First off apologies to Mike for getting stung while scything the orchard.
Bees can become hyper-defensive at this time of year – they have their stores and they know that winter is coming and that what they have needs to see them through to spring and they will defend this at all costs. Not that Mike was intending to take any of course…
There are also, proportionally, more flying bees than usual. The queen is still laying (you can tell by the workers bringing in pollen to feed the larvae – it’s not eaten by adults) but she’s slowing down and the larvae being raised now are quite different to the ‘summer bees’ that are still flying around. They have a higher fat content and will survive right through the winter in contract to the summer bees who will only live for up to six weeks.
And do bees have a sense of their own impending mortality? I think they do. Most of the bees you are seeing now will die within the next four weeks and I think that they have a sense of this. If you knew you were going to die on the wing in the next few weeks but had a chance go down in a blaze of glory defending the home then what would you do?
I’ve now finished feeding them sugar syrup as once the days get colder it becomes more difficult for them to reduce the moisture content down to the required level of below 20% to prevent it fermenting. Also if they consume too much liquid from October onwards it can give them a form of diarrhoea which isn’t very nice at all. The syrup is there for them to convert into ‘honey’ for their winter stores. It isn’t really honey as it’s not made from nectar so you need to be careful to ensure that it doesn’t go into the parts of the hive where real honey is stored (I do this by just leaving brood chambers over the winter and removing all the other parts). Having said that a lot of the ‘honey’ in supermarkets is no more than sugar or corn/rice syrup – tests suggest that up to 90% may be adulterated in this way. I used to buy syrup but as it’s now incredibly expensive (about £25.00 per 10kg – and you need about 20kg per hive) I make my own with a one part sugar to one part water mix. I do though need to be a bit more careful about letting this boil over on the ceramic hob…
During October the majority of the bumblebee nests will also be vacated as the old queens die and the new ones go into hibernation. The last ones will be the Common Carders – quite distinctive, they are the very ginger ones.
On a different note, you may have seen different stories about the Asian Hornet over the last few weeks. No less than 60 nests have been discovered so far – and each nest is capable of producing 500 new queens. If only 10% survive and go on to create new nests then in theory in just a few years we could have literally millions of Asian Hornet nests. In France, insect biodiversity has been massively impacted by these invaders. We won’t know for sure until next year but my view is that they are definitely on the way. We’ll be looking for volunteers to help in the fight against them next year – do consider getting involved.