Squatters in the attic
Just when I thought I’ve heard it all, Aram Frangulyan of Auburn, Washington reported that bumble bees set up housekeeping in the moisture quilts of two of his honey bee hives. He first discovered the bumble bees in late March.
Aram’s hives are either double deeps or single deeps with a medium. On top of his brood boxes he adds a medium-sized quilt box and on top of that a gabled roof with ventilation holes at both ends. Each of his quilt boxes is filled with five inches of pine shavings, and the gabled roofs are painted brown or green to soak up as much warmth as possible. For the winter, the hives were put on stands with maximum southern exposure. According to my way of thinking, this is a perfect set-up for a long and damp northwest winter. But the thing he didn’t do was screen the ventilation ports in the gabled roofs.
Toward the end of March, Aram discovered a colony of bumble bees snuggling into the pine shavings in one of the quilt boxes. Having read one of my posts on relocating bumble bees, he moved the colony to an area near his shed. Unfortunately, they didn’t like the new location and left after a few days.
Later, he found a second colony just beginning to establish in another of the quilt boxes. Since they were just getting started, he shooed them away. Aram reports that wasps, too, have tried to colonize his gabled roofs. “It seems shavings, warmth, and open space are very attractive to different varieties of insects,” he said.
Aram described the bumbles as yellow and orange, which makes sense. The species of northwest bumble bee most prone to nesting in above-ground enclosures is Bombus melanopygus, the orange-rumped bumble bee (also called the black-tailed bumble bee). These are the ones you may find in hollowed-out trees, mailboxes, birdhouses, or utility enclosures.
Originally from Armenia—the home of the Caucasian honey bee—Aram said he relented and keeps only Carniolan honey bees. So that’s what was in those hives: Apis mellifera carnica and Bombus melanopygus. What a combo.
Since there were no photos taken at the time, I winged it a little and provided a photo of an orange-rumped bumble bee and a Langstroth hive with a quilt box and gabled roof for those of you who haven’t seen that kind of set up.
Hmm, I’m thinking I might remove the screens from my gabled roofs next winter and see what I catch!