A Beetle and a Sting

Yesterday afternoon we inspected the hive after a two and a half week hiatus. As a new beekeeper, that felt like a really long time. I was worried about cross-comb. But people have assured me it’s good to give the bees space.

We chose a hot day, the hottest since we’ve had the bees. It was 91 and humid. When we approached the hive, a few bees were bearding on the side. We didn’t take the bearding as a sign of swarming, but simply a sign that the bees needed to cool down.

We had guests join us for this inspection. Our friends, Tracy Conklin and Charles Walther, joined my wife, my dad, and myself. Tracy is an expert in the field. She has a Ph.D. in Entomology from Penn State and teaches biology. Her perspective and observations were invaluable.

The first thing we notice when we opened the hive was a pest. I thought it was a roly poly, but Tracy quickly identified it as a hive beetle. The bees were attacking it with great fervor, but to no avail. Apparently they are hard to kill with their hard shells.  I wasn’t able to get a picture because of how quickly the beetle was moving.

We left the beetle to the bees and moved on with the inspection. 12 of the 13 top bars had comb on them. The first 8 bars were almost completely drawn out. Each comb was like a work of art, carefully laid out to the bees liking. Beautiful in color and design.

The first two combs were full on honey, much of it capped. We noticed cells at the bottom of the second comb were larger than they were at the top of the comb (photo below). Tracy told us those are being reserved for drone brood.

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We moved on. While inspecting the fourth comb, my dad found the queen. She seems to get larger every time we see her. She is significantly longer and fatter than she was the day we brought her home. There is still a speck of blue paint on her back, which helps with identification, but I’m getting more and more confident we’ll be able to spot her once the paint is gone (it’s already fading). Our eyes are getting trained.

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See the worker bees circled around the queen? Taking orders I presume.

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Below are a few examples drawn out comb from different bars. Each one was unique. Some contain trails of pollen, some are mostly capped brood, others chalked full of vacated cells that were once occupied by pupa. We saw lots of new bees, wings still matted, crawling around. We even saw a bee emerging in front of our eyes. It was chewing through the capped wax on it’s cell. Our colony is growing in numbers.

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Once of the most interesting things we saw was an uncapped pupa. See it below? My wife noticed it among cells of larvae. Tracy suspects this particular pupa was sick and then exposed by the workers.  Maybe she’ll be pulled out and disposed of soon.

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Finally, the day came to an end with the first sting. My wife took a hit on her right ring finger. She took it very well. She had some throbbing and a little swelling as the night went on. Today it itches. We had probably been in the hive too long when this happened. We still work very slowly. Also, I think we agitated them by standing at the entrance of the hive. Every time we’ve done this, the bees haven taken flight and circled whoever was standing there. They buzz loudly and get defensive.  The bees had been calm for most of the inspection, but I think we set them off by our position and longevity. We got the hint after the sting and finished up the inspection.

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Before calling it a day, we added six more top bars to the hive. We put one at the entrance and five at the back. The bees should have plenty of new housing space for their growing population.

All in all, we’re very pleased with the health and progress of the colony. No cross comb and very little burr comb. Stores of honey and lots of capped brood and larvae.

Special thanks to Tracy and Charles for their help and encouragement. And Kudos to my wife for taking the first sting!

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7 thoughts on “A Beetle and a Sting

  1. Ouch! Sorry you were stung but it seems like you are handling it well. Baking soda mixed with a bit of water will make a paste that helps draw the itch and burning
    away. I’m really enjoyjng the blog and seeing your hive’s progress. Great photos! I’m going to see if Jessie will watch City of the Bees with me since she likes Mya The Bee so much!

  2. I really enjoy reading your blog and seeing the photos. So sorry about the sting, Patricia!
    I would find a glossary of terms to better understand the terminology quite useful.
    I noticed that some of you were not wearing gloves. Are the bees generally docile?

  3. We tend to stay out of the hive on days that hot and humid. New wax in those conditions is prone to comb collapse. Glad you got away with it.

    Our sting treatment is OTC cortisone cream applied as soon as possible. We have taken to keeping a tube handy in a bee jacket pocket.

    If you are worried about crazy comb developing then add empty bars between two bars with already drawn straight comb. Have we already mentioned that? It seems we have been spreading that hint a lot and can not keep track of who has or has not heard it yet.

    1. Thanks for the suggestions. Hadn’t heard about adding empty bars between the drawn out comb. We’ll give that a try. That makes a lot of sense. And thanks for the tip on Cortisone cream. We’ll add it to our tool box!

  4. Thank you for Sharing, you have a lovely hive and took great pictures. Its been 2 weeks since I opened the hive last and was wondering if leaving them be for a month is too long. My teacher indicated that a month between checkups was OK but I have read that unless its 90 degrees out the cold can harm the just lain eggs.

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