Flight of a Russian Queen

Something attracting honeybees

Since early March my Russian bee colony has grown like gangbusters. With no sign of the dreaded mite, Varroa destructor, they are living up to their reputation for resistance. They have already filled most frames with honey and nectar plus yellow and orange pollen to feed larvae as bee bread.  

Last week a shadow fell over my optimism. A patch of several hundred bees crawled on the ground near the hive. I guessed they were attracted by a queen, possibly a recently hatched virgin. But gently turning the heap with my bee brush I only found workers and a few drones. That evening they were gone but the next morning reappeared at same location. This repeated for three more days. Each time I never saw a queen despite great care.

What did it mean? Healthy and proved so by buzzing me. No chemical attractant or pesticide in the grass. Honeybees don’t nest in the ground.

Searching again today, I found a queen, unmistakable with short wings and long abdomen striped black and amber instead of tan. I suppose I missed her before, perhaps hidden at the base of grass stems. A pity because she was sluggish from hunger outside the hive for days. She might have recovered if I found her sooner to replace in the hive. But perhaps she was already weak onleaving with a small swarm, only able to fly a few yards.

I knew there was a risk that the hive might become queenless because it is bloated and this is swarm season. But I wasn’t sure I found the reigning monarch.

The next 30 minutes I annoyed tens of thousands of resident bees by examining every frame in all the boxes. On a warm day, I began to cook inside my beesuit. The boxes were so laden I struggled to lift them. I slowly pored over the masses of crawling insects as squadrons flew around my head, vainly searching for a queen.

Although queenless, the hive is far from dead—yet. I urgently need to find someone who can supply a new queen to save the colony. Uneasy lies the head who seeks a wearer of the crown.

Next Post: Eastern Screech Owl

By Roger Gosden

British-born scientist specializing in reproduction & embryology. Career as professor & research director spanned from Cambridge to Cornell's Weill Medical College in NYC. Married to Lucinda Veeck Gosden, embryologist for the first successful IVF team in America. Retired early to Williamsburg, Virginia, to write and recover from 'nature deficit disorder'. Currently a visiting scholar at William & Mary. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Gosden

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