Saturday, May 17, 2014

Swarm of bees at Gamone

This afternoon, for the first time since my childhood in Australia, I had a closeup view of a swarm of bees.

My neighbor Jackie had come upon the swarm, by chance, in a small oak tree just down from his house. He immediately phoned Fabien: the experienced beekeeper whom I mentioned in an earlier post entitled Raising queen bees [display]. Fabien and one of his companions were soon on the spot, and he gave instructions to Jackie.

The basic idea was that Fabien would hold an empty hive directly beneath the swarm, and Jackie would then start to shake the branch, causing the bees to drop down into the hive. The situation was tense as everybody got ready for the shaking.

Jackie shook the branch… and I had the impression that all hell broke loose.

I suddenly found myself in the middle of an angry cloud of bees. I was totally protected by my beekeeper’s clothing, of course, but I backed away instinctively and rapidly from the scene. My dog Fitzroy was an intrigued onlooker, and he received a few stings, which sent him scrambling down the slopes to roll in the grass. Even Fabien got stung… which wasn’t surprising, in that he wasn’t wearing any kind of protective gear.

This first shake wasn’t entirely satisfactory, since a lot of bees still remained attached to the tree. Fabien had the impression that the queen was up there too, which meant that the part of the swarm that had dropped down into the hive would return inevitably to the tree. So, Fabien donned his protective gear, and they decided to have a second shake.

This time, the operation appeared to be more successful, and Fabien had the impression that the queen had fallen into the hive along with a good part of the swarm. So, he decided to close the hive.

The bees would make up their mind, overnight, about whether they intend to move down into the hive, or rather stay up in the tree. For the moment, it was impossible to guess what will happen, as there were still quite a few bees up in the tree. Fabien tried to persuade them to leave... but bees, as we all know, are determined creatures, with minds of their own.

Tomorrow morning, we’ll find out what the bees decided during the night.

PS I'm starting to realize that the Antipodes blog is likely to become terribly boring for readers who are totally uninterested in bees.

BREAKING NEWS The bees decided unanimously to remain in the oak tree, at exactly the same spot. Incidentally, I hope that my readers understand that I'm using anthropomorphic terms such as "decided", not to mention the concept of the "mind" of bees, in a purely poetic sense, because those tiny creatures arouse in me a feeling of admiration. The truth of the matter is, of course, infinitely more down-to-earth from a scientific viewpoint. For the queen and her bees, communications are largely based upon the secretion of mysterious chemical substances known as pheromones.

MONDAY NEWS Within a lapse of a few hours, the bees have totally disappeared. Don't ask me why...

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