Friday, February 8, 2013

The Bee's Knees

Since may grandmother passed away in mid-January, I have been busy with work and life and have not really taken enough time to do the personal things that I enjoy, such as spending time in my backyard observatory.  Last weekend, while watching the Superbowl (about the only pro football game I watch in its entirety all season) Beth pointed out our front window and said "look at all those flies out there."  I looked up and realized that from our distance, we would not see flies that well...what we were seeing was a swarm of bees coming into our yard from the east.  I quickly grabbed my camera and snapped the image below from inside our house, looking through the front window.  Not the best way to take a picture mind you, but it came out well.  Partly a testament to the camera sensor, but also a testament to the new Canon 40 mm f/2.8 pancake lens that I recently purchased.  I am not a lens reviewer but what I can say is that it takes very sharp images at a nice image scale.  Anyway, back to the bees.  Click the image to enlarge it and you can see the outline of some of the bees.

My suspicion is that when I took this picture that more than half the swarm had already passed and settled into the palo verde tree on the right of the frame.  As the Superbowl was not totally capturing my attention, I started to search the internet for information on bee swarms, having heard that most of the bees in this area are Africanized (as the media would call them "Killer Bees").  Given the importance of bees as pollinators and key facilitators in our ecosystem, there is no shortage of information online about bees- and if it is on the internet, it must be true!  Most of the information I found quickly indicated that a swarm, if undisturbed, would likely move along in 2-3 days to their new hive location.  The swarm is a subset of bees from a hive, that set off with a queen bee to establish a new hive.  Swarming is essentially part of the bees reproductive cycle- and as the bees are not protecting young or food stores, they are believed to be somewhat docile in the swarming phase, as long as you do not disturb them.  Below is a picture that my son Ian took of the swarm hanging off the tree on the third day of residence.

Given the detail in the picture above, I was curious if I could find information that would assist me in identifying whether these bees were Africanized or not.  As it turns out, it is extremely difficult to tell if a bee is Africanized as they appear virtually identical to non-Africanized bees.  Generally, Africanized bees are slightly smaller, have shorter forewing length and femurs (yes, the bee's knees!) and weigh slightly less.  If you are scientifically curious, you can read this article on identification.  The chart at left is from Texas A & M University and is a nice visual that shows just how similar the size of the bees are.

While most of the information on the internet indicated that the bees would likely move on after 2-3 days, I have since spoken with about a half dozen friends and co-workers who have had swarms in their yards and they all have indicated that the swarms only moved on after 7-10 days! So we are patiently waiting and enjoying this natural process in our front yard.  I am a bit concerned as the temperatures this weekend are predicted to drop just below freezing for three nights in a row- and that could spell problems for the several thousand bees in the swarm.

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