Wednesday 6 August 2014

Honeybee freeloaders

Following Simpson's lead I've decided to have a try at this beekeeping thing. During a busy field season it means I get home even later, but on the other hand it is an excellent way to unwind.

The well-guarded hive entrance of the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera). It is incredibly therapeutic to just sit and watch the comings-and-goings of  workers and drones.

We now have several hives which are packed to the rafters with honey and bee larvae, attracting a menagerie of predators and parasites. This means that during my new hobby, I still get to record new species!

Greater Wax Moth (Galleria mellonella)

The Greater Wax Moth is a new one for me; this individual met her demise in the top section of the hive (perhaps after being stung or balled to death by the workers). It lays its eggs on the waxy honeycomb, which then hatch into caterpillars and bore tunnels through the cells, feeding on the wax and other bee-substances. They can also burrow into the wood of the hive, so when present in high numbers they can cause a lot of damage to the structure.

I'm quite please with this pic. That red 'welt' on the top of the
abdomen is an individual Varroa Mite (Varroa destructor)

Varroa destructor is an apt name for this mite, indicating just how much beekeepers love them... Not only does this blood-feeding arachnid weaken the individual bees by sucking out their life-force, they spread several bee viruses and are incredibly difficult to contain. However, we do not intervene unless an infection is particularly severe. Symptoms can include stunted, scruffy, deformed wings and unsteady, drunk-looking bees. Having this mite must be like hanging out with your impulsive, booze-hound flatmate on a night out in town (not of course referring to anyone I live with right now).

 German Wasp (Vespula germanica)

Social wasps can be a right pain at this time of year (I need not tell). Attracted to the scent of the wonderful honey stores, as soon we lift the lid off the hive, then they appear, persistently pesky. They also scavenge the dead and dying bees from the ground around the hive; not such a bad thing in terms of good house keeping and removing infected individuals. This female German Wasp found a dying worker Honey Bee and set to it with her strong mandibles... There was an audible 'click' as she decapitated it!

Fencepost Jumper (Marpissa muscosa)

It seems that almost every time we start a check of the hives, a Marpissa jumping spider will pop out onto the side to see what all the fuss is about. They probably just use the hives as a well-defended shelter and are unlikely to bother the bees. Perhaps they love the sweet smell of honey and cedar wood as much as we do.

Beekeeper (Homo sapiens)

Of course, not forgetting those ultimate freeloaders! Which reminds me, it is about time I enter my first record for Homo sapiens into iRecord... Egotistical perhaps to submit myself as a specimen?


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