18 May, 2012

What's the buzz?

Fights to the death.Virgin queens. Sexual promiscuity. Regicide. Armies of working women. Such is the life of bees.
On several occasions over the last few years, I have discovered beehives along the river. Mostly they have been near Princes Bridge. One as I remember was on the Highton side of the river, another within Balyang Sanctuary. I know very little about bees and couldn't say what type these bees were, but probably they were wild honey bees, not one of the 1,500 or more species of native Australian bees.
Last week as I was out on yet another ride,  I discovered a hive in a tree hollow on the edge - once again - of Balyang Sanctuary. I snapped some photos and continued on my way, however when I downloaded and examined them, the pictures were not as clear as I had hoped, so I headed back to have another look at the hive and to take some more (hopefully) clearer shots - and then again and again.
So, after standing for several hours on three occasions, attempting to take photos at full zoom, with the camera at arm's length over my head, facing directly into the sun, I now have biceps to rival Arnold Schwarzenegger and a further 450 photos - a mere handful of which are worth viewing.
Beehive at Balyang Sanctuary
The hive is located in a tree hollow a few feet above head height and as is clear from the above photo, is partially obscured by leaves, however it is still possible to see the bees coming and going from the hive and the honeycomb within is also quite clearly visible.
Honeycomb within the hive
As usual, Wikipedia gives a much more detailed description of the life and times of bees and hives than what I can do here, so I won't even attempt the task, except to say that the cells in this honeycomb are hexagonally shaped as described, slope slightly upwards so the honey once stored does not drip out and appear to be a mixture of empty or partially filled cells and those which have been filled and capped by the bees for storage.
Worker bee entering the hive laden with pollen
The above photo is of interest as it clearly shows a worker bee returning to the hive, laden with pollen which is collected by the bee and placed into "pollen baskets" also called corbicula on its hind legs. This photo is the best example, I do have others. Interestingly, in some, the colour of the pollen is much lighter than that carried by this bee. I assume this indicates that the pollen came from a different plant source.
Worker bee on the honeycomb inside the hive
On the various occasions I visited the hive, there were varying levels of activity evident, with the greatest degree coinciding with the warmest part of the sunniest day when I could see many more bees entering and leaving the hive. Clearly, as shown by the photo above, the bees are still collecting pollen for their winter stores of honey no doubt taking advantage of the late autumn flowering of various native plants.
Bees leaving the hive
Over the coming months I will keep an eye on the hive and see what becomes of it over winter and into spring when it might be expected that it may swarm as was the case with a hive I came across in November, 2010. This hive which had swarmed was hanging from the branch of an apple tree growing next to a drain which runs between Gravel Pits Road and the river in Breakwater. I am unsure what became of it.
Swarming beehive November, 2010

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