The bees' knees

By SCOTT RANDO
Posted 10/23/19

Honey bees are an essential part of the environment. They pollinate wild plants and cultivated plants alike. Our bountiful harvest in the late summer wouldn’t be so bountiful without bees to …

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The bees' knees

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Honey bees are an essential part of the environment. They pollinate wild plants and cultivated plants alike. Our bountiful harvest in the late summer wouldn’t be so bountiful without bees to pollinate the variety of crops we see at our farm markets. Beekeepers raise and maintain hives of honey bees both to help pollinate plants in nearby agricultural fields and also to harvest the honey. Honey is produced by bees for sustenance, and enough of it is present in most hives that beekeepers can harvest some of it.

Honey bees are not only managed by beekeepers. They are frequently found in the wild. Trees are the most likely place for hives, but they have also been found in walls or even under cowlings of disused machinery.

Honey bees may start a new hive by a method called reproductive swarm. If a new queen is born in an existing hive, that queen may leave the hive along with a quantity, up to two-thirds, of female worker bees. They will swarm to a branch of a tree, usually not too far away. “Scout” worker bees will venture away from the main swarm in search of a new hive location. With trees, this is usually a tree with a small hole or crack, with enough void inside to construct honeycombs. Larger trees that are hollow are frequently used.

Sometimes the bees decide that their swarming point would make a good hive location. Other times, enough scout bees find a suitable stout branch and the rest of the swarm follows to begin building a hive. This strategy is not without risks, however. A wind storm or other weather event could cause the branch to break or the hive to separate from the branch, sending the hive crashing to the ground.

In mid-October, someone reported a strange looking nest in a white pine tree around 40 feet off the ground. It had what appeared to be light yellow stalactites hanging down from one of the lower branches. The person who discovered this hive said that the color of it changed almost every day. With optical aid, it became clear that each stalactite was a separate honeycomb; at least seven of these triangular structures could be seen. Zooming in on a darker patch on one of the structures, I could see a large cluster of honey bees. This would explain the color change observed.

This particular hive seems to be high enough to be protected from animals, although a bear could possibly climb up and reach it. It is high enough so it doesn’t cause too much concern for people below. If you do come across a hive that is closer to the ground, it may be a different story; honey bees will aggressively defend their hive against perceived threats. If you have one of these situations and wish to be rid of the bees, instead of spraying with insecticide, please call a local beekeeper; they have the expertise to collect the bees and re-hive them in safer surroundings. Giving pollinators a fighting chance is the bees’ knees.

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