Before I begin: please don’t forget to check out Tina’s My Gardener Says, the source blog for the Wildlife Wednesday meme. Wildlife Wednesday is now one year old. Happy Anniversary!
The month of June delivered a wonderful surprise. Someone finally moved into the squirrel box we hung up about 18 months ago. Though I’ve seen various potential tenants check it out I never saw anyone actually move in. Until now …
At a glance and from a distance I thought it was mold …
When the mold seemed to move I had to take a closer look. That was no mold; those are feral honey bees! I am now officially a bee have-er!
There is an Old English rhyme about this kind of thing: “A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon.” For me, bees are so much more: priceless, really.
These honey bees likely broke off from a nearby hive. Isn’t the swarming process a beautiful thing? When it is time to split a hive and the bees swarm out of their old home, scouts look all over for The Best Place. The Best Place can’t be too far away because the queen really has a hard time flying. The Best Place has to be relatively safe from predators. It will need to be dark, dry and have enough room to build comb. Scouts search and search. The situation is urgent. If the scouts can’t find a site within three days the defenceless hive will probably die: if not from predation than from hunger. If a scout finds a nice looking place she flies back as quickly as possible to share her discovery with the group. The group listens to and considers all the information the scouts bring back. When 80% or more of the bees agree about where they ought to go the swarm will fly off as one to begin their new life.
I feel honoured they chose to live near us. I realize though that the squirrel box is far from perfect. That big hole in the centre will be difficult to defend against predators and I know bee predators do visit here: raccoons, skunks, opossums, robber flies, lizards, birds, moths, beetles ….
It scares me to see them guarding that huge opening with their bodies. How brave. In most of the pictures I have taken the bees seem to face outward. I imagine they are using their wings to try to fan and cool that huge opening. And like secret service agents they are looking outward for potential threats instead of allowing themselves to be mesmerized by the main event going on inside.
In the picture above you can kind of see how the bees are using the thin ventilation space at the top of the box as an entrance. Normally, entrances are placed at the bottom of a hive. The constant traffic of bees passing through helps dry up the inevitable condensation that forms and falls from living things. So I worry about foulbrood developing. Mostly, I worry that the box is much too small.
The plus sides? The box is a good ten feet up in an oak tree behind a very tall evergreen hedge. No human is going to accidentally bump into them or even see them. The entrance faces east rather than south which may help the bees stay cool as the summer begins to heat up.
Here’s a crummy shot but it is the best I have showing some of the hexagons they are constructing. If you imagine the circle as a clock look toward the four o’clock position. Clicking on the image will make them even easier to see.
Here’s another shot I am not pleased with except that it shows a lot of what I think might be wax or capped comb at the nine o’clock position. Is it possible for the bees to patch up/close off the big opening with propolis? Maybe that would require too many resources.
I am absolutely thrilled about sharing our space with these beautiful bees. But, I wonder about how I can be a responsible have-er of bees.
I love the idea of feral bees. There is a lot to be said for freedom these days. Yes, it is more dangerous for them but … freedom. Does freedom really need justification? If so, I will say that feral bees provide an opportunity for genetic diversity. Maybe feral bee colonies will develop immunities or other characteristics that can help the species as a whole to survive in these bad times.
Yet. There are other considerations such as by-laws against unmanaged hives. Maybe our neighbours will fear them. And the word feral means these animals came from a domesticated source. Domestication implies that they may need human assistance to keep them safe. It might be a cruelty to fail to provide assistance.
So dear reader, what do you think I ought to do?
And here’s a shout out to Austin Bee Helpers, one of the most beautifully written blogs I have had the pleasure of reading. The author is Jack Bresette-Mills, a man so gentle he doesn’t even need to wear much gear when he handles his bees. He has a book coming out soon called Sensitive Beekeeping to be published by Steiner Books. I look forward to reading it.