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A reader’s questions answered

To a reader in central Florida,

I couldn’t get your e-mail address to work, so I’m putting the answers to your questions right here, front and center. I hope you find this.


I live in central Florida near Ocala forest on a ¾-acre lot that I’m allowing to revert to native growth and I’m planting many types of flowering shrubs and flowers. There is also a large abandoned citrus grove within twenty yards. Last year a honey bee colony took up residence under an old aluminum shed. I’m happy to have them but they disappeared for three or four months. This winter it was mild with no frost. They are now back happily going about their business.

Question 1: Where did they go? Question 2: I’ve been studying them and wonder why they sometimes seem to attack and carry away living bees?

Thanks for your site. I love bees (never been stung even with my face among flowers weeding or watching closely at the hive) and hope the hive stays.

My answers:

#1. If they really did disappear, then the bees there now are not the same colony that you saw three or four months ago. The original colony may have left or may have died for any number of reasons. But new swarms are incredibly attracted to old combs even if they are empty of honey. They can detect the scent for long distances and seek it out. Because they don’t have to build a new home from scratch, it gives them a head start.

The other possibility is that the colony was there the entire time, just holed up for the winter. Because you didn’t see any activity for month after month, you assumed they were gone. On the other hand, if it was as mild as you say, this probably was not the case because bees are usually active on warmish days even in the winter, and if they were active you would have noticed. Still, it’s hard to say for sure, especially with them living under a shed where it’s hard to see them or hear them.

#2. Honey bees are famous for what is called “hygienic behavior.” Healthy worker bees will cart away any bees that are ill, weak, or have deformities. It is their way of keeping the hive as strong as possible, preventing disease spread, and conserving food stores. It sounds cruel by human standards but it makes sense for them. Sometimes you will even see them carry away partially developed pupae because they can sense that something is wrong even before it hatches.

Thanks for writing; those are both excellent questions.


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