A beekeeping mystery
About ten days ago, on a cold and gusty mid-April day, I was making the rounds of my hives. All the colonies were tucked in against the 40-degree mid-morning sunshine. All but one.
Inexplicably, one hive had a group of about 200 bees frantically fanning at the opening. Other bees were nearby clutching blades of grass and fanning, and still others were fanning from their perches on the legs of the hive stand. Every bee was was facing the hive and beating its wings at a frenetic pace.
I’ve seen similar behavior when young queens are out on a mating flight. Some workers fly out with the queen, and others fan the entrance, making sure she know how to get back home.
Too cold for mating flights
The problem with this theory is that it was cold, windy, and early in the year. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t seen a single drone in 2015. So it didn’t seem like a mating kind of day.
It was too cold to dig through the hive and, at any rate, I didn’t want to disturb whatever operation they had going. Nevertheless, I did remove the lid for a peek. As soon as I opened it I heard the unmistakable sound of queen piping and chirping—as noisy as broody hens all scrambling for the same nest. I quickly replaced the lid, perplexed.
The colony isn’t large but about normal for having just overwintered. The queen is an unknown. Although she is marked, this colony was a mid-summer swarm that nested in a trap last year.
Due to temperatures and my own schedule, I haven’t yet been able to examine the colony, but from the outside all seems normal again. Nothing about it looks swarmy, so I imagine it must have been a supersedure in progress.
But will a colony send a virgin out on a cold and blustery day without a drone in sight? Do scout bees survey the local DCAs (drone congregation areas) before the virgin goes out, or do they just hope for the best? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but from my point of view it doesn’t look good. Any thoughts?