Birds and Bees (but mostly bees)

We went to the Robinsons farm today, and Ms. Robinson influenced me to write all these interesting facts you’re about to read about bees. (I’ll get to the bird part later)

Overarching theme: The bees are not individuals but one individual. The colony is an organism, and each bee is a cell in the system.

The queen bee can decide which kind of offspring she wants to have- a drone or a worker bee. A drone is a male bee, and their main function in the system is to reproduce with queen bees (not their mother though, because incest would not lead to a healthy, sustainable colony) The worker bees are female, and they do the busy work. They go out and pollenate, they tend to the hive, they take care of the offspring, and so on.

The breeding season starts after winter solstice and ends around autumn equinox. During this, the queen bee will go on mating flights, where she flies out of the hive to mate. The drones will be out in swarms when this happens, and about twenty will mate with the queen. Twenty is a healthy number for her to mate with- less would put her at danger of not having a diverse/ sustainable hive.

The queen lays her eggs in the hexagonal holes in the comb in the hive. The holes come in various sizes; they are bigger for the eggs, and smaller for holding pollen and nectar.

The structure of the honeycomb has always blown my mind. I had always been in awe simply because of the perfect hexagons that they make, but I learned today that they vary in sizes for different purposes (as I had just said) and that they are tilted upwards slightly so that the eggs or nectar would fall out. How amazing is that?

What’s interesting is that at the end of the breeding season, around autumn equinox, the worker bees kick out the drones in preparation for the winter. Since breeding season is over, there is no need to keep the drones around during the winter. They would just take up space and eat the honey that the workers need to keep warm and survive the winter.

So one day the workers will all line up outside of the hive, and literally drag the drones out of the hive (I can just picture the female bees pulling the desperate drones out of the hive…what a funny image) Basically drone access to the hive will be denied, and they will end up dying.

In terms of reproducing, the colony as an entire organism still applies. If they have a healthy colony, approximately a third of the workers and the queen will swarm and leave the nest. They find a tree or a bush or something as a temporary home where they all bundle together (looks like a basketball, according to Ms. Robinson) and huddle there while some scouts are sent out to search for a suitable place for a new hive. This is how the organism reproduces.

What about the old hive? They don’t have a queen anymore!

Actually, new queens will be raised. The larvae produced by the old queen can be specially treated (in all honestly, I don’t remember with what. Some sort of nutrient-rich gel that the bees make) But whatever they feed the larvae, it makes their ovaries fully functional, unlike all of the other worker bees.

Isn’t that so cool?! I think that was my favorite field trip so far this term.

Just a quick note about birds- when I first got to the farm, I thought I heard a hoo-hoo from an owl, but I doubted it so j just carried on. Later, as Ms. Robinson was talking with us in the backyard, I saw a huge bird soar through the woods about two hundred meters away. I interrupted the group (I’m so distracted by birds nowadays it’s not even funny) and exclaimed that I saw an owl. Ms. Robinson, less than enthused, said I probably saw a hawk.

I know I’m not the best birder…but that wasn’t a hawk I thought. (Wow this is sounding very nerdy…just bare with me for a paragraph more)

Nonetheless, Mr. Bre confirmed my ID when we heard it hooting again. It kept hooting and hooting and it sounded so pretty! I wish I had seen the owl up close.

I also saw a red-bellied woodpecker right on the chicken coop- it had a beautiful red head- and so many other birds. I contemplated asking Ms. Robinson if i could come back sometime and bird there in the morning. I refrained from asking.

That’s it for now! Good day. Something I thought was funny was that the farm was right near my best friend’s house, and I had never really noticed it before. I felt like I was in a place I had been before because of that. It’s really a beautiful little farm.

-Michaela Streep

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