Monday May 2nd. After last week's hard labor with the bees, this week I am exhausted! It has been raining since yesterday, and the weather forecast predicts rain all week. Not sure how much foraging the bees can do when it is raining almost non-stop, so I made up some sugar syrup and went out to the hives to top up their feeders when the rain was a light drizzle. My new hive, the one I put together last Thursday from the frames with queen cells (Hive 3, or "the Small Hive") still had most of their sugar syrup, while the two big, older hives had completely emptied theirs. I was surprised that the small hive still had most of theirs! Did that suggest that there weren't enough bees in there? Should I have transferred more? There were certainly bees feeding in it, but not as many as I usually see in the older hives.
The bees in Hive 2 (the hive that had so many queen cells) seemed a little edgy today. Was this because it was raining, or because I messed up last week when I spent hours moving frames in and out?
Thursday May 5th. Still raining. Went out to feed the bees sugar syrup again. Once again, the feeders for Hives 1 and 2 were empty and needed a complete refill while the level of the syrup in Hive 3's feeder had hardly dropped, like on Monday. And, like on Monday, Hive 2 was irritable.
Sunday May 8th. At the end of last week's blog entry, I was wondering how new queens fight it out since I had gone and put 10 queen cells in Hive 3. Adam had suggested I only put 2 or so in, but I had had enough of gouging out bee pupae, so I had just stuck them all in and hoped for the best. While looking through my "The Backyard Beekeeper" book (by Kim Flottum), I came upon a section where she explains what happens. Apparently,
"The fist queen to emerge destroys as many of the still-developing queens as she can find, eliminating the competition. She does this by chewing through the side of the queen cell and stinging the developing queen pupa inside. Sometimes two or three queens emerge and fight to the death, often with help from the workers.
"For two or three days the victorious queen continues to mature, feeding herself or being fed by house bees. Orientation flights near the hive begin after a week or so. The young, unmated monarch needs to learn the landmarks near the hive so that she can find her way back after a mating flight. Once she is comfortable with navigation, weather permitting, she starts mating. Queens hardly ever mate with the drones from their own colony (inbreeding could cause genetic problems in offspring). Instead, they take flight in places away from their respective colonies. Drones and queens gather in places away from their respective colonies, called drone congregation areas, mating 30' to 300' in the air above open fields or forest clearings.
"A virgin queen emits an alluring come-hither pheromone during this flight, inviting a whole slew of drones to follow. The fastest drone catches her from behind, inspects her with his legs and antennae, and, if he deems her to be a potential mate, inserts his reproductive apparatus. The act stuns and seems to paralyze the drone. His body flips backward, leaving his mating organ still inside the queen. He falls and dies. These organs, called the mating sign, are removed by the workers when the queen returns to her hive.
"Depending on the number of drones available--and of course, the weather--a queen may make several mating flights within a few days. She may mate with as many as twenty drones or as few as five or six. Generally, the more the better, because it increases the amount of sperm available and the amount of genetic diversity of the bees this queen will produce during her life.
"Occasionally the queen will not mate because of an extended period of bad weather. After five or six days, she will be past mating age, so the colony will raise more queens, if possible. If not, the colony may go queenless. This situation requires the attention of a beekeeper or the colony will perish." (p.52)
"Well", I thought, reading this, "how glad I am that I am not a queen bee! Or a drone, for that matter!" And how odd to think of all those queens and drones, chasing each other at great speed several feet above our heads, somewhere up there in the air. But I am also worried - it has been raining all week. Does that mean the new queens cannot go on their mating flight? Will I have a hive with an unmated queen? Maybe we're okay - it says the flights start a week after they emerge and the rain finally ended today - at last!
One good thing, though - thank goodness I didn't have last week be the week of rain, when I had to spend hours going through all the hive boxes!