Empty Calories

Foragers gathering fresh sawdust. Photo: Mike Connor

Somewhere early on in a “Beekeeping 101” class you’ll learn that honey bees forage for 4 things: nectar, pollen, propolis, and water. The nectar and pollen become honey and bee bread to provide sustenance. Propolis is used as a structural component and also contributes to colony health through immunological activity. Previous blog posts about propolis here and here provide more information. Water is necessary for a variety of purposes including preparation of brood food and evaporative cooling. So in addition to water, bees need 3 substances produced by plants. But do they collect anything else? Of course they do. If you’ve ever seen open syrup feeding, it’s apparent that the bees will forego the flower visitation part of foraging when a sweet liquid is provided. Bees will also readily gather pollen substitute when bulk fed in powder form. While these nectar and pollen surrogates may not be as attractive or nutritious as the genuine articles they are intended to replicate, they can be important in getting colonies through lean times.

Flowers and their surrogates are what the bees should be getting into, but what are they actually getting into? Some beekeepers have a perception that if bees gather it they must need it, but in my time working in and around bees I’ve seen them get into a lot of different things that probably aren’t great for them. One summer we noticed a propolis traps in a yard were yielding a dark brown, almost black propolis with sharp plastic smell instead of the typical red/orange sweet smelling propolis for the area. When we  sat waiting for the construction worker with the Stop/Go sign to allow us through the roadworks where a new topcoat of asphalt was being applied, we noticed bees collecting road tar to use as propolis. This paper detected petroleum derived molecules that matched the chemistry of local asphalt in propolis from urban colonies, confirming that bees will gather sticky stuff other than plant resins. I’ve also seen bees appearing to collect silicon-based caulking product. I’ve often described the physical role of propolis in the colony as bee-glue or caulking, so seeing one bee resort to gathering our version shouldn’t come as a shock if actual resins aren’t available. Bees gather “real” propolis from a variety of botanical sources depending on geography and climate. Some of the most common propolis sources in temperate climates are members of the genus Populus which includes poplars, aspens, and cottonwoods. For more about the role of propolis in the colony and an overview of botanical sources around the world, check out this article.

It’s not just propolis collection where bees make mistakes, sometimes they get it wrong when seeking pollen too. While building woodware in the shop, I’ve seen bees take a lot of interest in the sawdust from both treated and untreated lumber. I’ve never actually seen a forager pack it onto her corbicula, but beekeepers report bees gathering a variety of powdery materials when pollen is scarce. An early study on pollen foraging noted this tendency,  “During periods of pollen scarcity bees are reported to seek substitutes, such as bran, sawdust, and coal dust, which are of no known value for brood rearing.

Just about any sweet liquid is going to get the attention of honey bees, and I’ve seen them investigate many kinds of sodas and juices. This tendency may be a little unnerving to picnickers, but it isn’t really a problem unless there is a more permanent stationary source of sugary liquid that the bees find. One such case happened when some urban bees in NYC found a bit of runoff syrup from a maraschino cherry factory which was only the beginning of the story.


Lazy bees?

The parliamentary building in Victoria, British Columbia features many stained glass windows celebrating the arts and sciences. A colony of honey bees was chosen to represent industria (latin for industry).

Honey bees have long been admired by humankind for their industriousness. The beehive has served as a symbol of organization and hard work throughout history, and common sayings like “busy as a bee” that persist today indicate we still perceive bees to be hard workers. The state of Utah has been particularly fond of the beehive analogy. It officially adopted the beehive as the state emblem in 1959, although it featured the beehive on its seal as early as  the 1850s when it was still a territory.  The city of Manchester, England adopted the worker bee as an emblem during the industrial revolution, and a traditional skep is featured prominently in the stained glass of parliamentary building of British Columbia in Canada.

Temporal polytheism, the process by which individual bees transition through different “jobs” over the course of their lifetime, means that bees complete a diversity of tasks. But are all  bees busy all of the time? The younger bees in a colony typically do the work inside the colony, including rearing brood and curing honey. Open up the colony and remove a frame, and you’ll see a lot of the house bees doing various tasks as well as many that are just kind of hanging out. Stand at the entrance of a colony on a sunny day, and you’ll certainly witness a lot of activity from the older bees in the hive. When conditions are suitable the foragers fly hard, covering many miles to accumulate nectar, pollen, water, and propolis for the colony.

At different times of the year, colony growth and contraction dynamics will be such that the number of bees available for particular tasks may exceed the number needed. Thus, some bees will be underutilized. Queen events or seasonal brood dynamics in the colony can lead to situations where there is an abundance of young bees but not a lot of brood to tend to. Foragers work very hard when resources are abundant and weather conditions are favorable, but they essentially take cold, wet, and windy days off and are also largely idle overnight  in the hive.

This study used RFID tags on individual bees to track their location and monitor the foraging activity of colonies. One of their findings was that approximately 50% of the foraging activity was accomplished by only about 20% of the foragers. Their study demonstrates that the foraging effort is not evenly distributed, and some bees clearly worked harder than others. Even more interesting is that when the researchers removed the hardest working foragers from the colony, the other, previously lower workload bees increased their activity to compensate. This finding is fascinating in that it demonstrates that the flexibility of individuals allows the needs of the colony to be met even when a group of high performing individuals are removed. This research suggests that some of the bees may be holding back a little in foraging effort, thus prolonging their lifespan which may provide a measure of redundancy to the colony which could help overcome a sudden loss of foragers.

By holding some foragers in reserve, the colony could be protecting itself against an acute event causing the loss of foragers that could otherwise lead to precocious foraging, which is the premature transition of young bees into foragers. A different study demonstrated that precocious foragers performed poorly, leading to feedback loops where even more of the young bees attempted to forage, eventually depleting the colony of young bees and leading to a rapid decline in colony condition.

The settlers of Utah thought enough of the honey bee work ethic to include a traditional skep style hive on their state seal

It may not be fair to try to anthropomorphize a colony of insects by applying terms like “lazy” or “industrious,” but it does seem like healthy bees demonstrate a capacity for both traits. Making honey when the sun shines, while also holding a little bit in reserve as a buffer against acutely stressful events allows colonies to be both productive and resilient.



Almond Math

There are plenty of quick stats you come across working around bees: At peak population, a strong colony can have over 60,000 individual bees. A queen is capable of laying more eggs in a day (up to 2,000) than there are minutes in a day (1,440). A single bee can produce 1/12 tsp honey in its lifespan and may cumulatively travel 500 miles during the several weeks it spends as a forager. Despite annual losses in the 30-40% range, the total managed colony numbers remains fairly constant at about  3 million.

The American bee industry is inextricably linked to the almond industry. Every year, about 3/4 of the national herd migrates from various wintering locations to the central valley of California for the almond bloom in February. The almond industry also has some eye-opening statistics: The 117,000,000 almond-producing trees in California are responsible for 82% of global almond production, and it is estimated that it takes approximately 1 gallon of water to produce a single almond. The Almond Board of California does a fantastic job summarizing and quantifying the industry in the annual Almond Almanac available here. A couple previous BIP blogs discussing bees and almonds are available here and here.

Given the link between almond and bee industries and the eye-opening numbers in both, it got me wondering how many almonds each bee produces, or how many bees it takes to produce a single kernel (almonds aren’t technically nuts). Do you think a single bee accounts for hundreds of almonds? Does it take dozens of bees to produce each almond? Pick a number and we’ll work through some estimates to see how close you come.

Each almond starts with a bee in a blossom

The population of honey bee colonies is often estimated in a unit called frames of bees (FOBs). A frame of bees is defined as a deep frame (apx 19” x 8.5”) well-covered with adult bees on both sides. Estimates range between 2000 and 3000 individual bees per frame. For the sake of this exercise I’ll use the 2400 bees per FOB estimate reported here.

Beekeepers that rent their colonies for almond pollination typically do so under a contract that specifies both a minimum acceptable size and an average colony size that must be met. A commonly used contract may specify a 4 FOB minimum and an overall average of at least 8 FOB with potential bonus payments for colonies exceeding standards.  During the month of February 2018, Bee Informed Partnership  Tech Transfer Teams inspected over 1,100 colonies from 38 different operations with the overall mean frame count being 8.96 FOB per colony, so we’ll use that number as an estimate for colony strength. It is worth noting that not all bees in a colony are foragers and the percentage of individual bees that forage increases with colony strength. Randy Oliver has an excellent summation of the pollination value of a colony relative to FOB available here. Considering the difficulty of accounting for variable percentage of foragers and also the fact that a colony could not function with foragers alone, we will consider the total number of bees present to all be needed in order to provide pollination.

It is estimated that in recent years approximately 1.9 colonies per bearing acre have been required to meet almond pollination demand. For the 2017/18 almond crop year, there were an estimated 1,000,000 bearing acres. For the same year there was an average yield of 2,270 almonds lbs/acre. For a total crop of 2.27 billion pounds. It is estimated that there are 368 almond kernels per pound.

Having accumulated the numbers above we can now go about calculating the total number of bees pollinating almonds:

2400 bees/FOB * 8.96 FOB/colony = 21,504 bees/colony

1,000,000 acres * 1.9 colonies/acre  = 1,900,000 colonies

1,900,000 colonies * 21,504 bees/colony = 40,857,600,000 bees pollinating almonds

How many almonds do those 40 billion bees produce?

2.27 billion pounds * 368 almonds/pound = 835,360,000,000 almonds

835,360,000,000 almonds/40,857,600,000 bees =20.45 almonds per bee

Each of the approximately 40 billion individual bees rented for pollination is responsible for producing a handful of almonds.


So there we are, each bee that gets set in California almonds accounts for about 20 almonds. My guess before gathering any of the numbers was about 10 per bee; how close did your guess come?


It’s Cold (and Wet) Out There


This dead forager was one of the few bees I saw on an almond blossom during the early bloom period. She likely succumbed to hypothermia after spending the night away from the colony (note the damp matted hairs).

I don’t know what the groundhog did or saw this year, but according to the calendar it’s still winter. The first day of spring is still a month away. If you’re a pollinator or grower of almonds, you’re hoping weather conditions up and down the central valley of California become more favorable for flight activity than they have been. I recently returned from 2 weeks of inspecting and sampling colonies where conditions were cold, wet, and windy. These conditions delayed onset and slowed progression of the almond bloom and are forecast to continue. Frequent updates on the progression of bloom and conditions for flight are available from Blue Diamond.


The abundance of water and scarcity of flowers in this orchard near Chowchilla, CA characterized the first half of February in most of the central valley.
Muddy conditions prevailed as the last of the colonies were being set.

In addition to the revenue from pollination fees, beekeepers also count on floral resources provided by the 1,000,000+ acres of almond trees that stretch roughly from Chico in the north to Bakersfield in the south. Many colonies get stimulated with feed prior to bloom to boost brood production and size.  If there is not a smooth transition from supplemental feed to forage, because of inclement weather, colony growth can be hindered. If cool and wet conditions persist, many beekeepers may need to resume supplemental feeding to avoid starvation. The persistent wet conditions can also be problematic for growers and lead to increased application of fungicides which may be perilous to bee health.


Aside from the biotic implications for the bees, there are also practical difficulties for beekeepers. In the last few days there have been an abundance of photos and videos online of colonies submerged in orchards or swept away by flooding rivers. Some beekeepers have had truckloads of colonies get snowed in on mountain passes into the valley where wintery conditions have closed highways. At the very least, getting in and out of orchards to deliver or work colonies has been a muddy mess. With so much of the national herd sitting in one location, the implications of the current and near future conditions in the region may ripple across the country this season as colonies are dispersed post-pollination.


Not much, but not nothing

What are your bees doing right now? If you’re in a northern location like me in Michigan the answer for most of the period between November and February may be not much. . .  but they aren’t doing nothing. They are dormant but they aren’t hibernating. During the period of winter dormancy the bees will cluster together to conserve the heat generated by individual bees vibrating their flight muscles. The bees aren’t attempting to heat the entire volume of the hive like we would heat a house, instead their shivering behavior just maintains the necessary temperature of the cluster itself. This behavior allows the colony to survive very cold external temperatures and generate enough heat to begin brood rearing which typically starts shortly after the winter solstice.

When I mention ‘my bees’ I’m referring to the Sentinel Apiary I manage in Leelanau County. I was out in mid-December on a 40ish degree day to take advantage of their broodless period and apply an Oxalic acid dribble as part of my Varroa mite management strategy. This brief cracking of the hives provided a chance to assess cluster size and position as well as evaluate stores. It’s not optimal to be opening hives this time of year and you certainly shouldn’t be pulling frames but I deliberately picked a fairly mild day with minimal wind for the time of year. Overall the colony was open for about 20 seconds and I was able to assess the condition and apply the Oxalic Acid with minimum disturbance.

I was relatively pleased with the size of cluster shown below, a little bigger would be ideal but they appear to be of adequate size to have a strong chance of surviving winter. They happened to be vertically centered near the top bars of the bottom box (purple) so the view is of the roughly spherical cluster split at the equator. The middle box (yellow tipped on end) had very good weight to it and the top box (blue with inner cover and moisture board remaining in place) was a box full of capped honey. This should be plenty of honey to get them through to April when the first dribble of nectar appears and it is starting to get warm enough for them to take liquid feed.

Bees clustered during winter dormancy

If I had found them primarily in the middle box or up into the top at this early stage of winter I would be more concerned about their stores and be making plans to get some fondant on as an emergency feed to get them through the later stages of winter but they still have plenty of food to eat their way up into. If you find your bees are high in the hive early in winter or getting light while spring nectar or syrup is still a ways off providing the colony with fondant is your best chance to avert starvation. Fondant is relatively easy to make, a couple recipes are available here and here.  It’s certainly isn’t a sure thing that this colony survives the winter but I’m fairly optimistic given the aggressive Varroa control through the season to keep mites and viruses in check and adequate food stores above these bees.


Was it enough?

An examination of debris on the bottom board shows a handful of dead Varroa mites after treatment. Photo credit – Dan Wyns, BIP Michigan Tech Team


One of the most critical aspects of maintaining healthy colonies is the control of Varroa mite levels. If you are a regular reader of these blogs, this will not be surprising to you. Visual inspection after applying a treatment may indicate a high mite drop but this may not be sufficient to determine if Varroa levels have been reduced to a satisfactory degree. One of the ways that BIP Tech Transfer Teams work with beekeepers is to quantify Varroa levels in order to determine the efficacy of a treatment and decide if further intervention is necessary. This level of vigilance can and should be part of every beekeepers’ management plan. The Tech Teams perform timely sampling and provide real-time, data-driven, decision power to improve colony health and these data help inform the data we share with the beekeeping community at our research site. PLEASE take a minute and donate now to our efforts. We want to help make you the best beekeeper you can be.


It’s (almost) over

The appearance of aster blooms on the landscape is an indicator that bee season is nearing an end.

Throughout much of the northern parts of the country, the spring and summer landscape is predominantly green with splashes of color provided by a diversity of blooming flowers.  As the season progresses the changing fall foliage dominates the autumn landscape with reds and golds but there is still one last floral splash of color that persist until frost in much of the country. Just as decreasing daylight and the changing of leaves indicate winter is approaching, the appearance of New England Aster bloom is a sure sign that the end of bee season is nearing.

One of the defining characteristics of the Asteraceae family is composite flowers.

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) is a member of the aster family (Asteraceae) which is a large and diverse family including edibles like lettuce, artichokes, and sunflowers as well as popular ornamentals like dahlias, zinnias, and marigolds. One of the defining characteristics of the Asteraceae family is that they have composite flowers with the family also referred to as  Compositae. The perimeter of aster flowers that appear to be petals are actually sterile ‘ray florets’. The central circle is composed of a collection of fertile “disc florets”. The flower of New England Aster is composed of ray florets that range from bright pink to purple or lavender surrounding an array of yellow or orange disc florets(see picture). It is an herbaceous perennial native to most of the eastern United States that prefers somewhat moist soils and full sun, and it is very common in fields and along roadside margins, particularly in ditches that hold moisture. Its tendency to freely grow wild in marginal habitats lead many to consider it a weed, but gardeners are increasingly incorporating it into the cultivated landscape as the awareness of native, pollinator-friendly species grows.

A forager gathers golden pollen from a late season aster.

As a late-season source of both pollen and nectar, asters provide the last opportunity to for many colonies to forage. If you are out in the bee yard performing late season inspections or feeding and notice a forager bringing home pollen, there’s a good chance it has been working asters. The pollen is golden in color (see picture). In addition to honey bees, aster pollen serves as an important late season food source for a variety of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators including the next generation of bumble bee queens foraging prior to entering winter dormancy.

Reports vary on the importance and value of aster as a late season nectar source. Aster is not typically harvested as a monofloral honey variety but may contribute to fall goldenrod honey as there is an overlap in bloom periods. In American Honey Plants Frank Pellett notes this inclusion of aster with other fall nectar writing “Many reports are to the effect that the quality is poor and not suitable for table use. The fact that the honey is seldom unmixed with that of other fall flowers may be responsible for the impression.”  Pellett also includes a report of the potential quality of pure aster honey should it be isolated “The honey was secured late in the season, after other plants has ceased to yield, and was almost white, and of very fine quality.”

Strong unpleasant smells, commonly described as similar to dirty socks or wet laundry, are noted by beekeepers when colonies are working aster, this may be partially attributed to coinciding goldenrod bloom which is known to give colonies a distinct sour smell when ripening the nectar. While the strong smell of the ripening nectar is not present to taint the cured honey there are some other potential implications of a late season aster flow. Regarding the concerns of aster honey as winter stores Pellett wrote “ . . .it is generally understood not to be safe for winter stores. Not only does aster honey contain gums which are indigestible to the bees, but the plants bloom so late that the honey may not be properly ripened.” Aster honey is also reported to readily granulate adding potential complications to the beekeeper if harvested and limiting accessibility to the bees if left for winter.



A Bit About Wings

I spend a lot of time taking photographs of bees, particularly as they flit from flower to flower gathering pollen or nectar. All of this time spent stalking them through gardens has given me appreciation and wonder of their flight capabilities. Bees are capable of flying at speeds up to 15 mph and carrying nectar loads that approach their own body weight. In addition to these feats of strength, they are also capable of delicate maneuvering and hovering while they approach flowers. These amazing aerial abilities are of course made possible by their wings, which at a glance seem undersized for the task.

At this point, a confession seems reasonable: I was several years into working with bees on a daily basis before I learned that they actually have four wings, not two.  In fairness to myself, I hadn’t had even the most basic course in entomology and only barely knew that bees weren’t technically bugs. Honey bees, like other winged Hymenopterans, have four wings, while insects of the order Diptera, including true flies and mosquitoes, have a single pair (remember, di = 2). For what it’s worth, only insects of the order Hemiptera can correctly be called true bugs.

Careful observation reveals a pair of forewings that are larger than the hindwings

Bees possess a pair of forewings that are similar in length to the abdomen and a smaller pair of hindwings. The 2 vs. 4 ignorance is somewhat understandable when considering that when bees are not in flight the larger forewings cover the hindwings in the relaxed position along the abdomen, and the wings function as a single pair during flight activity.  This coupled movement is facilitated by a series of hooks, known as hamuli, on the leading edge of the hindwings that fit into grooves on trailing edge of the forewings allowing the forewings and hindwings on each side of the body to function as a single surface. The wings are powered by the longitudinal and vertical flight muscles in the thorax. Alternating contractions of the vertical and longitudinal muscles raise and lower the wings.

Coordinated fanning at the entrance can be used for both ventilation and to distribute pheremones

In addition to propelling themselves through the air, the wings are also used to move air while remaining stationary. The ability to move air throughout the colony is critical to maintaining appropriate internal temperature and humidity as well as evaporating moisture from nectar and distributing pheromones within the colony.




In addition to providing structural support wings carry nerves, hemolymph and breathing tubes

The wings themselves are composed of three layers: a transparent membrane on top and bottom supported by a network of veins that carry hemolymph (bee “blood”), nerves, and breathing tubes throughout the wings as well as provide structural support. Honey bee wings exhibit a relatively simple pattern of venation compared to other more primitive insects. Venation patterns can be used to distinguish between subspecies (or races) of honey bees. This requires precise measurements of different sections of the wing and is being increasingly done through automated image processing algorithms.



Tattered wing margins indicate a forager is nearing the end of her lifespan.

Despite their durability, honey bee wings are only capable of a finite number of flight miles, with estimates of this upper bound being approximately 500 miles. Close observation of older bees in the colony will often reveal wings that are tattered around edges. As adult bees progress through their lifespan, they take on different tasks and roles in a process known as temporal polyethism with foraging typically being the last activity. When you see an older bee, which can be identified by diminished body hair in addition to tattered wing margins, you’re observing a bee that is near the end of its life. Individual bees only occupy the role of forager for 2-3 weeks, covering hundreds of collective miles in that time. When you see an old bee with tattered wings it is documentation that she has exhausted her physical capabilities in service to the colony and will soon be replaced by a younger bee that transitions from a house bee to a forager.


Bee Toes

Honey bees have had a close relationship with humans for thousands of years and have been intensively studied and observed by both scientists and beekeepers. Despite the accumulation of knowledge and ever increasing understanding of bee behavior, there are still a number of mysteries that bees guard. One of these behaviors that is yet to be thoroughly understood is called festooning. If you have ever been in a hive and noticed the bees seem clingy and hang from or between frames in chains, you have seen festooning.

A chain of festooning bees represents an intriguing but unsolved behavior

It is not currently known why bees exhibit festooning behavior. There is general agreement, however, that the behavior is associated with wax production and is most commonly seen in the spring when comb is being drawn or repaired. One thought is that the bees cling to each other tightly to increase temperature and facilitate secretion of wax from glands on the underside of the abdomen. Another thought is that the bees are using their bodies as a sort of measuring device to assist in comb orientation and maintain the appropriate bee space critical to comb architecture. There is also a thought that festooning allows the bees to create a living scaffold or bridge in open space to aid the construction process. While the ‘why’ of festooning isn’t entirely clear, the ‘how’ can be observed by working slowly through a colony and gently separating frames resulting in lattices and chains of bees between adjacent combs. As these chains are stretched to several bees in length, it becomes evident that they are using their toes to hold onto each other and capable of quite a bit of contortion so long as they remain hooked to other bees.

This pair of festooning bees shows the full dexterity provided by the tarsal claws

The ‘toes’ that cling to each other are technically tarsal claws, the last segments of the end of each leg. Each of the six legs terminates in a pair of claws that together with the other structures of the lower leg provide a great deal of dexterity. In addition to hanging onto comb and other bees during festooning, tarsal claws allow bees to grip a variety of surfaces and textures which is particularly useful when foraging. Tarsal claws also allow bees to attach themselves to each other when hanging in a swarm or bearding in excessively hot or humid conditions. This previous post by my coworker Rob Snyder provides further explanation of the anatomy and functions of the lower legs and shows several examples of tarsal claws in a variety of bee species.

The tarsal claws help provide the grip that allows this forager to maintain traction on a smoother vertical surface as it emerges from an auger hole
The full strength and utility of the tarsal claws on display as this forager clings to a cherry blossom by a single foreleg

Having spent a dozen years working with bees, I have gained a decent understanding of many of their actions.  Nevertheless, I’m glad that the bees still keep a few secrets to themselves. I always consider festooning a sign of spring and abundant resources in the environment that allow for colony growth and comb construction. In addition to being a general sign of good colony health, festooning is aesthetically pleasing. Every time I see it, I can’t help but think the bees are putting on a bit of a gymnastic display.



Five Dollar Bee Words

I came to the world of bees by accident and had no bee-specific knowledge or training prior to becoming a beekeeper. Prior to working with Bee Informed Partnership (BIP), I spent 8 years as a commercial beekeeper where I gained a good understanding of bee behavior and management from practical experience. Since joining BIP, the exposure to colleagues and scientists has led to a lot of “lightbulb” moments where an unfamiliar word was used and I had to ask what it meant. The explanation was normally met by an, “Oh sure, I’ve seen that, I just didn’t know there was a word for it,” or similar reaction. Below are a few of the interesting terms I’ve picked up in recent years.

A forager with a load of aster pollen packed onto its corbicula

Corbicula: Commonly called a pollen baskets, the corbicula is the flattened surface on the lower hind legs.  This specialized anatomy allows honey bees to store pollen during foraging in order to be transported back to the colony.





Diutinus: The technical name for winter bees that are capable of surviving the lengthy period of dormancy in winter climates until new brood-rearing commences in the spring by storing food reserves in their fat bodies.

Eclosion: Although commonly referred to as hatching or emerging, the act where a developed bee chews open its pupal case and exits the cell.

Festooning: The behavior in which young bees cling to each other, creating a lattice or chain. It is not definitively known why bees behave this way, but festooning is most common when fresh wax is being drawn.

Haplodiploidy: A genetic description of honey bees and other hymenopterans (bees, ants, wasps) where females develop from fertilized eggs and males develop from unfertilized eggs. Haplodiploidy results in females having twice the number of chromosomes as males and unconventional family trees where males are have neither fathers nor sons but do have grandfathers and grandsons.

Nasanoving: A behavior where bees extend their abdomen to expose the nasonov gland and emit a pheromone that aids in orienting and recruiting nestmates. Commercially available swarm lures contain synthetic nasanov pheromone to attract swarms.

A phoretic mite clinging to the thorax of an adult bee

Phoretic: A relationship where one species clings to another and is transported further than it is capable of moving on its own. In the context of honey bees, varroa mites are said to be phoretic when they are attached to adult bees as opposed to reproducing in cells. Common varroa monitoring techniques like the alcohol wash, sugar shake, and ether roll monitor the level of phoretic mites, commonly expressed as a percentage of mites per 100 bees.




Retinue: The small group of bees that move through the colony with the queen. Members of the retinue perform tasks for the queen including feeding, grooming, waste removal and pheromone dispersal.

Temporal Polyethism: Worker bees progression of tasks and roles throughout their lifespan which is generally understood to transition from ‘indoor jobs’ including nursing and comb construction to ‘outdoor jobs’ that include guarding and foraging.

Thixotropic: A physical property of some substances where mechanical agitation results in a change from a solid/gel state to a liquid. Manuka and some other varietal honeys are thixotropic and require an extra machine to agitate the honey after it is uncapped so it will flow freely from the comb.

Two bees communicating through trophallaxis

Trophallaxis: Behavior in many social insects where food and pheromones are exchanged through direct contact. When two bees are touching tongues (proboscis), they may be communicating information regarding the status of the queen or a newly discovered food source. Unfortunately this type of contact has also been shown to be the manner in which several honey bee maladies are spread within a colony.





Vitellogenin: A protein that determines behavior and foraging preferences as well as influencing the lifespan of individual bees. Elevated vitellogenin levels are critical in diutinus bees having adequate protein to survive winter dormancy.



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