My obsession with observing my hive has obviously started with the appearance of Deformed Wing Virus and with my anxiousness on whether this will detrimentally affect my hive over the winter. I now visit the hive every day, spend about 3 minutes completing the standard checks and then another 40 or so minutes just staring at it. Literally, just staring at the entrance.
On the days I visit early enough, the sun is still casting light and warmth and bees are flying about. Those days are great, because I get to observe a lot of activity and persistence of bees going in and out of the hive and that is reassuring. On other days, I reach the hive just before sunset, just as the cold starts to get through my coat and all I get from the hive is radio silence. The bees are all cuddling up inside in a cluster, keeping each other warm instead.
Except, I have noticed that, just as the sun starts to set and the temperature starts to really drop, some bees come out of the hive, plummet to the ground and can’t fly back inside. Why? Well, because they are 100%, always, every time, with no exceptions, the ones with deformed wings. In fact, the majority of bees I spot with deformed wings appear in just this manner.
So this has triggered a whole raft of questions in my head.
Bear with me.
Presumably, the bees cannot see while in the hive because it is essentially pitch black in there. Therefore, information comes in the form of smell, sensory through the antennas and vibrations transmitted through the comb.
If we assume that a bee is not aware of its own self, i.e. cannot sense with its own antennas the lack of wings, nor identify its own smell, nor sense the vibrations transmitted through its own body into the comb, is it safe to say that the bee itself does not know that it is “different”?
If so, then the other bees must be able to make that judgement. So, which of the features mentioned above is the give-away? The most obvious would be the antennas identifying deformed or lacking wings, however, this depends on their ability to also distinguish “deformed” wings from “tattered” wings which a lot of older bees get through a long life of hard work.
And ultimately, once these bees are identified as “different” they seem to walk out of the hive, through their own will, and walk as far as they can into the looming darkness of night to meet their impending death. Were these bees forced to leave the hive (baiscally kicked out)? Were they informed by others of their condition and made the decision to leave for the colony’s greater good and future?
So what started as monitoring the health of a colony for assessing its survival through winter, has now very quickly turned into curiosity about individual and collective behavior. Is it this the birth of a theory and its consequent obsession to (dis)prove it? Ironically, the right bit of my brain (totally against the left bit and totally against my heart) has a tiny hope that these poorly bees keep coming so I can satisfy this curiosity and finally answer my questions. 🙊 🙈