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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.


Day of the Dead Beekeepers

16 Mar

Photo by Karl Arcuri

Karl from Austin is the coolest damn beekeeper I know.  Not only does he examine his hives in a baby blue sweatband, but he paints his hives day-glo yellow.

And this, his latest inspired move, is beyond rad — a Day of the Dead beekeeper he commissioned from Austin artist, Cindy Raschke.

See the full piece at Karl’s place

When Honey Bees Kiss

11 Oct

Each year, a giant pair of honey bee balloons at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta take off and kiss in the sky.  At this year’s fiesta, the consequences became clear as a new purple baby bee ascended at dawn and floated up in triad over the Rio Grande.

And then there were three

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?

405 lbs, the Great Google Honey Harvest

21 Sep

Honey-harvesting Googlers

The Bee Team at Google (80 people strong) just harvested its first combs of honey last week.

Under the helpful guidance of Bill Tomaszewski of Marin Bee Company, Googlers took turns uncapping the honey (removing the protective wax that bees use to cover a cell once it’s filled with honey), hand-cranking the honey extraction machinery to spin the honey out of the honey comb and pouring the honey through filters to remove the bits of wax and other particles that came from the hive.

Read the full story

Welcome Albuquerque Journal readers!

16 Sep

Thanks for reading this week’s beekeeping story in the Albuquerque Journal. Wowza, the girls we manage for City Open Space are now officially cover girls!

Sweet Deal

by Dan McKay, Thursday, September 16, 2010

Honey harvesting tastes even better than it sounds.

A few spilled drops are easily scooped up with a finger, and no one’s going to object if you chew on a discarded row of honeycomb.

But a small crew of city employees and volunteers is hoping to fill more than just bellies with the honey being collected. As part of a new project, the city will sell it to help generate a little cash — and perhaps educate people on the benefits of domesticated European honey bees, an important part of the ecosystem.

Read more in the ABQ Journal

Where to buy Open Space honey:

  • Check out the Urban Farm Fest this Saturday at the Open Space Visitor’s Center

Interested in Albuquerque beekeeping?

Photos of Dan McKay?

Or, if you’re just looking for a few photos of journalist Dan McKay getting all sticky with honey, I’m happy to help out.

Photo by Kent Swanson

Journalist McKay on the job

Photo by Kent Swanson

Honey harvesting tie not optional

Photo by Kent Swanson

Maintaining journalistic distance

Photo by Kent Swanson

The "coffee urn" honey extractor

(photos by Kent Swanson)

View more photos from the honey harvest

Photos from 2010 NM Beekeepers Summer Seminar with Randy Oliver

2 Sep

I never thought I’d see a grown man spraying silicone on a statue of Ganesh at a church in Santa Fe but then again, it IS Santa Fe. And these WERE your usual bunch of iconoclastic beekeepers.

The Ganesh-sprayer in question was Steve Walls of Buckin’ Bee, demonstrating how he makes his own wax candle molds for beeswax candles that ahem… sell well in Santa Fe, the epicenter of alternative thought. Steve may have been the day’s comic relief but the headliner was scientific beekeeper Randy Oliver, flown in from CA for our New Mexico seminar.

Here are just a few photos of the rodeo.

2010 NMBKA Summer Seminar w/ Randy Oliver 2010 NMBKA Summer Seminar w/ Randy Oliver
2010 NMBKA Summer Seminar w/ Randy Oliver 2010 NMBKA Summer Seminar w/ Randy Oliver
2010 NMBKA Summer Seminar w/ Randy Oliver 2010 NMBKA Summer Seminar w/ Randy Oliver

Randy Oliver “Scientific Beekeeper” is coming to NM!

23 Aug

It’s time for the annual summer gathering of New Mexico beekeepers — this weekend in Santa Fe.

  • WHO: Randy Oliver from
  • WHERE: The Church of Christ in Santa Fe (map) NOTE: This is not a church-affiliated event but they’re generous enough to share the space with us.
  • WHEN: Saturday Aug 28 from 10am-5pm
  • COST: $20 for NMBKA members | $30 otherwise

In addition to Randy Oliver, we’ll have presentations and video from local beekeepers as well as Q&A.

See you there!

Psst… want to carpool from Albuquerque?

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