Unlike the majority of free-born Englishmen (and women), when a beekeeper encounters BIAS, contentment reigns. BIAS is the acronym for “Brood In All Stages” inside the engine-room of the hive. Those stages are: egg, larva, pupa, emergence of new bee. In this particular case, that means that Thames hive has a healthy, laying Queen as the bee-year draws to a close.
As Autumn advances, Queen Primrose of Thames hive is now laying only Worker bee eggs, and in limited quantities. The normal cycle of development is unaffected: eggs will hatch 3 days after laying for Worker brood (and for Queens and Drones alike, at expansive times of the year). These “Winter Bees” will have a wholly different physiognomy from their sisters and half-sisters. Notably, winter bees have a higher fat body quotient. That’s not an insult, it’s a biological fat-body-fact.
Fat bodies are tissues which contain lipids, glycogen, triglycerides and some protein, storing and releasing energy according to the conditions. Winter bees are better adapted more to shivering-in-a-cluster-in-the-hive than to derring-do-on-the-high-seas-of-forage. Which is another way of saying that they don’t flap their wings off in a search for ever-diminishing returns outside the hive in late Autumn, but settle down to over-winter in the warm, pulsating rugby-ball of a winter bee-cluster. These bees will be next Spring’s foragers, working like a team of six-legged centaurs, voraciously gathering in snowdrop, willow and crocus pollen to feed the swelling brood chamber in the early months of 2014.
So let’s take a closer look at Thames hive’s winter bees, starting with the recently-laid eggs:
Spotting eggs is an important part of the Beekeeping’s Got Talent! You have to get the frame at the correct angle for the right light to pick out these little white dashes. It’s about 7 out of 10 in degree of difficulty on a cloudy September day, while virgin Queen spotting is definitely a 10. (Thanks to Penny Robertson for her 10/10 last weekend!).
After the standard 3-day egg phase, the development cycles of Worker, Drone and Queen bees start to diverge significantly. As mentioned earlier, at this time of year, winter Worker bees are the only sort produced in a healthy hive.
Once the egg has hatched, the nurse bees energetically feed the curled, bright-white larvae with bee-bread (a concoction of pollen steeped in honey) to supplement their small starting dosage of royal jelly. As the egg-phase ends, the larval stage begins, like a starting gun going off. The timing of the progression to “sealed cell” status and pupation runs like clockwork: for a Worker its 6, Drone 6-7 and Queen 5 days. What could be simpler ? Finally, the larva is sealed in her hexagonal cell with a cornflake-light wax capping, permeable to the air, to commence pupation. Here’s some sealed brood which Thames hive made earlier…
Once sealed with wax, the bees leave each cell occupant alone to spin its cocoons in the pupation phase – until emergence, another 12 days for Workers (and theoretically 14-15 days for Drones, but only 8 days for Queens). Then the Workers nibble their own way out of the wax bee-hole cover on top of each cell and emerge to be greeted by the nurse bees and are immediately assimilated into the sisterly tide.
And there the BIAS ends: Bees In Amazing Sequence!