I know you aren’t going to believe this next part, but it’s true. During this whole process, after the decision on where to move and before the move, during it, and now, some workers have been pacing off the hollow cavity, to plan where the honeycomb will be located as well as the brood cells where the new bees will be raised. Other workers have been collecting and storing pollen and nectar. But now that the hive is clean comes the most amazing part: bee-varnish (called “propolis”) production!
Maybe I am the only person in the world who never heard of this, until I read Wanda Shipman’s “Animal Architects” (1994, Stackpole Books). Worker bees go out to special plants and, especially, the buds of trees. They have to work in the heat of the day to collect a resin-like substance on their legs, which is then mixed with their little bee-magic ingredients to make a waterproof, antiseptic, anti-fungal varnish for the inside of the hive. Not only do they make the hive water-tight, but remember the nasty rat carcass? When faced with something dirty that they can’t get out of the hive cavity, the bees coat it with bee varnish! So at the end of the day, the queen is moved to a new, varnished, completely clean and sanitary part of the hive while her old temporary quarters are given the same treatment. The entire hive is now waterproof, large dead things are safely coated, and the construction-worker girls are ready to go. They only have a few weeks or months left to live, so they have to get cracking.
As for the rest of the workers
I am totally simplifying this, because it isn’t as if the rest of the workers are standing around on a coffee break: The queen is back at her egg-laying, and brood cells must be constructed, as well as honey- and pollen-storage cells. Royal jelly, which is fed to the newly hatched larvae for a few days, just to get them jump-started, must be produced and distributed (the eggs hatch in three days after being laid, so there isn’t much time). Bee bread, made from pollen and honey or nectar, must be produced and stored, both for feeding to the current batch of babies after they are off royal jelly, and for the winter, when bee bread will feed the whole hive. After the larvae turn into pupae, their cells must be capped off for the duration of their development. Even the larvae are smart -- as they are being sealed, à la Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” into their lonely little cells, the larvae themselves coat the inside of their cradles with a softer substance they produce themselves, which is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal!
Most people have seen a commercial hive, complete with rectangular frames containing honey-laden wax cells. They are fairly standard, and very nice, but they are nothing to what the bees can do on their own. Our imaginary hollow tree, which has already been measured, and with space designated for the queen, the nursery, honey storage and other uses, is not all nice and squared like a commercial hive. No -- there are dips, and bulges, and concavities, all of which will be utilized for some purpose. Our little buddies the worker bees, girls, mind you, with a life span of a few weeks to a few months, get to work on maybe the most important task of all -- constructing the comb.
Elsie Alan lives in Gebze with her husband.