It was a surprise when Chub announced that he’d like to have a couple of bee
hives. That was great: He’d have an active hobby, and we’d have all the honey
we could eat. It would be interesting to the children and would help us
through our “birds and the bees” discussions with Walt and Nancy. I soon
learned that bees do their own thing in their own way. Their reproduction
physiology is not related to people.
Chub ordered two colonies of bees and bought some used hive boxes with frames
of wax ready to be filled. While he waited for their delivery he boned up on
care and feeding of honeybees. Weeks later, Barton Mitchell, our friend who
worked at the post office, called Chub at work and said, “Gerard, come get
your bees. They’re getting out and we’re all goring to get stung!” Chub found
the cages sitting out on the loading dock with lots of bees flying around the
boxes with screen wire sides. Not one had gotten out; the loose bees were
hitchhikers that came along -- and possibly some local bees that came to
investigate. Nobody got stung.
Inside the cages there were thousands of “three-banded Italians” workers and
small wooden blocks just as the catalog had promised. Chub soon rescued the
bees from the post office crew and installed them in the waiting hives at the
edge of the woods near our home. Like Barton, I had no intention of ever
messing with any of these little stinging insects
“What’s the purpose of that little block of wood in with the bees?” Nancy
asked that evening at supper. “A queen bee is inside, and she’ll come out
through that hole when the worker bees release her,” Chub explained. Walt
asked how they did that. “By eating the sugar candy that now closes the hole.
They would have killed her on the long trip from Texas if she hadn’t been
protected. By now they know that they’re queenless, and they’ll welcome her as
their egg layer. Otherwise, the colony is doomed.”
Thus Chub began sharing what he had leaned about bees. There are 50,000 or
more female worker bees, several dozen drones and one queen in an active
colony. The workers’ development is stopped near adolescence by a unique trick
with their diets. A drone’s only function is to fertilize the queen.
A few days after she hatches, the queen flies out of the hive and high up in
the air. Drones follow and vie for the opportunity to mate with her. Those
that do will die.
The unsuccessful drones will loll around the hive, waiting for another chance.
If something happens to the queen, they might be needed. Later, some of the
excess drones will be killed by the workers who’ll roll their dead bodies off
the front porch. The queen returns to the hive with about 5 million sperm in a
special compartment in her body. She probably won’t see daylight again.
“Queen” she is called, but queen she is not. Although she’s longer, more
highly polished and more slender than her adolescent daughters she is no
monarch. She doesn’t boss the hive or even care for her offspring. Her
undeveloped daughters feed her, groom her and create the wax cells in which
she lays her eggs. She is “busy as a bee,” laying 1,500 to 3,000 eggs, one
in each cell, each day during the honeyflow. Miraculously, she can fertilize
an egg or lay an infertile one at will!
More about bees on another Tuesday.