Bees On My Mind

Their Well Being

Winter is not just a time to look through plant catalogs but also the time to plan for spring beekeeping.   As much as I don’t like 50º F in January, following -6º F days, it has taken a heavy load off my chest.  Last week the temperature had dropped to -6ºF and the windchill made it feel like -15ºF, hovering around a single digit for a couple of days.  I’ve been living here for over ten years now and this winter is the first time the temperature has dropped that low.   I wasn’t sure that our hives would survive.

Today it went up to 53ºF with intervals of rain throughout the day.  I was relieved to see the bees come out from all three hives.  They survived a subzero temperature!  My method of insulation worked.  Now I have to make sure that they don’t starve to death.  I thought I had fed them enough to last until spring but I was expecting an average winter here and the bees would just ball up inside the hive eating less.  I didn’t expect the weather to jump up and down like like this.  I’m debating on whether to feed them during the warm days coming up.  Maybe I should wait until later in winter.

Looking back to last season raises concern regarding bees in general, not just honeybees.  Though I don’t have to provide hives for native bees that forage in our garden, I have some concerns about them since I’ve found more parasitic insects that prey on bees.   But I’ll give nature the benefit of the doubt since I think she knows what she’s doing.  Here are some of the critters I found last year:

Bee fly (Xenox tigrinus) which according to the book Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity by Stephen A. Marshall “attack lavae and pupae of bees and wasps”.  I found a couple of them resting on the beams supporting the patio roof.  The female will deposit eggs in the host tunnel and her larvae will consume the host larvae.

I saw this Bee fly because I had a dead Carpenter bee pupae drop on me while I was on the patio
I saw this Bee fly because I had a dead Carpenter bee pupae drop on me while I was on the patio

The female of Ripiphorid Beetle (Macrosiagon limbatum) will lay her eggs on flowers and their larvae will take a ride with bees or wasps back to their nest where they feed on the larvae of the host.

This beetle stayed on a Spotted bee balm which is frequented by various species of wasp and bumble bee
This beetle stayed on a Spotted bee balm which is frequented by various species of wasp and bumble bee

Cuckoo bee (Nomada species) has no pollen sack on her legs, will lay eggs in the nest of other bees where their larvae will consume the host larvae.  They will also consume pollen that the host has collected.

Cuckoo bee resting on Rudbeckia 'Prairie Glow'
Cuckoo bee resting on Rudbeckia ‘Prairie Glow’

Wool Carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) or European Wool Carder bee is not parasitic to other bees.  They are just very territorial and guard their territory from other bees.  I am really fascinated by them.  I’ve spent some time watching them scrape the hair off a Rose Campion’s (Lychnis coronaria) stem, fly off and return for round after round.

Wool Carder bee scraping the hair off a Rose Campion's stem
Wool Carder bee scraping the hair off a Rose Campion’s stem

And, we all know the wasps.  I’ve seen them many times around the honeybee hives, trying to catch bees.  As much as I prefer to let nature take her course, I couldn’t help myself but swat a few of them.

4 thoughts on “Bees On My Mind

  1. The Wool Carder does look pretty interesting and I am happy to know the aren’t parasitic. Thanks so much for sharing this valuable article.

    1. The non-parasitic info came from two sources: Bees, Wasps, and Ants: The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in Gardens by Eric Grissell, and Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies by Xerces Society. Though they are not parasitic, the males are very aggressive when it comes to defending their territories and ‘even kill intruders’.

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