Our hands-on learning at the Oregon State University Honey Bee Research Lab and apiaries continued as Ellen and Carolyn sent us out on a mission – inspecting two weak hives to determine the cause.
Hive 1: We opened the hive to find a small amount of bees. Further, we noticed that much of the brood (baby bees) in the hive were drones. Our first thought was that the hive might be queenless and that worker bees had taken over by laying unfertilized eggs, which result in drones. But, in our continued search, we found the queen! And, we also found some fertilized eggs laid by her (creating worker bee brood), but not many. We stood perplexed. The queen is here. She is laying some eggs. But, why is she lying so few and why are most of them drones?
We asked Ellen and Carolyn where this hive came from. They informed us that this queen was mated in California during the almond bloom, but that this year was a very rainy year. They winked as they said this bit of information, indicating it held the answer. Rainy weather during mating season obviously causes some problems… so what was the problem? Then we pieced the puzzle together! We know that successful queens mate with 10-15 drones to acquire all the sperm needed to create a strong hive with a strong population. However, rainy weather would inhibit many of the drones from flying or would shorten the queen’s mating flight, disabling her from being successfully mated.
Next, Ellen terrified many of us when she grabbed the queen and pinched her abdomen, causing her guts to come out her hind end! She explained that keeping this queen would only cause this hive to wither away to nothing, so replacing her with a strong queen was needed. Further, she explained that this queen had an interesting biology lesson for us. Ellen removed her spermatheca, the little sack within her body that holds all the drone sperm. She lifted this tiny little organ up to the light on the tip of her tweezers and asked us to tell her what we saw. We noticed it was fairly transparent in color. Ellen then explained that a well-mated queen would have a spermatheca that was solid white because it was full of sperm. But this poor queen just didn’t have good luck on her mating flight. Darn weather!
Check out my next blog where we inspected another failing hive to determine the cause! Keep your bees buzzin y’all!