Bees are social creatures. By watching them at work, we learn a great deal about their ability to build community and make decisions in large groups. Although bees cannot see red, they can see the other colors in the ultraviolet spectrum, and they use color to recognize their way home.
The waggle is how bees communicate where food can be found. A bee can go out in the morning in search of food, and after returning to the hive, she will waggle her tail, adjusting her waggle to the movement of the sun throughout the day. This enables her to accurately tell her hive mates where the food is.
It’s early autumn and there’s a chill in the air, but the welcome at Circling Hawk Farm, just north of Toronto, is a warm one. Made at home by the owners Michele and Gregg Scott, we are seated in a sunroom that opens to a panoramic view of horses over their farm and over the adjacent Polo Grounds. I am taken into the calm of what seems to be another world.
Rose Marie Bresolin: Thank you for agreeing to the interview. My mission is to find out how bees are prepared to survive the winter.
Michele: Gregg is the expert on that. l defer to him for much of the process.
Gregg: There’s quite a bit of preparation and Michele rolls up her sleeves like the rest of us. Fall is when we deal with the mites and make sure any weak hives are boosted. The population of bees drops from a peak in about the second week in September, to a much lower one ahead of winter. The bee population will go from 60 to 80,000 bees per box to 10 to 20, 000 bees per box.
That’s astounding. And by this you mean worker bees? Any queen bees in that count?
Well, normally there is only 1 Queen in a box. In some of the boxes, I have been finding 2 Queens, but that’s rare. That’s usually a mother and a daughter, and it’s a matter of time before the mother is superseded by the daughter.
Hmm, I’m afraid to ask how that happens.
Usually the daughter kills the mother.
Michele gives a nervous laugh as do I; we’re both moms.
Kind of suspected that might be the case. Okay then, goodbye mom, and another squeamish laugh exchanged between Michele and me.
Another reality is that the females kick the males out at the end of the year, but maybe we’ll skip those unpleasant details. So, to go on with what takes down the bee population.
What we have is these varroa mites on the bees. Imagine a mite as being a large sized grapefruit stuck to you and sucking your blood. Well, that’s about the relative size of the mites to the bees they suck on. In the ratio of mites to bees over summer, we determine that about 1 % to 2% of the bees will have mites. But, when the population of bees goes way down, the mites don’t die. In fact, the mites continue to proliferate.
To read more about bees in Spencer Magazine’s Winter issue, please click here!