girls produce such heat?
Bees are exothermic (cold blooded), but remember; collectively they constitute a super organism. The hive is endothermic (maintains body heat from within). Queen Marge’s charges are congregating around the brood and shivering their flight muscles and producing heat. To shiver, they need honey for energy. Let’s look on this coming week to see if they are consuming their honey stores at a greater rate.