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Notice Board . . .

Recently updated: English for beekeepers

Don’t roll your queens

Queens can get rolled when the beekeeper lifts a frame containing the queen or lifts a frame adjacent to one with the queen. In the tight space between frames, the bees become bunched together or pressed against the comb or frame. If a queen becomes caught in a tight space or within a mass of bees, round and round she goes as the frame is lifted. She may be damaged or killed outright.

A rolled queen is always a sad event, but it’s worse in late fall. In the fall, the frames are likely to be heavy with honey, and a thick layer of honeycomb is often built in an arc right above the brood. Adjacent frames may grow together along the top, or nearly so. If a beekeeper is not careful, he can roll the queen against these thick layers and destroy her.

Also, by fall, there is apt to be a build-up of burr comb and propolis inside the hive. It can be frustrating to loosen frames that are glued together and a beekeeper may impatiently make a wrong move. For new beekeepers, especially, this can be frustrating: the frames were easy to manipulate when they were new, now everything is stuck to everything else. How annoying.

Along with the increased likelihood of rolling a queen comes the decreased likelihood of finding a replacement. As each week gets colder, it gets harder to find queens, more difficult to ship them, and trickier to install them, so extra care should taken during every fall inspection.

The most common advice is also the best: remove an end frame first. The end frames are often the easiest to remove, frequently contain less honey, and are least likely to contain the queen. Once the first frame is removed, you can safely slide the next frame into the empty space and lift it without rubbing against the others.

Note that I said “least likely to contain the queen,” not “never contains the queen.” Queens are free spirits, and occasionally you will find her where you least expect her. So go easy and take your time, even on the very first frame.


Robber flies grab bees in flight

Both of these photos arrived this week with the same question, “What is eating my bees?” The top photo, taken by beekeeper Wayne Gillispie, came from northeastern Kentucky. The second, by beekeeper Roger Taylor, came from Gallatin, Tennessee. Each predator has a honey bee in its jaws.

These creepy-looking bugs are in the family Asilidae and are commonly known as robber flies or assassin flies. Based on the photos, it might seem like they have a predilection for honey bees but, actually, just about any insect will do for a midday snack.

The family is huge, comprising about 7000 species, and they all eat insects. Many of them enjoy meals that are large and feisty, so they will go after dragonflies, wasps, bees, grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, and beetles. Most have spiny legs that aid in capturing prey in the air and holding it still.

Once an insect is captured, the fly stabs it with its proboscis and injects paralyzing enzymes. In time, the enzymes digest the insides of the prey and the robber fly sucks it out, like coconut milk through a straw . . . or a protein-fortified smoothie.

Robber flies occur nearly everywhere, but more species are found in places that are open, warm, and sunny. They are only incidental predators on honey bees and nothing for a beekeeper to worry about. Just keep taking those cool photos.


A robber fly in northeastern Kentucky. Photo © Wayne Gillispie.
A robber fly in Gallatin, Tennessee. Photo © Roger Taylor.

Hourglass bees

These bees have white hourglasses stenciled on their thoraces. Public domain photo.

What looks like an hourglass-shaped paint splotch on the thorax of some bees is actually pollen. In the past I often saw these stripes—usually in yellow—and wondered what they were. The bees look like they squeezed through someone’s freshly painted woodenware.

But according to Rosanna Mattingly in her fascinating book, Honey-Maker, the design occurs when pollen-covered bees groom. The honey bee uses her two midlegs to clean pollen from her forelegs and the back of her thorax. However, there’s a place she can’t quite reach, right down the middle of her back.

She swipes each side of her thorax and the pollen is removed in an arc, much like the sweep of a wiper blade on a car. The hourglass design remains after she’s reached as far as she can on each side.