Sunday, February 7, 2010

How smart are Honey Bees? You decide!

Spring of 2008, I got a phone call from my mother-in-law, who had a small swarm of bees in her back yard here in Inola. She only lives 2 miles from us, on the other side of Inola. I reassured her everything was okay, that I'd be coming over straight away to catch them up and all would be okay. When I arrived, this is what I saw.

As I arrived, I initially didn't see the bees right away. I was looking "high". I was expecting bees to be hanging from a tree limb above my head somewhere. She had to point them out to me, and they where only 5 yards away from her back patio. Surprised to see them so LOW, I was pleased that this would be an "easy catch". (so I thought) Now, how to get them "caught".

Take a good look at this little swarm of bees. They're just hangin' out on an Azalea bush. They're only about 6" off the ground. Mmmm? What to do?

My in-laws are great gardeners and take great pride in their flower beds, etc. So, I didn't want to just go to cutting limbs, etc. Out of respect, I decided to forgo any "cutting" and approach it a different way.

Since the bees where so low to the ground, I could simply spritz them with sugar water, and slip my little "carry box" (a Nuc box for swarm catches..which I modified) up under this little swarm of bees, give them a good tap and shake them off the limb, and into this box. A simple strategy.....at least I thought so.

I did just that...and watched the bees fall into the box, settle on a few frames. I already had a bottle of Sprite, set up for them, ready to close them off, and take them away.....until.....?


I see them "pooching" on the front porch. If you look closely, this bee behavior tells me that the Queen is inside and the bees are telling their sisters to "Come home! Come home! The Queen is inside. We have food and a new home! Come back and get inside!" I knew this was a good thing. This is the behavior that I look for when catching swarms in Nuc boxes. Give them a minute or two to orient themselves and you should see the same thing. You can even see their Nosenov gland on the tip of their abdomen.


They where coming and going nicely. I was pleased with what I was seeing. I stood back and admired what I had just accomplished, all while my in-laws where watching me from the back porch, asking me if I had finally caught them.

I turned to talk to them and acknowledge their questions....when all the sudden, the bees starting POURING OUT THE FRONT PORCH of the box! Ug! Now what? Sadly, I have no more pictures of this event, due to the fact that we went into panic mode, in order to get these bees caught back AGAIN! ha! ha!

I looked down and saw all the bees running along the OUTSIDE of the nuc box, headed to the back side. Not sure of what I was seeing, I got on my hands and knees to take a much closer look. After a minute or two of study, I determined that THE QUEEN must have flown out and gotten over to the side of the box (or she didn't initially make it into the box in the first place?) and hunkered up UNDER the wood handle of the box, out of sight. I watched the bees, as they came to this spot. I grabbed my Queen catcher and gently worked my finger up under the wood handle to get her to move. It took a few trys, but she eventually came out, and we took a snap shot with the camera. If you look closely, you can see the Queen in the TOP LEFT of the above picture, with her attendants surrounding her. She was on the move! I gently caught her back with the Queen catcher. Once safely secured in the Queen catcher, I THEN PLACED THIS CATCHER IN THE BOX, in the back & on the bottom. All the bees began to flow back into the Nuc box, and all was well.

But the story doesn't end here!

I finally got these girls plugged up in the box and took them back home to my Honey Hut, just 2 miles away. I left them inside the Hut, in their box, with air, sugar water and with their Queen still inside the Queen catcher. So, they weren't going anyway.


The weather wasn't so good, and I had to wait a few days before I hived them into their new home. On the third day, I was able to get them safely setup in their own hive body. I recall I did this in the morning, around 9am.

Later, that same day, I got a call from my mother-in-law again. She was a bit panicked, and mentioned that "...these bees are back again!" Rather surprised, I said that they where probably looking for their Queen. I reassured her, that they would come back home in a day or two, just leave them alone, don't bother them and they'll head back home. To reassure her, I did make another trip back over to her house to check them out and let her know I cared. Sure enough, some of these bees WHERE ON THE SAME BUSH, ON THE SAME LIMB in fact.....a bit more fidgety than usual. They where certainly looking for their Queen. I didn't feel that these where all "scout bees"...there were too many of them. I'd say about half the colony had left their NEW HOME that I had just given them early in the day, and CAME BACK to the same spot that I caught them only 3 days earlier!!!!!


So, what's all this mean, as far as bees go? Several points of interest actually. 1) When I caught them, and finally got them all in the box, I closed them up and took them 2 miles away, and sat them down in my Honey Hut....for 2 1/2 days. They didn't even know where they were going, nor did they know where they were sitting. 2) When I finally hived them, about half the colony MADE A DECISION to go BACK TO THE SAME LIMB that they where on several days ago. 3) This tells me that they can "choose", to stay or go. 4) This also tells me that they "hunt" for a specific location....a specific plant....a specific branch. 5) That they can certainly FIND what they're looking for!!!! 6) After a few days, THEY DECIDED to come back home.

It took me a few more days to think about what had just happened. As I explained this all to my family, they where just as baffled and impressed as I was. This certainly gives me a new appreciation for the Honey Bee. They are certainly an INDEPENDENT little bug. And a VERY, VERY smart bug a that......wouldn't you agree?

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