Drones, larva, and dead bees

It's Saturday, so it's 'open the hive' day here at Poppy Corners. It's hard to wait until afternoon to see inside, but it's the best time of day to do it - it's warm, so we don't upset the temperature of the hive too terribly, and all the bees are busy doing their bee business, so not as many are home and none of them have time to mess with us! Which was particularly good today, as we had three kids here wanting to look inside the hive, so all available veils were taken by them. Tom and I figured that at the rate we're shedding extraneous bee clothing/paraphernalia, in a week or two we'll be opening the hive buck naked. Anyway, the bees were docile as usual, until near the end of our inspection, when they definitely began to let us know that we were unwelcome. As the hive grows bigger, and as we add more bars, there are more things to look at, and the whole process takes longer. I guess from now on I shouldn't look at EVERY bar, just a few in each part of the hive.

This morning as I was watering the plants, I noticed a dead bee on a flower.

Part of me was sad. But then part of me thought, how peaceful she looks! And dying in flowers, not a bad way to go. She's all curled up comfortably. I hope, as bee deaths go, this was a good one.

Bees literally work themselves to death, and the entire design of a bee's life is interesting. When bees are first born, they work in the nursery, tending young. After a while they move up to storing the honey and pollen the gatherers are bringing in. When they are old, they begin foraging, often flying many miles a day to gather nectar and pollen. This is a smartly evolved system, because bees then often die outside the nest, like the bee I found this morning.

If a bee dies in the hive, she is unceremoniously dragged to the front porch and thrown off, into the 'graveyard' below. Here is a photo of the cemetery below the front porch of my hive:

So, all things being equal, I'd prefer to die in the flowers, thank you.

Bees also don't like to poop in their nest. So they fly outside to take care of business. They are fastidious creatures.

Our catalpa tree is blooming, huge orchid-like flowers that must be a little like heaven for honeybees. The blossoms are too high up to get a good photo of the bees actually IN them, but here is the tree:

They flowers smell amazing and I like to just sit under the tree, as blossoms drift down around me.

Inside the hive, things look good. We saw so many drones. We also saw an awful lot of larva, so even though we didn't spot the queen, she's doing her thing. Here is a good picture of both a drone and the larva.

The drone is on the top left of the picture. You can see how much larger he is, and how much fuzzier. Also, his eyes are bigger.  Up on the top right of the photo, you can see the larva curled up. When the larva reaches the correct size, the bees will cap it off with wax so the bee can pupate. That's what the other capped cells are, in this picture.

Drones are fairly unnecessary for my hive. Or, I should say, I don't know what role they fulfill in my hive. My queen has already mated, long ago before I got her, probably - and she stored enough semen in her abdomen that day to lay 2000 eggs a day for the rest of her life. So she doesn't need to mate with the drones she is producing, which is good, since I guess technically they are her sons. So what do the drones in my hive do? Well, apparently, when they get to a certain age, they fly to a "Drone Congregation Area" where they basically drink beers and play video games, waiting for an available queen to fly by, and then they desperately try to mate with her. After one succeeds, the queen flies off afterward with his member still attached to her, and he's basically ripped in half, and subsequently dies.

So, if drones are unnecessary for my hive, why does the queen lay eggs that become drones? No one really knows. Big honey producers often rip off drone cells, killing the bee before it's born. They figure that drones just eat too much of the product. But I feel differently. I think, after thousands of years of evolving, that they've got it pretty well figured out. If there are drone cells, and drones, in the hive, there must be a reason. And I'm not doing this for the honey, anyway.

We put in only one new bar this week. Of the two we put in last week, only one is full of comb; the other is still being built. So they really don't need the added pressure of too much empty space to fill. Bees don't like empty space, but it takes an awful lot of energy to make comb, so I'm trying to balance where their energies are being directed.