Saturday, 13 August 2016

Bee Sting under the Microscope

A few weeks ago I found a bee sting in my clothing and decided to pop it in the fridge for later. Having had a few minutes free recently I pulled out the microscope and took a few photos. Been doing a little reading up on microscopes and mine seems to be a Victorian Field Microscope which is probably why I couldn't find a USB port on it. The picture quality isn't great as it's pretty difficult to take a photo down a microscope anyway and the laser focus on my phone probably got thrown by the microscope being nearer than the object but after taking a lot of photos, deleting most and tweaking the best I made a composite showing three views of the sting. In the bottom left image I think you can make out a couple of the barbs, the little saw toothlike shapes on the lower left of the sting towards the end.

The business end of a Honey Bee under a microscope

Friday, 12 August 2016

Hive Entrance Video

This image is best accompanied by Wagner's Flight of the Valkyries

I've recently discovered my phone can record video in slow motion, so one sunny day with not a ot to do in the apiary I decided to film bees coming and going from the hive entrance. It's quite and eye opener, mainly because they don't seem to be particularly good at flying.

Watching the video I was surprised how many returning bees bumped into the Brood Box as they missed the hive entrance. One bee crashes into it four time before finding her way in. There's ample room for them to land on the landing board and walk in but despite the risk of concussion most seem to prefer to fly straight in rather than land and walk.

At the hive entrance, slow motion

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Yellow Bees, Smoker Spiders and Others

On a recent hive inspection I was surprised to see a round yellow dot moving about on a frame of bees. Normally a round yellow dot is a Queen Bee marking to show she was born in a year ending in a 2 or a 7. Blowing on the comb to separate the bees a bit it tuned out to be a worker.

Yellow marked worker?

I initially wondered if someone was doing some sort of test to see where bees were coming from and going to but if that was the case I should've seen more marked bees. I reached out and touched the bee and as the bee moved from under my thinly gloved finger the mark rubbed off. It was pollen. I found another one looking the same in another hive too.

And another yellow dot
Wasps have started making an appearance round the hives and I've even spotted a couple fighting with bees. Not seen many yet but depending how their numbers are this Summer I may put out a trap. I filmed one butchering a dead bee . I've filmed this before but this is a clearer video -better camera phone, less obstacles, better lighting, friendlier wasp and so on.

Wasp butchering a dead bee

As well as prodding pollen covered bees and annoying wasps with my phone I've made yet another brood box, finishing off the floorboards I was given last year -made three brood boxes, two nucs and a roof with them which I think is pretty good going.

Another Commercial Brood Box ready for painting.
I've also been observing urban wildlife in the garden and apiary and taking a few photographs. Recently upgraded my phone to an HTC 10, the camera is excellent -getting the bees to stand still is a little tricky though.

Spider on my Smoker. D-8

Buff Tailed Bumble Bee (Bombus terrestris) I think

A male Red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius)

Honey Bee collecting Nectar and covered in Pollen

Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax), a sort of over muscled hover fly

Common Frog (Rana temporaria)
One of the cats keeps releasing these into the house.

Another Roof? Super.

Been up to a little more woodwork. I have a roll of roofing felt knocking about and had some spare wood so decided to make a new roof. I have enough roofs for all the colonies I intend to manage but as my collection of Supers and Brood Boxes has grown a spare roof or two to sit on the stack when they're not in use will be handy. The wooden part of the roof is very simple to make, it's just a  box with one side open large enough to loosely fit over a Brood Box or Super with a 22mm baton stuck round the inside to ensure there's an air gap between the crownboard it'll sit on and the roof proper. I used wood glue on the mating edges, two screws on each corner of the vertical sides then 4 nails to hold the top in place before using more screws to secure it. All the screws and wood glue is probably overkill really but as roofs are used upside down to support Brood Boxes and possibly full Supers they need to be pretty robust.

Scoring the underside of the roof felt

My first attempt at using roofing felt was a bit rough and ready but I've since figured out how to do make the corners tidy by scoring the underside of the felt. Run a line along each edge where it'll fold over the edge of the roof and a diagonal short line on each corner from the inside to the outside.

Tucking in the felt
After nailing most of the way along the sides the corners can then be tucked in under a side before nailing  through the corner with a clout nail or two.

I used slightly longer nails to go into the ends of the sides, gotta be careful not to collide with a nail though.

Nearly finished
Looks nearly finished at this point but still needs a couple of vents adding. Actually if it's only ever going to sit on stacked spare kit you can probably skip these.

Lazy way to add a vent
To add those I drilled a holes into two opposing sides angled slightly upwards going through the felt, the wooden side and the baton behind it.

One fairly neat roof vent
A small rectangle of mesh, I used some spare bits of cut up mesh floor, is then slid up behind the felt. It's held in place by friction.

New roof fitting over a Super
The roof sides are meant to be 155mm tall measured on the outside but I just used some spare bits I had. You could make them longer to provide more protection for the hive especially if they're going to be someplace windy.

Yet more Supers
The season should be drawing to an end but I'm out of Supers and the colonies are still expanding over here so as well as the roof I decided to assemble a couple more Supers. I did some shopping around as I didn't ant to spend much on them. The cheapest flat packed Supers I could fine were from Peak Hives and installed 11 frames in each. The frames came from Smart Kraft and ordering fifty they came in at just under a pound each including nails and postage. A couple of parts broke during assembly but at a pound a frame I'd expect that, it's quite a saving over the larger suppliers. The foundation came from Easipet who I've ordered Supers from before, they came in at about 62p a sheet. I'd prefer to use 9 or 10 frames per Super really but if you put 9 undrawn frames in a box it's unlikely the bees will draw them out as the gaps are too big so you start with 11 and when they're drawn out change the spacing.. I used plastic metal ends to space the frames which I'll remove when the frames get moved onto 10 frame castellations next season.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Queens, Birds and Sunshine

We're getting some warm Summer weather between the downpours. Good time of year to observe high levels of activity outside the hive or just go for a wander in one the city's many Cemeteries. With over 40 to choose from Sunnydale's got nothing on on Hull. One of the more interesting ones is on the corner of Springbank West and Chanterlands Avenue and with all those mature trees I'm sure my bees visit the place regularly -linked it back to bees seamlessly there.

Old part of Western Cemetery, a little haven for wildlife.
Some of the colonies have been busy with Supersedure, where they replace their Queen for reasons known only to themselves. Some beekeepers don't like it and prefer to replace the Queens themselves but I just let mine get on with it. The new Queens will be open mated wherever the local drone congregation area is, no idea where they are myself, and their offspring will be a mix of the drones' DNA and whatever the young Queen inherited. So basically these are mongrels. As bee breeds go there's a bit of a variety in my apiaries. Between my first colony and now I've purchased 4 colonies which I'm told were Buckfast and caught a few swarms of dark looking bees. I've also bough in a few Buckfast Queens in the past and one Dark European Bee Queen for a dark swarm who seemed to have gone queenless -those dark bees are a bit xenophobic so easiest to replace like with like for them. I'm fairly sure that most of my bees are various degrees of mongrel from whatever their original species was but you can see quite a variety looking the Queens. Some have very dark Queens that are clearly from European Dark Bee stock (Apis Mellifera Mellifera) whilst others look more like Buckfast varieties.

This Queen is very dark and slender as Queens go, let's call her Maleficent.
Good Queen Chubbychops on the other hand looks closer to Buckfast.
The two Queens above look very different but both head up very placid colonies although whilst the dark bee's offspring are busy with their third super the lighter Queen's colony are still on their first.

Good Brood pattern from the Dark Queen
I'm still using drone culling to reduce Varroa numbers in the hives, and I often see bees bearding in the space below the shallow frame I leave for drone comb.

Bearding under a shallow frame

I'm using Commercial Brood boxes but a while ago moved some test frames from the colony I bought in May into one and they'd come on smaller National Frames. The bees used the space under one to draw brood comb which I've removed to control Varroa.

National Frame with brood comb built below it
Depending what you read a bee colony can be 10-15% drones in Summer and whilst removing these large sections of drone comb is probably a a setback for them I usually find them making a rows of drone brood  rows of drone cells towards the bottom of other frames anyway. My culled drone brood goes in the freezer to get cooked up later. I've read that the removed drone brood makes a great treat for the chickens but I don't give it to mine in case the scent draws bees to the birds.

There's more than just bees enjoying the sun

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The Bees, Laline Paull

The Bees is a novel by Laline Paull, a friend recommended it last year and it sounded interesting enough for me to whip out my phone and order a copy from Amazon right there in the pub, the pub was Pave in case you were wondering. 

Whilst waiting for it's arrival I did a little Google search and found various reviews online gushing about how well researched The Bees is and that it was shortlisted for the 2015 Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction. When it hit my doormat I had a quick look at the front and back covers which apart from a rather nice yellow, black and gold colour scheme includes endorsements from three authors and four newspapers, "Gripping" said Margaret Attwood, "Frightening" said the Guardian -making me wonder if they'd maybe read the wrong book... There's some short reviews on the inside front cover, and then another three pages of one paragraph reviews by various people I don't know. The publisher seems very keen to tell you how great and highly acclaimed the novel is before you read it yourself and make up your own mind. Unfortunately, whilst I very much wanted to like the book I have to disagree with all of them.

In the words of Public Enemy:
"Don't Believe the Hype"
The Bees follows the life of Flora 717 from the moment she emerges from her cell onwards. I think the life of a bee certainly has a lot of potential to make an interesting novel, unfortunately Paull seems to know very little about bees. I found an article in the Independent in which Paull says she spent three months reading up on bees in which she read manuals, essays and poems. To be blunt, having read the book I'm more inclined to think she maybe she watched half of Bee Movie before putting finger to keyboard. In the acknowledgements Paull namedrops a number of noted biologists, entomologists and a book on bee anatomy but given the number of mistakes she makes I've got to wonder what she actually talked to them about and if she opened the anatomy book at all.

Whilst it's fair to expect some artistic license in a fictional novel about the life of a bee, Paul goes so far from reality she might as well have written about a colony of hippogriffs, in fact I rather it had been.. In her novel the worker bees are born into separate castes which predetermine their lifelong duties, some being cleaners, nursemaids, guards or whatever. In reality a bees duties depend upon its age. One of the castes seem to be made up of unmated Queens who she gives an important role within the colony alongside the actual Queen, in reality those unmated Queens would've killed their mother and the first to emerge would've probaby killed her sisters too.

Her understanding of bee anatomy seems a bit limited as well. Her bees have actual blood, she mentions it a lot. I'm not sure which edition of The Biology of the Honeybee she looked in but blood is something bees definitely don't have. In insects oxygen is transported in a fluid called haemolymph. as two minutes with Wikipedia will tell you. She also refers to bees making wax, but seems to get that wrong too, writing about liquid wax coming from between cuticle bands when beeswax is actually excreted as flakes from six glands under the bees' abdomen.

She describes Queens fighting but again doesn't seem to get things right. Whilst worker bees have a barbed sting which is why it gets stuck in you Queen Bees completely lack barbs allowing them to dispatch multiple  unhatched rivals. Not Paull's Queens though. For reasons unknown her Queens have extra barbs on their stings.

Her bee behaviour is wrong too. Foraging bees collect from one particular type of food from one partiicular type of  flower at a time. In  Paull's novel, Flora collects nectar and pollen from a dog rose then an echium too, it's probably like going to a scoop shop and bunging everything into the same bag. At one point Flora spends a night sleeping rough and is surprised as she believed no bee could survive a night outside the hive. The fact is it's not unusual for a forager to sleep rough especially if the weather changes. .

As well as having some difficulties with the actual bees she doesn't seem to understands the roles of honey or pollen either. She writes of Flora going to collect pollen to satisfy a craving for carbohydrates. Whilst there are carbs in pollen the bee's main source of carbs is the nectar they collect and make into honey. Pollen is their protein source. I also noticed Paull makes no mention of the fact bees need to dilute honey with water to consume it either, in her novel the bees are eating it neat.

It's not only the bees Paull seems to be getting wrong. There are wasps too. In this novel the wasps bleed green blood reality wasps, like bees, have haemolymph not blood, and it's not green. She also seems to think wasp venom is formic acid. Poor research again. There's formic acid in bee and ant venom but wasp venom is alkali, the complete opposite. Two minutes with Wikipedia would've avoided that mistake.

It's not just entomology Paull struggles with. Ornithology seems a problem area too. Her Crows have red eyes, well unless there's some albinism or something very wrong with them Crows eyes definitely aren't red. At one point she also mentions the scent of a crow's sweat. That would be quite something to experience given birds don't actually have sweat glands. Crow sweat doesn't exist.

There's a mouse. She describes it as having red eyes, again unless there's some kind of albinism mice don't have red eyes.. She refers to it's hundreds of whiskers drawing in scent ..well whiskers don't actually draw in scent, being nothing but thick hairs, and mice don't have hundreds of them anyway. She also describes its "long scaly tail," although mouse tails are covered in fur.

Unfortunately it's not just insects, birds and animals that Paull doesn't seem to have properly researched, it's beekeepers too. The beekeeper in her novel makes an appearance removing frames of honey straight into a plastic bag whilst bare foot and wearing a red dressing gown. Sounds a good way to get stung in exciting new places before getting home with a carrier bag full of bees. She later describes the removed honey comb as 'wet walls of wealth' but they're only wet when the honey is unripe and it's unlikely a beekeeper will be taking unripe honey as it has a very short shelf life before fermenting. When honey is ripe and ready to be removed the cells are covered in wax cappings, dry wax cappings. Dry waxy walls of wealth perhaps, but not wet ones.

I don't know why she decides to give her crows and mice red eyes or the beekeeper a red dressing gown but it really grated with me as it suggests she's missed another noteworthy bee fact: Bees can't actually see the colour red. To them it appears black. Curiously she's aware they can see ultra violet. at the other end of the colour spectrum though.

Whilst the Independent article wrote of beekeepers being impressed with her "accurate depiction of the secret world of the hive" this beekeeper certainly wasn't. If you still feel you want to read The Bees then go for it but I'd strongly advise skipping the blurb on the back as it gives away the plot completely.. and obviously try to forget anything you know about bees, wasps, birds or mice.

Beverley District Annual Honey Show is Approaching

Top up the honey jars, clarify the mead, polish the wax, print your photos, finish that bee drawing and start baking because the Beverley District Annual Honey Show is approaching. Aside from the chance to show off your talents and wares being able to put "Award Winning" on your labels and adverts won't damage your sales, however with 21 classes including honey, wax, candle making, photography, baking and cafts there's categories for beekeepers and non-beekeepers alike, there's also a few categories for schools to enter.

Yorkshire Beekeepers’ Association

Beverley District

Annual Honey Show

Driffield Show Ground, YO25 9DN

July 20th 2016

For more info check out the Beverley Beekeepers Association website.