A is for Anarchy

Posted on June 14, 2012

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Time for an update in the Bee Yard.  We have a range of action going on in our three hives, which we’ve named A, B, and C team respectively.  A, as you’ll recall, is a hive started from a nucleus colony.  It had five frames of honey reserves, brood, workers, drones, and (theoretically) a queen when it arrived.  B and C  were “package” bees, who were starting from scratch after arriving from the South.  They had zero brood or honey.  A team was supposed to be our star colony.  It turns out they’re a bunch of Jacobins.

We didn’t know what to look for at first.  We’re learning fast, but it took us some time to identify larva and brood – signs of a laying queen.  A team was always the busiest colony, so we thought they were doing well.  We gave them more space to expand, but nothing happened.  Then came the fateful day when we opened the hive and the bees were just hanging around, no energy, lethargic and listless.  They had all the honey they needed, but nothing to do with their time since there were no new brood to care for.  A team was queenless – the Revolution had commenced.

How did we end up without a Queen?  Maybe there wasn’t one in the nuc when it arrived, or maybe we accidentally squashed her when we were doing our first installation.  Maybe the old Queen ran out of sperm…  Whatever happened, things were looking bad.  We decided to take drastic measures, gifting A team a frame of B team’s brood.  This would give them something to do, keep bees in the hive via reinforcements, and also (hopefully) give them some fertilized spawn to work with.  There were a few Queen cells with incumbents developing from A team’s original frames, but we aren’t sure if they were / are viable or not.  Where did they get these eggs, if the Queen was kaput?  There were no other signs of laying.

We speculated that we might have a laying worker (their ovaries will turn on without Queen pheromones in the hive, which suppress this development) – in this case she’ll only lay drones (aka males, which only ever come from infertile eggs; this is how Queens keep the hive numbers so imbalanced, they literally decide which gender they want to lay by choosing whether or not to release the stored sperm when placing the egg – but laying workers don’t have the choice, are not fertile, and only lay drones that are good for nothing in this scenario).  Well, I don’t think this is the case anymore, because there isn’t evidence of laying workers, who tend to plop several eggs in the same cup.  This is a good thing, because they will actively kill new queens once they seize power.  Still – where did A team get these eggs?  Wouldn’t there have been other egg-laying evidence outside of these cups?  Will they attempt to raise a queen from non-fertilized (i.e. male) eggs – a drag Queen?!?  [If you know, please drop a reply below.]  When we checked the hives yesterday, it looked like one of these had opened, but the result was a white / larval / underdeveloped bee.

The Restoration

The Restoration.

Whatever was going on, A team has clearly decided that it wants to go full-time in the Queen rearin’ business.  This is the frame of brood we gave them from B team.  You can see drone cells (the little bumps – and you know what males are good for) and a few Queen cells (they look like elongated peanuts – top left, top center).  Right now we’re just rooting for a Queen, the end of Anarchy and a new era of political stability in Aland.  (I usually root for democracy, but given the evolutionary circumstances…)  We’ll post an update later.

Oh – B team is going like wildfire.  They’re working the frames on both deeps right now (20 frames total).  C team has been behind them for a while in development.  They still haven’t move up into their second deep box, but they have a bunch of brood coming of age.  Hopefully they fill it out in the next two weeks or so.  We hope to get honey from B team this fall, and are mostly rooting for A and C’s survival as they establish.

-Dustin

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