Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wild hive!!

What: Conner Roberts, a student in my CCV class Natural History of Vermont, found a wild hive of bees in our last class. We weren't sure at first if it was active, but putting my ear up to the hole you could definitely hear a buzz coming from inside!! When I took Zac out to see the hive he knocked and you could hear a furious buzz emanate from the hive.

I wish I could age the honeycomb based on color and texture so we could estimate how long the cavity had been inhabited by bees. Zac and I assumed that it was at least a couple of seasons old as the comb at the bottom (image below to right) was super dark and dense. The comb hanging down (image on left) seems like it's from this most recent season.

Ecological notes: A lot of folks ask me what bees do in the winter. They are such excellent pollinators because they need to collect and store enough nectar to sustain a population of a few thousand during the winter. The nectar is fanned and evaporated down into honey, then capped and store to be eaten during the long winter. The honey fulls their little bodies as they huddle and shiver to maintain the hive at a temperature of around 80 degrees! By staying active, they generate heat (much like running around or doing jumping jacks to stay warm on a cold day.

Pulp at base of pine (about 1/2" thick,
mix of pulp, seeds, and bee carcasses!
Where: Centennial Woods, old (maybe 150 year old) white pine tree that died about 15 years ago in the 1998 Ice Storm. The scar was created much longer ago and there had been enough time for carpenter ants to invade the tree, hollow much of it out, and then abandon their nest. I'll post more on the 1998 ice storm sometime this winter.

Other notes: Zac brought up the idea of search image. This is the second wild hive I've found, and they share quite a few features. Here's what we noticed that might help us cue in to future sites for a wild hive

  • Near an open field (about 20' back from edge)
  • Within 100' of flowing water 
  • In a hollow white pine
  • White pine had several pileated holes in it (both were hollowed out by carpenter ants)
  • Lots of pulp at base of tree
  • Opening to hive elongated vertically, one hive was about 5" tall, this one was closer to 15"

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