White Eyed Drones

Have you ever seen a drone (male) honeybee with white eyes rather than their normal colored black eyes? I did for the first time this year and it’s sort of freaky looking. Earlier this spring, I was inspecting one of my hives and came across a few drones with white eyes. I did not have my camera with me, so I came back the next day to take a picture and they were all gone.

A few weeks later another of my beekeeping friends said he had a hive that had white-eyed drones AND workers and wondered if I would like to have the queen to put into my observation hive. I gladly accepted his offer to see what would happen. Within the last few days I have begun to notice a few drones with white eyes. The picture below was shot though the glass of the observation hive so the quality is not all that great. I will have my camera on hand the next time I open up the hive to move some frames around and get a better picture.

After doing some research, I found that this is a genetic mutation caused by a recessive gene. Drones are genetically haploid, which means they only carry one set of genes, while all females are diploid or carry two sets of genes. Queens and worker get their two sets of genes when the egg laid by a queen is fertilized. A drone is created when a queen lays an unfertilized egg. So if the queen carries the recessive gene for white eyes then there is a grater chance of the white eye to express itself.

Some of the information that I read indicates that white-eyed drones cannot see well and there cannot find their way back to the hive, which might explain why I only saw the drones one day in my hive and not the next. The interesting thing about my friend observing white-eyed workers in addition to white-eyed drones is that I believe a white-eyed drone would have had to mate with a queen that also carried that gene to produce a white eyed worker. That would refute the claim that white-eyed drones cannot see well. We’ll see!

I have also read that there are  bees with other eye colors including green, shades of red from cherry, garnet to brick. Although I haven’t seen any with green eyes, I have notice some that appeared to have a purple-ish tint to them. So check out the color of your drones eyes. You too might be surprised. If you want to learn more go to the web address below:

http://www.beesource.com/resources/usda/breeding-improved-honey-bees-part-2-heredity-and-variation/

We Have Queens!

The temperature warmed up today to almost 70 degrees F. after the overnight frost and snow showers yesterday. Talk about confusing weather for the bees! I was able to get into the observation hive today and the twelve nucs I started on April 1st with grafted and natural queen cells to see if the new queens had emerged. To my amazement, I found the virgin or possibly newly mated queen in the observation hive and all twelve mating nucs. In the observation hive, I found her in the lower chamber, below the queen excluder, which is where she needs to be to take her mating flight/s where she will hopefully mate with 15 to 20 drones in order to ensure that she will be a successful monarch.

I was also amazed to find all 12 queens in the mating nucs that I started on April 1st. I was very pleasantly surprised that all successfully emerged from their cells as not all the queens survive to emerge. Secondly, I was fortunate to be able to spot the young queens as they don’t look much different that the workers and move around the comb and hive rapidly and are found in places that a laying queen normally does not go.

I am going to leave all the queens undisturbed for at least a week to be sure that they have taken their mating flights and will wait until I see eggs or larvae in the hives before trying to move them into full 10 frame hive bodies and attempt to mark them. The mating flights come with significant peril as they run a gauntlet of birds and dragon flies to find the drones to mate with. I will report back in a week or so to let you know how many made it.

A New Queen?

A few days ago I installed a new frame into the viewing area of the observation hive along with five additional frames of young bees down below. The colony was without a queen. The camera was focused on a natural queen cell that was capped off.

We watched for several days hoping to see her emerge. Today, April 7th, she has apparently emerged as the workers are tearing the cell down. You can watch their progress on the webcam.

I have not been able to find her on the frame in the viewing area, but she may be small enough to fit through the queen excluder and be with the bees down below. The other possibility is that the queen died in her cell, and the workers sensed that, and are now tearing down the cell after removing her remains. It’s too cold today to open up the hive to see if I can find her – plus it would probably be a good idea to let her settle down anyway after just emerging from her cell.  If she is trapped up above the queen excluder, I will need to move her down below it so she can take her mating flight and hopefully return to the colony to begin her reign.

A young virgin queen is usually very difficult to find as they are not much bigger than the typical worker bee and they are usually very “runny” – meaning that they move very fast, and often can be found on the side walls of the hive – unlike a laying queen. It is only after their mating flight has occurred and the queen begins to lay eggs, that her abdomen swells up and she becomes slower moving spending most of her time on the comb laying eggs.

Stay tuned as I will report on my progress in looking for the new queen.

Swarming – Not Now

It’s been nine days now since I reinstalled the frame with the three Queen cells into the observation hive and re-united it with the Queen.  The colony has obviously called off their plans to swarm as the cells have not been drawn out or expanded as can be seen in the photo above, taken today, and compared with the photo below taken on March 10th. The workers have a strong interest in the Queen cells as they are constantly working them, chewing and polishing the wax both inside and outside the Queen cell. You can see them doing this live on the beehive webcam.

Since I reinstalled the frame into the viewing area the Queen has  filled it completely with eggs and larvae – in fact it’s been full for several days. Each frame contains approximately 7,000 cells, which means she is laying almost 1,000 eggs per day. Rather than change this frame out, I have relocated the Queen to the lower portion of the observation hive where she will have access to some empty cells in frames down  below in which to lay eggs. These frames were previously located up above in the viewing area and had been filled with eggs but now are empty as the adult bees have emerged from the cells. With spring now definitely here, the population of the hive is exploding and it will be a challenge to keep up with the growth, constantly changing out empty frames with filled ones to try to keep the swarming instinct under control. The frames that the Queen fills with eggs are either rotated within the observation hive or given to one of my other colonies that need a population boost.

Swarm Preparations?

Well, new developments in the observation hive! On Saturday, March 7th, I had given the queen a new, empty frame of drawn comb on which to lay eggs as she had filled the previous frame. I noticed that she just did not seem to like this new frame as she refused to lay eggs and just stood around on the top bar of the frame. So today, the 10th, I decided to swap out the frame with the original frame since many of the capped cells (pupa) had hatched out. When installing the frame and the queen, I notice three queen cells are starting to be drawn out. This means that the colony is making preparations to swarm, which is the honeybee colony’s means of reproduction.

The queen may have stopped laying in order to slim down to be able to fly off  with the swarm. Normally a laying queen is too heavy to fly – at least not very far. When a colony decides to swarm, they raise a new queen and the reigning queen flys off to a new location, taking about 60% of the workers with her to establish a new colony.  The first new queen to emerge from her cell will kill her potential rival queens, by stinging them before they emerge from their cells. If two queens emerge at the same time they will fight to the death leaving the victor to take over the hive. I will monitor the growth of these queen cells and harvest them before the queens emerge and will place the cells in a queenless colonies that I will create from some of my existing hives.

Spring Has Sprung

Today is March 7, 2009. The hives here in Alpharetta  are  bursting with pollen, nectar and bees. The Queens have been busily laying eggs for some time now, and the Workers are bringing in baskets full of pollen from the maple trees and nectar as well. In the observation hive they  have completely filled the six brood frames, so I have had to rotate in some empty frames into the observation hive from another hive in the beeyard in order to give the Queen room to continue to lay eggs. The beehive webcam is now focused on an empty frame of drawn foundation. That means that the bees had previously secreted the beeswax and formed it into the hexagonal shaped cells that is both the nursery and pantry shelves for the colony.

Amazingly, in a matter of just a couple of hours they moved nectar up into the empty frame in the top that we are viewing live on the webcam from the frames below in order to provide food close by for the Queen and the brood. This is the shiny substance visible in some of the cells.

In the attached picture the Queen is being attended to by some workers. I had to physically pick her up and move her to this new frame and the whole process was obviously a little upsetting to her and it is taking her a little while to settle down and resume her normal activities. We will continue to watch the Queen as she  lays  eggs and the Workers move nectar and pollen into the cells. I suspect that it will not take long for them to fill this frame up as well.