Tuesday, June 7, 2011

on beekeeping

I am currently reading "Plan Bee" by Susan Brackney. A few summers ago, I developed a deep fascination with bees. This summer, I decided it was time to learn more about them.
Susan Brackney, a beekeeper, wrote this great book that combines the science/nature of bees and the history of beekeeping with her own personal experience. 
I find bees to be one of the most amazing species on the planet. Their ability to plan ahead and communicate with each other is incredible. They are born to fill a certain role (worker bee, nurse bee, queen, or drone) and know exactly what to do from the get-go. I love eating honey because it's almost touching to know that a little insect put so much work into something we can eat; it becomes an honor of sorts.
Here are some of the things that have amazed me the most:
1) When a hive decides to split in half, the bees will collectively plan a "swarm." This process is incredible. In preparation for a colony split, they will create a new queen who will stay behind and produce offspring for the soon-to-be smaller colony, who will remain in the old hive (the original queen will leave with the swarm). 
Bee larvae is incubated in a small honeycomb cell, which a nurse bee seals off with wax in order for the baby bee to grow. To produce a queen, these cells are made larger and sealed off differently. Several queens are bred and whichever one emerges first will kill off the other potential queens. If two hatch at the same time, they fight till the death. So in preparation for a swarm, nurse bees will begin incubating new queens weeks in advance. Beekeepers look for this as a sign that their hive is planning a swarm.
(The very fact that a hive of thousands of bees can, together, plan a leave of the hive just blows my mind. But it gets better!)
Worker bees do their part by venturing out into the world to find a new home for the swarming bees. They return and communicate the distance and type of location to each other with dances. The most enthusiastic dance usually garners the most attention, and the movements of the dance provide directions on how to get to this new location to all the other worker bees, who will then go out and see it for themselves.
(How amazing is that?!)
Once everything is ready, the bees will swarm off. On their journey, they'll sometimes hang out in strange places (mailboxes, street poles). I would very much like to see a mass of 30,000 bees hanging out on my mailbox.
2) This is my favorite thing I've read so far about bees, because it showcases their gentility and instinct to nurture. This is how I always pictured bees, though this book has showed me how cut-throat they can be. This little piece of information re-confirmed everything I love about bees:
There are pests that can invade a hive and reek a lot of havoc in it. This, of course, is bad, but I can't help but love what I learned in the mite/pest chapter. Nurse bees are so inclined to give care that all a mite has to do for food is touch the nurse bees "feeding part" (her mouth) and the nurse, following her natural instinct to nurture, feeds the mite as though it were a bee larvae.
Maybe that's weird, but I just love that.
3) If I ever do keep bees, I will get golden Italian bees, the most gentle and docile of the bee world.
I hope you all enjoyed my bee rant! I just find them so amazing that I had to share. Do any of you know a beekeeper or keep bees yourself? 
xoxo, Amanda


John Lechner said...

That's amazing! How do they know to do all that stuff? I read somewhere how insects can have a "collective intelligence" where a whole bunch of them can do more complex things than a single insect could do.

By the way, I've noticed fewer bees outside this spring, which is not a good sign.

Amanda Laurel Atkins said...

:( She writes about colony collapse, too, but I haven't gotten that far. It makes me so sad! They really are amazing.

The collective intelligence thing is so incredible!

Ivy Black said...

Lovely post. Bees are incredible.I love them, I wish I had time to keep some.
My next tattoo will feature bees!

Lauren said...

So cool! I keep telling my husband that I want to do backyard beekeeping and he keeps looking at me like I've lost my mind. :)

Amanda Laurel Atkins said...

Ivy, that's so cool - I can't wait to see your next tattoo!
Lauren, you should go for it! :)

theParaders vintage said...

Bees are insanely detailed. My favorite thing about them is the little dance they do that tells which direction to fly and the distance it takes to get there. I wish I could learn it! :)

Amanda Laurel Atkins said...

I know!! So amazing!!! I love how they have such incredible intelligence but it's so different from out own.