Beekeeping and Honey!

Bees bees bees! February 17 2017, 0 Comments

There are more than 25,000 recorded species of bees in the world, which can be broken down into 9 families of bees (under the banner of Apoidea). The ‘honeybee’ belongs to the Apidea family, and contains 10 sub species (and a hybrid). Apis mellifera is the honeybee that is most commonly kept for honey production and pollination services. From my other blogs, you can learn about our bee-autiful ladies, but for this one I have collected a little snippet of info on some of our other bees, starting with one of our cutest Aussie bees!


Teddy Bear Bees

 

Scientific Name: Amegilla bombiformis

Origin: Australian Native, east coast.

Description: Golden, furry and bumblebee shaped, about 7-15mm big.

Behaviour: Teddy-bear bees are solitary, with a female building a pollen, nectar and egg cell in the ground. They have a distinct buzz when flying and this means they are often mistaken for bumblebees.

Attitude: Oh dear, can't we all just get along? (These bees are preyed on by other bees and birds).

Cuteness Factor:  10/10

Factoid: These Teddy Bears are very efficient buzz pollinators.

Carpenter Bees:

 

Scientific Name: Xylocopinae

Species: 500

Sub-Species: 31

Distribution: World wide

Description: Black and shiny, with some sub-species having flashes of yellow.

Behaviour: Generally solitary in nature, these bees have gained their names from their burrowing into solid wood.

Attitude: I chew out wood, and make it my b*tch, I mean, nest. That makes me a bad ass! There are YouTube channels dedicated to stopping my awesome power!

Factoid: One Carpenter bee species lays the largest recorded egg of any insect!

 

Leaf Cutter Bees:

 

Scientific Name: Megachilidae

Distribution: World wide

Description: The general size of a honeybee, generally black and white stripes, however, this varies from species and distribution.

Behaviour: Solitary in nature, these bees have gained their names the neat circles they chew out on soft leaf plants, such as roses. They roll the small disc and add eggs, pollen and small amount of nectar to the cells they make. Unlike honeybees who carry pollen on their legs, Leafcutter bees carry their pollen on their abdomen.

Attitude: I like to watch... These bees are very shy and the only reason you know they are around is from their little cut outs.

Factoid: The Leafcutter Bee would prefer to bite you, before it would sting you!

Mason Bee:

 

Scientific Name: Megachilidae osmia

Distribution: Northern Hemisphere

Description: Generally metallic green or blue, about the size of a honeybee

Behaviour: These solitary bees utilize the abandoned hollows of a carpenter bee, hollows in trees etc. The female uses mud to create cells for food and eggs.

Attitude: I’ll borrow that, thanks! They take the opportunity to use any old thing for their nests.

Factoid: The Mason bee is so cheeky, they have been known to use abandoned snail shells as homes.

Cuckoo Bee:

 

Scientific Name: Nomadinae

Distribution: World wide

Species Info: 31 genera, 10 tribes

Description: Metallic blue and black, with reduced hair and no pollen baskets on their legs. Rather wasp-like in appearance, these bees are one of the least evolved bees.

Behaviour: These bees lay their eggs in other bees and insects nests, hence the name ‘cuckoo’ bee. In some cases, the Cuckoo Bee will take over the small nest and kill the Queen.

Attitude: Can’t be bothered, you do it! These bees live a life of deception and intrigue!

Factoid: They often sleep grasping a plant stem with just their mandibles.

Bumble Bee

Scientific Name: Apidae bombus

Distribution: Northern Hemisphere, introduced to some parts of the Southern Hemisphere, such as New Zealand and Tasmania

Species Info: 250 species

Description: Fuzzy, furry (the fuzz is called ‘pile’) and dopey, this black and yellow bee ranges in size from 1.9cm to about 4cm.

Behaviour: A social bee, the Bumble will form small colonies (compared to the Honeybee), sometimes underground of about 50-400 bees.

Cuteness Factor: 10/10. Cuteness personified, only rivaled by puppies and baby puggles.

Attitude: None. They are dopey happiness balls that fly.

Factoid: Bumblebees have no ears. This does not reduce their cuteness in any way.

Sweat Bee

 

Scientific Name: Halictidae

Distribution: World wide, uncommon in Australia.

Species Info: Large family of bees, more than 1000 species in Northern America alone. The common family of bees, other than the Apis family.

Description: Small, petite bees, dark or metallic in colour. They gain their common name by being attracted to the smell of salt, including human sweat. Don't be put off by the name - these bees are very pretty and petite.

Behaviour: Some Sweat bees are solitary, others hive together in a social manner. They can build nests almost anywhere, including in dry, bare dirt.

Factoid: This family contains some nocturnal bees.


Losing a hive July 29 2014, 0 Comments

All the books and blogs tell you that you will loose a hive. They all say it will happen to you at some point: either by some mistake you make, from starvation or dehydration or some catastrophic failure from an outside factor...

Well, this last week it happened to us. And it really sucks.

We were finishing up our winter inspections of the various sites around Perth surrounds, and had headed out to site. The hives seemed a bit quiet, and even the property owner had commented on how quiet one hive seemed. After we set up the table, equipment and lit our smoker, we opened up the first hive. The super was pretty quiet, and as we started looking into the brood box we knew there was a problem. There was almost no brood (larvae that has been sealed off to metamorphose into bees). What brood was there was scattered and there was almost no lavae and NO eggs. We saw the Queen on the third frame and she looked well - the workers were deferring to her when she stopped walking on the frame. If the workers had rejected the Queen they would be either aggressive to her, or ignore her when she walked close by.

We quickly closed up the box after inspecting the other 7 frames and put the super back on. We decided the leave the super on for the time being because we were uncertain about why the Queen wasn't laying.

Over to the other quiet hive, and we only saw a couple of bees go in and out. The moment we opened the super we knew something was very wrong. The smell was unusual - stale and slightly musky - and along the tops of the frames, instead of the usual small amount of free comb and propolis, there was wax moth. Alot of it. With a sinking feeling, we pulled out a couple of frames there was no presence of bees on the frames. Pulling the super off, the brood box was worse - no bees and full of wax moth eggs. No signs of diseases, no mess on the bottom board, and less than 100 bees.

With the weakness in the first hive, and this hive completely gone, we packed up, gave a brief explanation to the property owner and decided to go directly to our Guru Beeman and ask his advice. On the way there, I Googled wax moth to find out why it was present in the hives. Having only read about it in books, seeing it reality was terrible and I couldn't remember whether it was a cause of hive failure or a symptom. It turned out wax moth can only gain a foothold in a hive that is severely weakened or dying. They will take advantage of ill health and slow/non present guard bees. The moth will lay eggs in the comb, and use comb and honey to develop from egg to moth.

After explaining the history of the hives, and the current situation of the hives, our Beeman told us that in his opinion; it was 99% certain that an outside factor was responsible for the demise of the hives, namely chemicals. Although it was a strong hive by the end of summer, this particular hive had a small die off in the summer, and another last spring. It recovered from both of these, and after explaining to our Beeman what the die-offs were like, he told us it was certainly not dehydration (as we had assumed) but over exposure from poorly applied pesticides. He explained that with some pesticides, the guard bees can smell it on the forager bees, and won't let them back in the hive. Others they can not smell on them and that is how they make their way into the hive (or they have been ingested and are laid down into the honey). Very soon, the Queen is exposed to a chemical and if she is damaged, the hive can die within 3 weeks. Sooner if the chemical is actively killing off the bees. If the bees brush up against the chemical, they will pass in onto many bees inside the hive if they are allowed to walk it back in, because bees are very tactile. They crawl all over each other - they clean each other and walk over each other and even pass nectar from themselves to other bees (like mother birds feed baby birds). This is why diseases and chemicals spread so easily within a hive.

This all happened quickly, within a few weeks and these strong hives have become extremely weak hives. Our Beeman listened carefully to our story and told us that in his experience of decades of beekeeping he had had more problems with pesticides in 'hobby' farm areas (or semi-rural) than in full agricultural areas. He suggested that because full-time farmers are more heavily regulated, and better educated as part of their livelihood, they tend to use chemicals differently than hobby farmers. Closer to season, closer to dusk, less liberally (because they have to spend so much money on it!) and if they have pollination services attached to the farm, they move hives away during spraying times.

In any case, Mr Beeman told us to feed up the alive Queen in the remaining hive and try and limp her along until Spring. There are no Queens available to re-Queen with during winter, and we can't weaken another hive by giving them a frame of brood to get them to raise another one. The bees are only producing enough bees at this time of year to maintain enough workers to get to spring. Feeding sugar syrup may entice the Queen to think there is a honey flow and re-start her laying. Mr Beeman also suggested crossing our fingers.

Mr T went out a couple of days later to collect the dead hive and reduce the live hive to one box (less energy to keep 2 boxes warm) and feed up the ladies. He said that there was a small amount of eggs on one frame, so hey, maybe the finger crossing worked...I'll keep you posted...