Questions about the Bees:
Q1: Are the bees in trouble?
Bees have been around for a long time and will be around for a long time to come. However, we depend upon lots of bees for their pollination to produce one third of the food we eat. The trouble is in maintaining healthy bees in sufficient numbers to support our pollination needs. There are many challenges facing beekeepers to help keep their bees free of pests and diseases; away from pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides; and in locations suitable for them to prosper.
Q1A: Are bees in trouble in Washington State?
The Fruit orchards of Eastern Washington have the greatest aggricultural need for honeybees. The same bees used in the Almond pollination in California are used in the Apple orchards of Washington. When you hear of large colony losses either going into or out of the Almonds, those are bees that do not make it to Eastern Washington. Additionally, All around the state including Western Washington in both urban and rural settings, there are a few thousand beekeepers with a few hives in their yards. These bees pollinate trees and berries in their local areas. If you see a honeybee in your yard, there is probably a beekeeper within a mile of your house. In the last 20 years, it has been very difficult for these neighborhood beekeepers to meet the challenges to keep their bees alive. It seems each year brings different challenges. Fortunatly there is a lot of interest in bees and we are gaining in the number of neighborhood beekeepers which is a very good sign. Additionally there are vibrant beekeeping associations stepping up to train beginners and share the local beekeeping knowledge.
Q3: How long do bees live?
A worker honeybee has 21 days to develop from egg to larve to pupa and then emerge as a soft fuzzy bee. She then works in the hive for another 21 days. And then she forages for nectar and pollen for another 21 days at which time she is warn out. However, if she emerges in the fall after it is too cold to fly, she will live until spring (up to 6 months in some areas) to complete her life cycle.
A Queen will typically live 2 to 3 years and sometimes longer. She has one job which is to keep laying eggs. Lot of eggs. The third cast of bee in the hive is the drone. There development time is a few days longer than the worker and lifespan is approx 6 weeks. You will not find drones out on flowers, collecting nectar and pollen is not their job.
Q3: What is the difference between bees and wasps?
Bees fly around pollinating flowers and collecting nectar and get the blame for all wasp attacks. Wasps mostly eat other insects. When wasp populations get large they may not find other insects as easily and have to settle for picnic scraps or picnic fare before it becomes scraps. Wasps often build their nests in the ground and are generally not happy when we walk by and disturb it.
Generally, bees look fuzzy as they have more hair and if you look at the hair under a microscope, you will see the hair has branches. A wasp has less hair or no hair and the microscope shows single hair strands. There are many solitary ground nesting bees and wasps. Many of these actually have not stinger. Most bees and wasps will overwinter in in a single coccoon or in a tiny hole in wood or the ground. The yellojacket wasp does this. It then builds a large population through the spring and summer to prey on honeybees. A honeybee is the one exception that maintains a large population of bees in a cluster though the winter.
If you see a cluster of bees or wasps in a tree on on an eve, if it has a paper nest material, it is wasps, if it is just a large ball of exposed bees, then it is probably a swarm of honeybees that recently landed. Contact a beekeeper and they will be happy to take them away. .
Q4: What are the bees doing inside the demonstration hive?
If the queen is in there, then she is walking around looking for a clean and prepared cell to lay an egg in. You may see her stop along the way to be groomed and fed by a retinue of workers. She is sometimes marked with a spot of paint so she is easier to find.
Most of the bees are workers. The older ones are waiting to go outside and forage but the door is blocked so they may start moving around a lot if it gets too warm inside. The younger ones will be feeding larva, cleaning, resting, etc. Sometimes we put in a small piece of tissue and watch bees deal with it. If eventually ends up as paper dust on the bottom of the hive since there is no door to carry it out. There may be some large blocky looking drones in the hive. They do not do much while locked in the hive except eat so they are prepared when the door opens.
Try to focus on a single bee and watch it for a a few moments and see if you can see what that particular bee is doing.