Sunday, May 1, 2016

Construction Zone: Building Up a Hive

Very new wax
Spring is the time of year when both beekeepers and honeybees are very busy! Once beekeepers install their package of bees in the hives, they generally give them a few weeks to get on their feet. The honeybees' first task is to start building comb. The honeycomb is made of wax that the bees secrete from glands on their abdomen. Each bee can only create a small flake of wax at a time; thus the entire colony must work together to build their comb. When wax is brand new, it is pure white, and then it darkens with age. First year wax will typically be yellow in color. The bees build the comb on top of the hexagon pattern that is molded into the foundation. This process is called "drawing out" the comb. 

New wax being built on black foundation
A closer look, showing orange pollen in cells
The queen will begin to lay her eggs in the drawn comb, one egg per cell. These eggs hatch out into larvae, which look like pearly white crescent shapes inside the cell. The larvae are fed by the worker bees. For beekeepers, seeing eggs and larvae in the hive is a good sign, because this means their queen is working hard and is still alive. After the larvae almost completely fill their cell, worker bees will seal off their cell with wax. This allows the larvae to pupate, or develop its head, thorax, abdomen, legs, and other features of its body. From the time an egg is laid until a new bee hatches from its cell is 21 days.

It is also important to watch worker bees returning to the hive. Do they have pollen in the baskets on their rear legs as they return? If we cannot see pollen on returning bees, we can take a look at the comb. Can we see cells that are filled with yellow or orange? This means the bees are bringing back pollen from flowers, which is a source of protein they will feed to the baby bees. Protein is what helps the baby bees grow big and strong.

With the queen laying up to 2,000 eggs per day and the worker bees bringing in pollen to feed to babies, beekeepers know that their honeybees are off to a great start for the year. They are building up their population to ensure that there are plenty of bees to collect nectar to make into honey throughout the summer.
Comb full of large larvae