Mouse nest (Apodemus spp.)
A diligent mouse found a cosy winter hideaway in one of the hives, heated by several thousand bees with plenty of food in the larder. Unfortunately for the mouse, this excellent little nest was never lived in, as I put a metal mouse-guard over the entrance while she was out so that the hole was too small for her to get back in...
...which was lucky for me as mice make a terrible mess eating the wax comb, the honey, and the larvae and can disrupt the bees. Smelly too!
In a strong colony, there may be up to 10,000 female worker bees left when spring arrives, as well as a queen, and the two pictures below will introduce you to the members of the Honeybee family (Apis mellifera):
Honeybees not wasps!
Queen: 'Daisy', in her third year, egg-layer extraordinaire, mother and grandmother to all the other queens whose colony names begin with the letter D. Very yellow in colour, her heritage is from Italy where it’s ok to be in light colours because the sun always shines. Virgin queens mate with around 10 to 15 drones, so their colouring soon averages out.
Drone: Drones don’t get names as they are only in the nest from April to September (up to 1000) as they are only there to mate with new virgin queens. Oh, and to eat as much honey as possible.
Female workers: dominate the nest with numbers of around 50,000 in late May or June. The workers do just that, a lifetime of housework for the girls, living for 5 weeks over the summer and 6 months over the winter.
New generation of worker chewing its way out of the cell: I’m very hairy until it all rubs off, so somebody feed me, groom me and I’ll bee off to work!
Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) queen
Honeybees are often mistaken for wasps, so this is a queen Common Wasp; yellow and black, thin waist and yellow legs and later in the spring, she will be out of hibernation, looking for a place to build a new nest.
On a warm afternoon, after a time clustering inside the hive, Honeybees fly out backwards in ever increasing circles to remember landmarks, so although this photo looks like it’s from a very expensive slow motion camera, it’s because the bees are hovering. (Should have kept that one to myself!)
Sunshine in miniature (Crocus spp.)
Despite the continuing low temperatures, spring is definitely on the way and I was very happy to see that a few bees had popped out to collect some pollen on their back legs, a good sign that there must now be young bees developing, as pollen is the protein part of their food and the nectar (which they make into honey) the carbohydrate.
Flowers for bees, bees for flowers: Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)