Who Sports A Beard When It's 105? My Bees

08/05/2011


Beneficial Insects   

It’s now the dog days of August and 105 F heat index, and I’m sweating to stay cool as I shed socially permissible layers of clothing.  Clifford is shaved of fur and panting to stay cool.  So, what do my bees do to stay cool and maintain their temperatures and that of the hive?  After all, if it were to get too hot, wax that makes up the comb that houses honey, brood and pollen would melt; the bees would cook and die! It would be a disaster with honey running all over the place; that would then attract wax moths, ants, carpet beetles, stored product pests and mice! Yuck!

You can imagine with the August heat it can get a bit stuffy inside a 80,000 to 100,000 member hive.  At this time of year there are lots of supers (boxes or hive bodies) placed on top of the hives to accommodate the remaining honey stores, the brood (eggs and larvae and pupae), workers, drones, queen and pollen.  With so many members and structures, air doesn’t flow easily.  What to do to keep cool? Do they make small hive- sized AC units?  Well, not exactly, but close!

My honeybees are pretty amazing when it comes to temperature control in their hives.  In the summer months, foraging workers drink and gather water from the creek behind my house and bring it into the hive.  I can see the bees lined up along rocks of the creek and sipping water from the edges; they are thirsty, lined up like little piggies at a trough to drink.  Others will visit my birdbaths or a small reflecting pool in my garden.  (And fortunately, my neighbors have no pools nearby, or they would go to those, as well!  Beekeepers do not do well near public or neighborhood pools!)

The bees carry the water back in their stomachs to the hive.  They then regurgitate it and use their wings to fan and circulate the cool water/humidity throughout the hive.  The hive never goes above about 92-95 degrees F; and this is true year round!

When I set up my apiary (technical name for a bee yard), I placed my hives on top of cinder blocks that were elevated almost a foot off of the ground.   You do this to cut down on dampness and mold growth, but it also allows ventilation around the base of the hive.  

The bottom of each hive has a mesh screen as a bottom board.  The top of the hive has a wooden top board under which I place twigs to prop the roof of the hive up about an inch, allowing natural air circulation to move passively from the bottom up through the hive and out.  

Certain worker bees in the hive are designated to fan their wings to get air to circulate throughout the hive.  This does indeed increase air flow.  If it is still too hot (above the mid-90’s F) then other workers gather the water from nearby sources (my creek and birdbath, etc.) and place it on the walls of the frames of the hive.  That, with the wing fanning allows for evaporation of this water, and subsequent heat removal from inside the hive, just like sweating evaporation removes excess heat from our human skins in hot weather.

But, what if it is even hotter?  When all else fails, and they are still too hot inside, the bees have an interesting behavior.  Honeybees do what most of us do this time of year.  They sit out on the front porch of the hive to cool off.

If it’s really hot, there will be lots of bees outside the hive clinging to the front porch and hive’s front panels.  (I call it the “front porch”.  It is in fact, the landing board and entrance to the hive at the base of the 1st super.)  The bees resting on the front porch are all workers who are older and able to fly and know their way around; (younger workers are not able to fly yet and have never been outside the hive; they and the queen, drones (males), larvae and pupae all remain inside the hive where it is dark.)  

The first time I saw this front porch sitting phenomenon, I was truly fascinated and honestly,  also a bit freaked out and worried my hive was about to swarm.  But, no, it turns out that this is quite normal behavior for this time of year in a hive; but, it is still a bit unnerving for me to see so many bees outside of the hive at all hours!

Usually, in the cool of the evening-say about 85F or cooler, my bees will all go back inside and settle in for the night; but, on really hot summer nights they will spend the entire night out on the front porch!  They are just trying to stay cool like the rest of us who sit on a front porch in a swing to catch a breeze in these hot, hazy, and humid dog days of August.






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