The Day the Bees Stopped Dancing
Posted on February 28th, 2019 & filed in The Healthy Honey Bee
By Petrusia Kotlar Paslawsky
We all know that Karl von Frisch was the Nobel laureate who discovered that honeybee scouts dance their enthusiastic dance to communicate a source of bee forage- nectar specifically. It is a unique and very specific means of communication of translating the language of light into a form interpreted and understood by the members of the colony.
These scouts chosen possibly for their strength and ability to communicate fly near and far, returning to compete with others to establish following and believers who will ultimately provide for their queen and the future of their colony for generations to come.
Beekeeper inserts a three gallon feeder upon a newly installed honeybee colony following at least a week of travel after being poured like water or blown off their frames into receptacles containing a totally foreign smelling queen with whom they all have to become familiar. New queen, new home, new forage, new climate, new beekeeper, smoke galore to hide the beekeeper’s fear, more light exposure than usual and other interventions.
A delicious sweet 1:1 white sugar syrup sometimes laced with some scented lure of lemongrass or other essential oil is right in front of us thickly dripping down frames, puddling onto floors, seeping into all areas of our new hive. We begin to lick this sweetness up like lollipops and are offered almost an unlimited supply of this stuff for the first month to 6 weeks of our arrival. Sure we like this offering and we lap it up like any child would choose candy. Forget the polyphenols naturally occurring in nectar. Our honey stomachs are too busy inverting the sucrose into glucose and fructose.
What about the pollen? Oh, the beekeeper hasn’t been able to provide enough of that for us to eat in order to get the protein we need. So we’ll just keep sucking in the sugar syrup. It’s always there for us. We seem to be getting a little fatter in these first weeks. We have the amazing ability to peel that fat or beeswax in our case off our abdomens and instinctively manipulate it with our mouths into a perfect 6 sided hexagon to maximize both the storage of honey and to act as a receptacle for our queens egg production. C’mon all you clones! Make comb! Eat sugar syrup and make comb!
But what else are we supposed to do? The queen! Whew, she looks fine so far with has her 10 attendants paying attention to her. Feeding her royal jelly (RJ) every day of her life. She needs her RJ every single day to keep up her one thousand plus a day egg production.
Uh oh, what about the babies?? They each need RJ for the first 3 days of their lives as well. And they need bee bread most importantly. Which is a combination of pollen, honey, propolis that has to be processed by all of us with our powerful enzymes so it is preserved as their primary source of nutrition.
So look at all this incredible work we have been stimulated to do. Just by this great tasting pure white sugar powder that has been mass produced and provided for us to make our lives so much easier and more productive. Let’s keep eating these lollipops. There seems to be tons of this stuff. Yum.
It’s getting kinda crowded in here. We’re building up our population and our brood (babies) chambers are filling up. We have to keep making bee bread but no one is flying out of our cozy nest to collect pollen. Who’s in charge here anyway? Our beekeeper just put another super (hive box) on top of our nest so we have to peel some more wax off of our bellies to make more housing.
I bet the guy dressed in white netting would like to be able to peel off some of the fat of his belly our way. But back to the food for our babies. Just like new human mothers who feed their infants mothers milk from their bodies to provide the perfect food and correct combination of protein and nutrients for their offspring we need to provide protein as well. Professor Haydak, entomologist of the University of Minnesota found that “ if honeybees are fed a purely carbohydrate diet, they will lack nitrogen content in their heads due to providing this as feed for the brood”. Here is another God given gift we have for our survival of our colony. Sacrifice our own bodies. But how will this affect our exoskeletons which are made up of chitin, of nitrogen composition.
How will this affect the development of our hypopharyngeal glands (Hypopharyngeal glands (HPG) produce and secrete the components of royal jelly which is the most important food for brood and queen) which make the enzymes to convert the sugars?
Here we are-a package of young nurse bees that have been fed corn syrup (HFC) or concentrated sucrose syrup on our way here to meet the quotas of our producers to correspond with the demands of beekeepers whose bees did not survive the winter – a month later. Our queen is starting to look small and undernourished in spite of all attempts of her attendants to prevent her demise. The beekeepers then replace this queen with a newly mated one with genetic characteristics that are more apt to survive. We have no need to panic – just get used to the new queen as her requirements are the same. Only the sugar syrup is starting to lose its magic and our exoskeletons are weaker. Some of us catch fungal infections or some of the babies die of cold or are sickly or prone to malaise.
It seems that nature prevails again and we become hosts of this nasty little opportunistic critter – a blood (hemolymph) sucking Varroa mite that is supposed to just coexist with us yet since our exoskeletons are so weakened that we become prey instead of hosts. Again the beekeeper is taught and opts to intervene with its antibiotics, miticides, antifungals – all that we end up eating since we are exposed to in such close quarters and it ends up in our wax and even in our honey.
Under natural conditions without supplemental feeding a colony will not produce as many offspring until pollen begins to become available in February. From the depths of the still covered earth, the Skunk cabbage sends up its prehistoric aubergine colored shoots with its fireworks display of pollen.
Sugar maples, acacias, cedars are just a few trees that produce pollens in the Northeast at this time. Humans call them allergens and cringe at the first signs of spring . April is the high time for seasonal allergies. Honeybees are just waking up at this time of year and ready themselves to collect this multicolored precious source of their survival. Prescription sales soar. Pollens are cursed by humanity. But the honeybees persist in their plight to survive and thrive until the late spring or the time of the honey flow. It is our peak time to collect nectar and pollen until we store enough for the cooler fall months and the long winter ahead. Then the beekeeper comes and takes our honey. August and September again we are supplied with 3 gallon buckets full of sweet sugary syrup to our hearts desire.
SCENE 5- Finale
So now getting back to the dance. During and after the honey flow we are blessed with an abundance of all of God’s gifts of nectar and pollen. We start to get excited and think of expanding our family to a new home and for need or more living space. We appear happy with our pollen baskets overflowing and begin making queen cells so we can perform our innate and ritualistic swarm ceremony so that our thriving bee line can have yet one more chance to survive the winter ahead. Smoke begins to suffocate us into the corners of the hive. Our new queen cells are pinched off, squashed or cut out to be destroyed. A new super is set on top so we feel less crowded. We recover from the smoke and the upheaval only to walk in circles cleaning out and repair destroyed cells and the demise of this intervention.
We are now stuck in this darkness, with the drip, drip of sugar syrup in front of our upset minds, no need to fly, no need to forage, to pollinate, to fill our baskets, to feed our queen and colony. No need to dance our exhilarating steps to psych up all those watching and understanding the need to move on. No dance to compel our queen to sing her song as some humans have claimed to have heard before the swarm.
This day, the bees stopped dancing.