A Crisis Averted Through Superior Dancing

I had set aside time to write about queen rearing and our new nucleus colonies but I got a call from Jamien that re-ordered my plans.  Jamien is one of our beloved bee landlords and her neighbor had told her our bees were making her nervous.  In the photo on the left is our hive, a fence, and a house.  Beyond that fence is a lovely little patio where the neighbor has a birdbath.  The bees had decided they were inordinately fond of that birdbath.

And I had to remember, once again, most people don’t usually take pleasure in putting a veil over their face and sticking their hands in big boxes of bees.  Our bees live in a neighborhood and their neighbor did not need them joining her for tea on a sunny summer day on the patio.  I considered pointing out to my bees it had been raining for the better part of the week and there was water all over the place – in fact there was a little red chicken waterer right under the hive.  But there’s no reasoning with bees, even if I could speak Russian.

In desperation I fired off a frustrated note to my friend and mentor, Erin.  She reminded me, once again, there is a whole lot of stuff I am supposed to remember from my beekeeping books; a chicken waterer under the hive is a lousy place for the bees to find water.  I thought, when my dog is thirsty I put the water right by the dog.  But with bees it’s all about the dancing.

I should have remembered it’s all about the dancing.

When a food or water source is right around a hive, a returning forager bee will inform her sisters of the source with the Round Dance.  She’ll dance in a circle on the comb to convey the information “it’s right around here somewhere.”  She’ll then share the scent of the food or water with the interested field bees.  They will know what there is around, but once outside the hive they will have to find it themselves with their amazing scent sensors and a visual search.

By giving the bees a water source further away from the hive we give the bees a chance to do a better dance – the Waggle Dance.  A forager who returns with food or water from farther away will perform a Waggle Dance in which she waggles her behind as she stands on the comb.  The enthusiasm with which she waggles is in direct proportion to the awesomeness of the source she’s communicating.  And the locational information she is able to convey is amazingly accurate.  The dancer’s position on the comb, in relation to the up and down of gravity, provides the exact angle of the food source in relation to the sun.  The duration of the waggle indicates the distance to the source.

bee on a rock, safe from drowning

So I went to the garden center and picked up a birdbath that seemed to fit the meadow.  The neighbor took down her birdbath for a few days and we are going to use that time to train the bees to spend their time at their own birdbath.  The water looks kind of murky in this photo because we filled the bath with sand and it needed some time to settle.  Bees much prefer to stand on wet sand and drink than tip-toe to the edge of deep water.  And we made the water super-tempting by adding a little sugar and lemon and lined the edge with rocks so bees don’t get stuck in the water and drown when the bath is full to the brim.

As for the queen report – you’re just going to have to wait for another day.  Stay tuned.

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About inthebeeloudglade

An unlikely beekeeper who runs The Honey Exchange, a hive and honey store in Portland, Maine.
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