Buttercups Are Up!

Yesterday was a lovely day to wander around some of the parks in Louisville. We’re lucky in that we have several extremely large parks in this town, most of which were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the man who practically invented landscape architecture in America. The Pastry family went on a short hike through Cherokee Park, the closest of the major parks to our house, and were pleased to find all the usual early spring suspects in bloom: violets, Dutchman’s britches, bloody nose, trout lilies, mayapples and field upon field of buttercups. And where you find spring flowers, you find bees.

Honey bees will fly whenever the temperature crests 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It might be January and the hive may be stuffed with more honey than the bees can eat, but it doesn’t matter, there’s no such thing as a complacent bee. One thing I liked to do back when I was a beekeeper was to pick a daffodil or some other early spring flower, hold it out in front of the hive entrance on a sunny morning and watch the foragers mob it. Nectar! Nectar! Spread the word! Spring is here!

Standing in front of a hive entrance sounds like suicide but it’s actually a fun thing to do provided you can stay relaxed (for generally if you’re relaxed the bees are relaxed). If it’s a nice sunny day there are lots of comings and goings: empty foragers heading out and fully loaded foragers are heading in. Except if you take up a visible position by the hive entrance, at which point the returning bees get lost and start hovering. The longer you stand there the bigger the cloud of confused bees gets until you finally move. At that point the bees’ view of the hive entrance again resembles the picture they have of it in their brains, and they all sweep in at once like commuters into the subway. But that’s bees for you, they have no concept of change. Which is why when you put a bee hive down you can’t suddenly move it even a few feet in any direction. If you do the bees will never find their way home again.

Interesting, no? They may be the geniuses of the insect world but they sure can be dense at times.

4 thoughts on “Buttercups Are Up!”

  1. I learned that professional beekeepers have flatbeds full of hives which they truck around the county to wherever there are plants that offer nectar and need to be pollinated. How do the bees cope when the hive is moved not for a few feet, but some hundreds of miles? And, how do they tell the bees that they better return to the hive for they’ll be moving tonight?

    1. Great questions, Uptight!

      In fact it’s far preferable to move bees twenty miles than twenty feet. Bees can range up to about five miles in any direction from the hive. The risk of moving them anywhere within ten miles of their old foraging range is that they’ll recognize some landmark somewhere and use it to navigate back to the old hive site. However if you move them twenty miles away you effectively wipe their little mental slates clean and they have to start re-memorizing their environment (which they very rapidly do).

      And indeed the best time to move bees is at night since all the foragers return to the hive when the sun goes down. They need it to navigate. You plug up the exists so they can’t get out and move to the next place. A lot of big beekeeping outfits don’t bother to do that, however, and just drive the flatbed off in the middle of the day. They lose tens of thousands of bees that way, but then those bees will be replaced fairly rapidly, and the lost bees will generally just drift into other hives in the area. Still, having once been left behind by my parents in a department store a Christmas time — when I was oh, about 35 — I have to feel for the ones who get left behind. It’s must be awfully traumatic.

      – Joe

    1. I wish I could take credit for it, Uptight, but you’re completely right — it is!

      – Joe

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