My spider queen
Remember the swarm that stayed in a tree for four days before I retrieved it seven times? Well, yesterday—eleven days after it moved into the bait hive—I recalled that the top brood box was missing a frame. I decided to put one in there before the bees filled the empty slot with comb attached to the cover.
I still had no idea whether the colony had a queen. If you recall, the swarm was an after-swarm, so I thought they may have taken a virgin from one of the many queen cells that remained after the Taranov split.
So when the rain ceased for a moment, I cracked the lid and peeked inside. Alas, you guessed it; the comb I feared was already in place. As I lifted the lid, a beautiful, white, architecturally perfect sculpture came along. Damn.
The hive was too high for me to work comfortably, so I decided to remove the lid and top brood chamber all of a piece. I would set it on an empty super where I could carefully excise the comb from the lid and tie it into a frame. I know better, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I hoisted lid and brood box, took a step, and realized it was way too heavy for me. For a moment I froze; I couldn’t put it back and I couldn’t keep going. Disaster was near.
Knowing gravity would win, I performed a rapid but guided decent until the box was about five inches off the ground, at which point I more-or-less dropped it. Actually, it was more “more” than less, but I did manage to hold up one side of the box so it didn’t quash the bees on the bottom.
The occupants, however, were not pleased. They decided to imprint my idiocy on my memory. Nine times. My jeans were drenched from walking in wet grass and they stuck to my legs like a second skin. So once on each knee, once on my right ankle and six times on the left, the bees messaged me. Point taken.
The new comb was partially filled with nectar and pollen, and I started to worry that they hadn’t been able to raise a queen. Still, I cut it loose and tied it into a frame. Then, one by one, I examined the other frames. Empty, empty, empty. Worried.
On the last frame, I gasped. There she was—a big, brawny mother, looking perfectly regal. She had survived the dive in the brood box just as she had survived four days of rain in a tree and capture (perhaps) seven times—once in a box, twice in a plastic bag, and four times in a butterfly net. This was one impressive woman. She wasn’t solid black like a Carny, nor was she yellow like an Italian, but she appeared to have stripes. Not across her abdomen as you might expect, but along it like a race car. She reminded me of a spider, legs asplay and mind centered.
Just beneath her were six square inches of eggs, which made me think I had guessed right. The swarm had left with a virgin. In the ensuing days—many of them filled with wind and rain—she had managed to mate, mature, and begin to lay. Three days earlier during a sunny patch, I had seen several dozen workers outside the hive fanning crazily. At the time I wondered if their queen was out, and if all the fanning was the equivalent of runway workers with flashlights who guide the great birds back home. It probably was.
Gently, I tucked my spider queen back into the hive and closed the lid. What is it about a bug that can inspire awe in a human being? I want to sing her praises, shower her with gifts, and erect monuments to her fortitude. I want her portrait above my fireplace and her countenance on my computer screen. I wonder, do you think I should worry about myself?