The Greensboro Science Center is home to two new honeybee hives located in the zoo at the Friendly Farm. The warm weather we experienced early this year has stimulated colonies of bees to head out, seeking new hives. On two separate occasions in the last couple of weeks, colonies of European honeybees were discovered building hives on the GSC’s perimeter fence. Both colonies were found and retrieved by the GSC’s volunteer beekeeper, Linda Walbridge and GSC Horticulturist, Chandra Metheny. The team had to assemble quickly to remove the colonies and place them in new hives because the freezing nighttime temperatures would have killed the bees.
The process of safely and humanely moving a colony of bees is quite fascinating. Geared up in protective bee suits, Linda and Chandra carefully and meticulously removed the temporary hives from the fence. One major factor in ensuring a successful move is to identify and seize the queen bee. The colony will follow the queen to a new hive, but without her, the colony’s chance of survival is dramatically decreased. The staff had to be especially careful to safely sequester the queen into a transport capsule. The capsule is designed to allow worker bees the ability to easily move into and out of the capsule but due to the queen’s size she remains in the capsule. The worker bees were then placed in a bucket and taken to the new hive. The bees were particularly docile during this process. They were always aware of the queen’s safe location and since they didn’t have any brood or honey in their temporary hive, there was no need to be defensive.
The queen and her colony were safely relocated to a new hive at the Friendly Farm. The queen remained in her capsule for a few days where she produced pheromones, or scents, that alerted the other bees to her location. Additionally, the worker bees displayed to the rest of the colony the location of the queen, so the entire colony could make their way to the hive. The display is fascinating to witness–worker bees point to the queen by raising their back sides with heads down, using their hind limbs and abdomen to point towards the queen.
Once our colony was safely placed in the new hive, they had to withstand the night’s cold temperatures. To accomplish this, the bees generated heat by collectively beating their wings while surrounding and protecting the queen. They took turns moving around to allow each bee the opportunity to get close to the center and stay warm. By working together, the colony survived the cold weather. The GSC is supplementing the hives with sugar water. This will help sustain the colony while they learn their new habitat and map out tracks to new sources of food.
Native and European honeybees, as with many pollinators, are vital to our food system and the ecological stability of our planet. However, they have suffered significant declines of recent. These declines are largely from habitat loss, disease, an increase in pesticides and changes in our climate. The successful rescue of these hives provides the GSC an opportunity to safely conserve and sustain bee populations. Staff will continue to provide bee-friendly garden spaces on campus to support these invaluable creatures. Be sure to stop by the Friendly Farm during your next visit and take a moment to see our new honeybee hives!