Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Field Study's Man in E17 takes a lunch break with the bees.

Apiary Observation 5th March.

Tuesday 5th March
Was it the splendidly warm and reviving spring sunshine on Tuesday (5th) that set Field Study's Man in E17 to thinking about sex while we (me, myself and I let's say) explored the northern most reaches of Waltham Forest and beyond into Essex? I told the field student he must concentrate on the job in hand. Quite, he replied, and with that thought I realized his immersion in the new seasonal urges and surges was deeper than I initially surmised however I did manage to retrieve some mental capacity from the orgy of the field student's smutty preoccupations in order to continue our work. We plodded along to the sound of all our creaking springs of this and yesteryear and got the job done eventually.

Perhaps it was not only the sunshine that caused the field student's preoccupation with various types of reproduction. The previous evening we had attended a meeting of the East London Beekeepers (Elbeeks) at the Ferry Boat Inn. 'Elbeeks' is an informal association of beekeepers that meets regularly to share knowledge, experience and beekeeping wisdom.

Field Study's Man in E17 reproduces some knowledge
There was a discussion about how honey bees mate and reproduce. A new queen honey bee will emerge from a hive and fly a certain distance (about 50m. from the hive I'm told) and to a height where drones (male honey bees) are flying around waiting to mate. The drones may well have come from different colonies much further afield and so collectively they are the progeny of numerous queens. I have heard the area to which the queen bee makes her mating flight is referred to as, 'the drone layer'. The queen bee can mate with up to 15 drones and in so doing she collects enough sperm for a lifetime of nigh on relentless egg laying - perhaps for 4 years or more. The act of coupling with the queen is fatal for a drone bee and some might say this is a just outcome considering the life of egg laying slavery a queen bee will endure. Such sentiment may just be misplaced anthropomorphism.

If I understand correctly, it is the queen bee, back in the hive, which fertilizes the eggs with the sperm given to it by the drones during the mating flight. The beeswax honeycomb consists of different size cells (hexagonal shaped cavities) and the queen bee responds to these by laying eggs in some of them - and further, deposits eggs which are fertilized, or not, depending on the honeycomb cell type and location. A fertilized egg will produce a female worker bee, and an unfertilized egg a male drone bee hence a drone bee is a form of clone of the queen bee. I assume the sperm and egg unite within the queen bee as a sort of automatic response to the specific cell type into which 'she' is laying. It seems common sense that the sperm and eggs cannot unite until close to the time of laying because bee gestation takes place in the honeycomb. Does the queen only make one mating flight? I assume so, and thus if so the sperm she/it receives have to last or live 4 years or more. I think this is a remarkable phenomenon especially when considering the possibility a queen bee may only find drones from her own colony to mate with. That is not a desirable situation in terms of the long term well being of the honey bees.

and laments his host's pragmatism
I wanted my host, Julian Beere, to lose himself completely in the wonders of honey bee reproduction however he insisted on occupying a less enlightened state of mind. He told me that the season of mating flights and swarms is not yet upon us and therefore we might do better to focus on matters closer to the present - like keeping the bees nourished until the cold wet weather is well and truly gone. Starvation is a problem for bees at this time of year as brief spells of warm weather stimulate a lot of bee activity for which a lot of energy is needed - at a time when honey stores may be low and there is relatively little nectar in the early spring flowering plants.

We heard a rumble and feared the weather was going to change abruptly however the rumble was actually our tummy grumbling at the lack of a lunch break and being so close to the apiary we decided to go and have a late lunch with the bees.

 Crocus - 5th March.

We observed the behaviour of honey bees elsewhere on the allotment, in particular, their gatherings about the watery margins of ponds and swales.

Back at Base Camp Beere, Field Study's Man in E17 explored some of the visual qualities of bee hive activity through the lense of Windows Live Movie Maker  - repeatedly smudged solarizations being the basis of this representation.

Apiary 5th March 



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