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Beekeeping, Brood, Bumblebees, Honey, Honey Bees, Magpies, Queens, Swarms, Wasps

Are ‘eu’ social?

Leafcutters at work

Leafcutters at work (Photo credit: fuzz’ed)

No, not ‘e-u’ but as in ‘yew’  or ‘u’ or….Maybe you should just skip to the middle.  In the mean time, just know that

They’re Alive!
We, or rather my husband, mustered up the courage last weekend to invade bee space again. I had to do my taxes.  Believe me, bee stings would have been eminently preferable.

As you may recall, the last bee inspection ended in disaster, with bees from our second/garage/starvation hive hunting us down for a good hour after the aborted inspection.  We knew we would have to go back in relatively soon as we had not got a look at it at all.  But we did want to give them some time to calm down.

Instead of calming down, they swarmed! On 8 July, a Saturday or Sunday, we were sitting out in the garden when we heard that familiar noise.  We really couldn’t credit that it was coming from the starvation hive, because, well, they had been starving and greatly reduced in size just a little over a month ago.

However, it was the starvation hive, and they swarmed into the holly tree right above our heads.  In fact, it appeared that they settled into an old magpie nest way up at the top of the tree.  We have no equipment that would allow us to get at swarms that high up.  What I hoped would be that they would settle in the magpie nest as not only is it big, but it is deep, a bit like an upside-down skep.

English: Magpie nest.

English: Magpie nest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But that was not to be.  On cue, about a couple of hours later, they bestirred themselves to move down the garden and over the field in the back of the house. We not quite sure where they landed.

What was even more curious was how active the hive remained after the swarm.  When the main hive swarmed, they went through a very slow period–no brood, no pollen gathering.  We have been quite concerned about them.  But the second hive acted as if the swarm did not happen.

So, last Sunday, my husband suited up to take a closer look at both hives, and to say we were pleasantly surprised is a bit of an understatement.

Hive Inspection  21 July

Main Hive:  As you recall, I inspected them a few weeks back after they had experienced a swarm.  Although quite a healthy looking colony in terms of number, it was absent of brood in any stage.  We hoped that the queen had just not got a chance at mating or laying.

However, on this particular Sunday, it was all good news.  There were lovely-looking frames, with a good brood and stores pattern.  The hive was a good size, the girls in fine fettle, and bringing in pollen, nectar etc.   There was about 6 frames of honey in the super.

Meet the new neighbors
Also a pleasant surprise was that the honeybees had roommates of a sort.  For a week or so, I had been concerned by what appeared to be white-bum bumblebees trying to raid the hive.  Upon closer inspection, although the bumbles looked like they were trying to break in, we noticed that eventually they would exit stage right, going around the back of the hive into our jumble of bricks and wood.  We have a bumble hive!  We are hoping some of the honeybee sense of direction might rub off on the bumbles because they continue to be momentarily confused at the front of the hive.

Second Hive
After the last disastrous interaction, I watched my husband approach the second hive with a bit of trepidation.

However, again there was good news of a kind.  The reason why the queen was laying in all kinds of crazy places was because she had run out of space.  Essentially, we only had a brood box with this hive because they were so malnourished coming out of spring.  I had thought it would take much longer, with weather in May and June especially, for them to build themselves up to where they would need a super.  Wrong!

Of the frames my husband could prise out of the brood box, there were good brood patterns.  But they were packed.  So, we decided not to disturb them too much.  We have added frames to the super, hoping that congestion will ease.

Don’t we have enough with our own swarms?
In the week after the swarm, I came home one day to that familiar sound.  As I was getting out of the car, I could hear it but I couldn’t see anything.  There was the odd bee floating about in the driveway, but nothing like what would have happened if the garage hive had chosen to go out in the direction of the road.  I followed the sound out into the road and down it about a few hundred feet to see a swarm in the trees bordering the wood between our property and the next.  I suppose it could have been ours, but the direction the bees were flying from made it seem unlikely.

Well, we know the girls are ‘eu-social’….
I had made a note of this subject for a blog post ages ago as a result of watching an interesting program on leaf cutter ants, of all things, Planet Ant:  Life Inside the Colony.

Now, I am the one least likely to have ever included the words “ants” and “interesting” in one sentence.  In fact, I only started being able to watch these kinds of shows where they film macabre-looking insects up close probably about a year ago.  In fact, during viewing I had to close my eyes a few times, not to mention felt itchy all over (it didn’t help that the presenters themselves were slapping themselves silly while getting bitten).  But I am a much braver person now:  that’s what the birds and the bees do for you!

Anyway, I digress into my own personal hell of phobias.  The leafcutters are just one kind of ant, and ants one type of insect that makes up the order Hymenoptera, bees, wasps, and sawflies being the others.  It is one of the largest, if not the largest order.  The scientific name, coined by Linnaeus, comes from Ancient Greek:  hymen meaning membrane, an pteron meaning wing. Hymeno is the Greek god of marriage ceremonies, and there has been the attempt to see its reference to insects with wings as indicative of the manner in which the wings are connected and kept in place on the body.    Or the reference to hymen could just be descriptive of the membraneous nature of the wings.

The Hymenoptera is the only order besides the Isoptera (termites) to have evolved complex social systems with division of labor.

The Hymenoptera has evolved complex, mostly female-dominated social systems, or eu-societies, with very rigid divisions of labor.  They, along with the Isoptera (termites), are the only insects to live in such advanced societies.  In this, they are described as eu-social (‘eu’ in this sense is a Greek root meaning well, good, real).    It’s no coincidence that generally the female workers make the decision (if such a conscious activity can be ascribed to insects) regarding sex:  the queen simply lays the egg, but the workers determine what sex it will be.

What I find interesting is that most of this order is female-dominated.  However, none of what I have read has made a point of this.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make the point that this is a sign of any type of female superiority, just curious as to whether the sex of the animal in some way has determined the type of society it will form.  In the case of humans, we do not necessarily have an idea about what kind of society men and women would form apart from each other, what kind of social structure they would form. Of course, Camille Paglia knew what would have happened if women dominated:  “If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts.” [or maybe skeps?]

On a less thoughtful note
We are big fans of Big Bang Theory and so had to laugh upon learning that a new orchid bee species has been named Euglossa bazinga.  Fans will know, but just in case, click on the Bazinga!

A little more thoughtful
I know as a beekeeper I should be a bit more up on where the different colored pollen comes from, but when my friend Jo asked, I had no idea.  Jo also has a hive of white-bums underneath her deck, and watching them fly in and out is an enjoyable way to spend these hot afternoons (a cocktail also helps, us not the bees).  We had observed how clueless and directionless they seem to be.  Jo’s solution was to put down little landing strips of yellow tape which seems to have helped.

But, I digress.  Jo herself found this handy chart on the Sheffield Beekeepers website:  http://www.sheffieldbeekeepers.org.uk/tools/pollen-chart/

First there was Springwatch. Now there is ….

Artichoke Watch!

Artichoke Watch!


6 thoughts on “Are ‘eu’ social?

  1. Thanks for the chart – not sure if we are advanced enough yet but will know where to find it when we are, I hope. Not even found a queen yet! Love the blog – keep them coming.

    Posted by beekeeperwife | July 28, 2013, 7:02 pm
  2. Glad they’re doing well!

    Bristol Beekeeping Association have also produced a nifty interactive pollen guide, access by clicking on ‘Pollen guide’ along their top navigation menu: http://www.bristolbeekeepers.org.uk

    Posted by Emily Heath | July 28, 2013, 10:55 pm
  3. Sounds like you are having an interesting time with your eusocial neighbours!

    Posted by Emma Sarah Tennant | August 1, 2013, 1:54 pm
    • Hi Emma. Yes, they definitely are! Today, I had to chase them off a bird bowl so I could clean it and fill it with fresh water. They buzzed around all annoyed in the area. When I finally put the bowl down they were all over it in a split second. Reminded me of thirsty dogs!

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | August 2, 2013, 2:22 pm

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