NARROWSBURG, NY — Having been a hobby beekeeper for 10-plus years, I have amassed my share of bee stories. On July 9, I traveled from my home in Hawley, PA to Narrowsburg, to photograph a …
NARROWSBURG, NY — Having been a hobby beekeeper for 10-plus years, I have amassed my share of bee stories. On July 9, I traveled from my home in Hawley, PA to Narrowsburg, to photograph a honeybee oddity in our part of the country.
The property owner had noticed bees gathered under the eaves by the chimney about a week before. It’s anyone’s guess how long they may have been there. But here’s the unusual part—instead of heading off into some protected place like a hollow in a tree, these bees decided that they didn’t need any protection from the elements and drew out their nest comb, so it was now directly under the eaves of the house.
This may be acceptable in other areas, where the winters are much warmer, but in our neck of the woods this hive would be doomed and the bees would perish.
Honeybees do not hibernate and remain active throughout the winter, gathering into a cluster in the hive and moving in unison about the combs, consuming honey and vibrating their bodies. This produces heat at the center of the cluster in the range of 90 to 100 degree Fahrenheit.
As the bees on the outside of the cluster get colder, they rotate with those bees on the inside.
Honeybees swarming are part of the normal life cycle of Apis mellifera. I have seen, photographed and caught numerous swarms. They do this to ensure the continuation of the species, but what triggers the instinct has been studied and hypothesized about since man first started keeping bees.
One of the things beekeepers do is try to manage this swarming behavior. When a hive swarms, the queen bee—there is only one in the hive—and about one half of the remaining bees leave the hive en masse. It is quite the spectacle to see the sky black with bees, hear the incredible buzzing and then to see them all congregate together in a cluster as large as a basketball containing upwards of 20,000 bees!
The bees remaining in the hive have already prepared for the swarming event by creating special cells within the hive in which they have begun the process of creating a new queen. They put an egg in this cell, and when the egg hatches into a larvae it is fed with a substance known as royal jelly, which will cause the larvae to develop into a queen. She will settle into her reign and begin laying eggs to ensure the hive’s survival.
The trouble for the beekeeper is that this process takes time and sets back honey production of the hive about a month or more. For the hobby beekeeper a swarm can also be a good thing if they are lucky enough to witness the swarm or get notifications from neighbors that their bees landed in a bush in their yard. If the swarm can be captured and returned to the beekeeper’s apiary, it is highly likely that they will welcome their new home in boxes provided by the beekeeper. They’ll be back under the watchful eye of the beekeeper adding to the number of hives producing honey.
The homeowner told me that he purchased the house, originally built in 1928, five years ago; he is working on restoring it for use as a bed and breakfast. Early in the restoration project, he found bees in one of the walls and had a beekeeper remove them.
A closer inspection of the chimney, about eight feet below the newly discovered hive, revealed a space that honeybees are using as an entrance/exit. This suggests that there is another hive inside the structure. My theory is that the hive inside the building decided to swarm, and that swarm settled on the eaves.
Several members of the Wayne County (PA) Beekeepers Association were making arrangements to retrieve the exposed hive and provide a solution for the bees within the structure.
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