Thursday, March 22, 2012

Native Bee Swarm

The bee swarm on the barrens has come early this year.  I was out trying to determine just what the bees were trying to accomplish.  There were bees both on the ground and in the air that all seemed to be interacting in some way.

The area of activity was this steep, south facing slope of short grass and bare soil.  Hundreds of bees participated in the frenzy that covered a circular area roughly 60 feet across.  This annual event always occurs in this same location and has never been found anywhere else on the property.

Mating was a definite priority activity.  The ground was littered with small clusters of male bees competing for a female.

What I was trying to figure out was the relationship between the bees and the various holes in the ground.  Some holes were shallow excavations of less than a quarter inch deep.

Other holes were surrounded by a pile of debris that suggested a substantial underground excavation.

Still others showed no signs of any sort of digging.

The thing they all had in common was bee activity.  This bee stayed at the entrance to the hole as if it were a guard.  It would retreat inward when approached and come back to the entrance once the danger had passed.

Bees on the wing were constantly coming in low to investigate the hole, but the guard would not leave.  Mounded holes without guards were frequently entered.  What I assumed was the same visiting bee would leave the hole a couple of seconds later.

Bees behaved similarly in the unmounded holes.  I speculated that the mounded holes were for newly constructed brood chambers and the others were empty chambers from which this year’s brood emerged.  It just seemed that the entering and exiting of holes was too random for bees preparing brood chambers.  I also thought it possible that the visiting bees were all males searching for newly emerged females.  It probably requires more than an hour of casual observation to piece together the whole story.

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