Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Duh, "Thank You Captain Obvious"
Smarter minds prevailed at the MN Hobby Beekeepers meeting last night. Marla's side kick Gary tackled my situation with two queens in one hive Good thing Marla wasn't actually on hand or I would have just lost myself in her voice with that girl crush thing. Worse I would have felt like a fool for asking such a question. Beekeeping 101: Always impress Marla.
Gary Reuter, scientist, a.k.a. Gary-of-all-trades is Marla Spivak's right hand man. You remember Marla, the drop dead gorgeous Entomologist that I am always drooling over. The distinguished McKnight Professor at the University of Minnesota, MacArthur Fellow and Genius Grant recipient. Back to Gary, this post isn't about Marla but I can't help myself from carrying on about her when I have the chance.
Gary pretty much runs Marla's bee lab at the University of Minnesota. He maintains all of the research colonies and helps train PhD students in the field. He designs cutting edge equipment, and runs the Extension short course in beekeeping. He is also a member of the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association and does the "Hive Management" portion of the meeting every month. He also hosts hive demonstrations before each meeting so folks like myself can go learn from the experts, hands on and in the field. He is generous beyond measure and funnier than anyone I know.
According to Gary it just isn't that unusual to have two queens in a hive. Really Gary? Just when I think I know a thing or two about bees Gary proves me still a novice. Logic defies two queens coexisting in a hive and while I am still a novice I wasn't that off with my idea of a slow mother-daughter supersedure.
Gary thinks our original queen, the marked Yellow Lady just didn't have good queen bee juju. You see honey bees have something called pheromones which are substances released by individual bees into the hive or the environment that cause changes in the physiology and behavior of the bees. It is actually a very complex system of communication. Its like having secret chemical messages secreted by queen bees or workers to elicit a response from other bees. When a bee sends off a pheromone other bees detect that chemical message with their antenna.
There are different kinds of pheromones, personally I am most familiar with the alarm pheromone, a somewhat nonspecific pheromone made up of about 40 chemicals that is secreted when a bee stings an animal or a person. It sends a message to surrounding bees to come over to the location of the sting and act defensively. Some people have actually speculated this pheromone smells like banana. Occasionally when we open a hive Paula can smell banana and we just close it up. You can imagine what the drone pheromone does, attracts other drones to create a drone congregating areas in areas suitable for mating with virgin queens and of course attracts virgin queens too. I could go on and on about all the different pheromones but you get the idea.
So Gary thinks our Yellow Lady didn't have the pheromone levels it takes to be a queen including a pheromone that allows worker bees to distinguish between eggs laid by the queen, which are attractive, and those laid by the workers which are useless. A queen needs enough of this pheromone to be accepted as the queen so the workers tend to the brood and don't start laying unfertilized eggs. In addition to this egg marking pheromone a healthy queen will have something called the Queen mandibular Pheromone which is a super pheromone that affects the reproductive capability, and social behavior and order of the hive as well as some other kind a pheromone called the Queen retinue pheromone which attracts the workers to the queen.
The bee beard photograph above is an excellent example of a queen with stellar Queen retinue pheromone. When a somewhat cocky or crazy beekeeper, and in this case Gary, wants to show off they create what is commonly known as a bee beard. It is quite simple really. Catch your queen in a queen cage and secure her. Stuff some cotton or tissue into your ears and nose so the bees stay clear of those sensitive orifices. Tape the queen cage with the queen inside to your neck and her following will rapidly make their way to their beloved queen. In the mean time keep your mouth shut. It is a quintessential Minnesota State Fair Honey House activity. People love it! When the show is over just get the queen back in the hive and violá all the bees return to the hive.
Clearly the Yellow Lady was either missing these important pheromones or lacking in appropriate levels of them all along. Here is where good record keeping is helpful. In going back and reviewing Mr. Abbott's Little Bee hive records the Yellow Lady never really started laying well, the brood pattern was always spotty. So if I follow Gary's logic, that she just didn't have enough juju for the workers to think she was a queen her fate as a failure was inevitable. She had enough pheromone to lay eggs but not enough to convince the workers. The bees, thinking they were without a queen fed the brood royal jelly to make a new queen. The Yellow Lady carried on in her sloppy haphazard manner for another month, just long enough for a new queen to hatch and get mated (which is about when we saw the new, unmarked queen). The workers are happy because they have a new queen (and in fact our brood pattern is starting to shape up a little) so they think the Yellow Lady is just another drone and are letting her run amuck.
Gary thinks she will eventually disappear, by what means I am not sure. Both Gary and Marla are big proponents of letting the bees sort themselves out. Beekeeping 101: When in doubt do nothing the bees are smarter than the beekeeper and will figure it out.
So I am inclined to sit back and enjoy the show of what I still believe to be a rare occurance!