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Bee Fanning Behavior: A honey-soaked evening

7 May

At night, because the bees are fanning, my whole yard smells of honey.

It’s a monster hive, 6 deeps and 1 medium, and full of ripening honey. Despite our drought, my city bees have access to the well-watered trees of the neighborhood and the University of New Mexico and it’s clear they’re taking full advantage of their good fortune.

bee hive at night

The monster hive at night

Why do bees fan?

Honey bees fan the hive for several reasons. Knowing what they’re up to depends on the location of their bums:

  • Bums facing out with the tip exposed, the girls are typically sending a “homing signal” by revealing their Nasonov glands. This is done during swarming or orientation flights at a new hive. Here’s what Nasonov fanning looks like.
  • Bums facing in or out with no tip exposed, the girls are fanning to:
    1. create ventilation inside a busy hive
    2. evaporate water from nectar until it contains less than 18% water and can be safely stored forever as honey
    3. both of the above

What does fanning behavior look like?

John Pluta from Georgia captures the stance of a fanning bee on video.


Why the NY Times wants you to believe CCD is over for bees

9 Oct

This week, the New York Times waved a triumphant flag in the struggle to solve colony collapse disorder.

“It has been one of the great murder mysteries of the garden: what is killing off the honeybees? Now, a unique partnership — of military scientists and entomologists — appears to have achieved a major breakthrough.”

From: Scientists and Soliders Solve a Bee Mystery

So that was easy. While other countries like Germany and Italy have blamed (and subsequently banned) pesticides called neonicotinoids for colony collapse disorder, apparently the American “Dream Team” has come to a different and miraculous conclusion.

But wait. Not so fast.

Two days after the NYT article, CNN revealed something disturbing about the study.

What the lead scientist, Jerry Bromenshenk of the University of Montana, did not share is that he receives significant funding for his research from — yep, you guessed it — Bayer CropScience, the leading producer of those banned chemicals — neonicotinoids. Bayer, the exact company that benefits if its largest market, the U.S., believes CCD is solved and has nothing to do with pesticides.

“In recent years Bromenshenk has received a significant research grant from Bayer to study bee pollination. Indeed, before receiving the Bayer funding, Bromenshenk was lined up on the opposite side: He had signed on to serve as an expert witness for beekeepers who brought a class-action lawsuit against Bayer in 2003. He then dropped out and received the grant.”

Read the full article

And so the mystery continues… Or does it?

5 Min Ignite Talk on Bees + Beekeeping

22 Sep

Complete with a rather gratuitous and graphic demo of drone bee genitalia explosion at about 2:30. What was I thinking?

5 things I learned from Jürgen Tautz’s “Buzz About Bees”

18 Aug

It’s a book that will change your perspective about honeybees.

Though the American title, “Buzz About Bees” seems flippantly trendy, Jürgen Tautz’s book is loaded with data-backed analysis of bee behavior and insight into the latest genetic research. It’ll make you think differently too about the aggregate behavior of another social species, Homo sapiens.

Buzz About Bees: The Biology of a Super Organism

5 Things I Learned

The hardcover book is lushly illustrated and packed with mind-blowing information to fuel a beekeeper’s endless thirst for understanding. Here are just a few of my favorite revelations.

1. Bees don’t form hexagonal comb.

Wax, like glass, is a liquid. Once the bees build comb, they melt it slightly and that’s how it naturally forms hexagons much like adjoining soap bubbles do.

2. Bees turn off color vision on the way back home.

Bees use color vision selectively, turning it off to conserve energy when it’s superfluous. Who needs color on the way home, for example? Though they view objects in color when flying out to forage, they switch to B&W for the rote journey home.

3. Bees can sting each other without dying.

Apparently, it’s mammalian skin that thwarts the honeybee stinger. Honeybees die after stinging a human because their barbed stinger can’t be extracted easily but honeybees can sting each other as well as other insects without such dire consequences.

4. The honeybee waggle dance is NOT about visuals.

It’s about vibration. When honeybees dance, they’re actually sending vibrational communication through the medium of the comb. In fact, the front face of honeycomb is thickened slightly to enhance the network’s transmission capacity.

5. “Mass-orienting” flights are really practice mating flights.

Those gorgeous afternoon displays are not actually bumbling baby bees learning how to fly. Rather, they are apparently an ongoing drill of  the workers that would accompany a virgin queen on her mating flight. Interestingly, these mass-orientations only occur in hives with a queen.

Check it out for yourself: Buzz About Bees: The Biology of a Superorganism

My new Serge Labesque hive

31 May

Ventilation is not what most new beeks consider when crafting their first bee hive. But that’s just what Sonoma beekeeper, and my personal favorite philosophe des abeilles, Serge Labesque recommends to keep your hives healthy.

After 2 seasons keeping bees, I couldn’t agree more. Even in the American Southwest, known for being dry as a bleached cattle bone, I find condensation, mildew, and even lichens each spring after opening our hives. To me, the girls don’t need more insulation, they actually need less.

In fact, a survey I conducted with local beekeepers in 2010 shows that nearly twice as many beeks winterize their hives by ensuring there’s adequate ventilation than by suffocating their dames with a downy blanket.

From the 2010 Albuquerque Beekeepers Survey

But Serge Labesque takes ventiliation to a whole ‘nother level by leaving his hive bodies unpainted, save for the joints. As he described at last year’s NM Beekeeping Summer Seminar, the idea is that unpainted wood can breathe, allowing the bees to have more control over ventilation. Here’s what Labesque’s hives look like.

And so voila! We’ve decided to go au naturel this season, leaving our new boxes unpainted. We simply bought unassembled hive bodies from Mann Lake, uncorked a bottle of champagne one Friday night and set to work.

Learn more:

New online tool for tracking bee hives

11 May

I don’t know about you, but tracking hives with paper and pen seems awfully…. well, 20th century.

And thus I’m thrilled to find out that someone’s built just the app I’ve been looking for!

Beetight: Online Hive Tracking

This weekend I plan to give it a whirl. Are you already using Beetight? Let me know how you like it…

Scene @ NM Summer Beekeeping Seminar

11 Jul

A great crowd and plenty of learning at today’s summer seminar “Nectar for Your Noggin” organized by the New Mexico Beekeepers Association. Personally, I’m still assimilating the intellectual goodies and promise to post a recap soon.

Until then, here’s a few photos from the event.

IMG_3104 IMG_3122
IMG_3109 IMG_3160
IMG_3136 IMG_3166

Et aussi, the slides from my newbeek presentation: “Oh Sweet Confusion: What I Learned My First Year Keeping Bees
View the presentation online
Creative Commons License
Oh Sweet Confusion by Chantal Foster is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at

All Hives Are Go

11 Apr

The ‘hood is now two hives richer. Despite the wind, we successfully installed 2 packages of honey bees in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill neighborhood near the University of New Mexico. It’s a great place to keep bees with plenty of backyard gardeners and loads of flowering trees on campus.

Below is the Ann Hive, site of last year’s bee tragedy. It’s got a new team on board, a new graffiti wall, and we’re feeling optimistic.

The Ann Hive, now with bees

The Ann Hive, now with bees

Within a couple of minutes after installing the package, our new girls were tail in the air releasing an orienting pheromone from their Nasonov Gland. The photo below is one of the new occupants of the Ann Hive, hanging her hat on the door and calling it home.
Bee exposing and fanning her Nasonov Gland to release an orienting pheromone

Bee exposing and fanning her Nasonov Gland to release an orienting pheromone

Bonus! I’ve uploaded this image to Wikimedia Commons. Enjoy 😉

Honeybee source by pollen color

25 Feb

Not sure why I haven’t found this until today:

We have Nasonov Action

16 Feb
Honeybee exposes her Nasonov gland

Honeybee exposes her Nasonov gland

Never has tail in the air looked so good.

Our new girls have officially accepted us, as evidenced by some Nasonov action on the landing board yesterday.

The Nasonov gland, hidden at the base of the abdomen, releases a special pheromone that calls forager bees back to the colony.  It’s essentially used to declare “Home, Sweet, Home” in case anyone’s confused or lost.

To me, it’s a sign the girls in the Kerry hive have decided to call us home.