This is one very, very warm winter, apparently the warmest in over a century so far. The bees fly every day, so I fret over whether or not I can keep them fed until the flowers bloom (unless they bloom early, and risk death by frost when, or if, the winter arrives). I last fed the roof bees 6 days ago, so I trooped up there to see what they had eaten and refill the feeders.
All sorts of uncomfortable sites awaite, including the one in the picture above: a great big fat hairy drone. Don't get me wrong — I'm kind of fond of the lazy bugs — but he should have been dead by November. As near as I can tell, the only reason this dude has been kicked out of the hive is that he is missing an antenna. The girls have probably continued raising brood throughout this mild winter, further stressing a food supply that was light to start with. As it stands, Twain took almost a gallon of 2:1 sugar syrup in 6 days, which I replaced. Though Wilde still seems heavy, I gave those girls three quarts.
The second, but more heartbreaking sight was the return of dead bees around the Twain hive. The picture here is of dead bees in front of the Mill hive out in the 'burbs, though. Why is it here? Because I think that the two hives have a lot in common, including difficult-to-manage varroa infestations and signs of Paralytic Mite Syndrome (PMS). The varroa have probably been knocked down by now, which means their larval habit of crippling baby bee wings is less obvious. But the virus they have already imparted to the bees may be shortening lives. Both hives share the unique characteristic of major K-wings earlier in the season. I think it's PMS.
And there is a rub to that: I should probably stop reinforcing those hives, and try to reduce virus levels by shaking them out onto clean foundation in the Spring. The virus gets into the wood and the wax and the bees' bodies, and cannot truly be eradicated. By setting them up clean, I can reduce the levels and perhaps give them a chance to develop some resistance. More logical people might let the colonies pass on naturally.
But back to the out-of-season drone. Here's what his underside looks like. Can you see how lovely and fuzzy he is, particularly around his front legs? I'm kind of wowed by the scalloped pattern of his exoskeleton under there, so pretty. Do you notice that the base of his abdomen has a little golden cone-shaped outcropping rather than a stinger? That's why I could be so free in photographing him: he can only buzz at me. But I have a kind of freaky curiousity to show you, too.
While working in one of her hives over a month ago, MaryEllen discovered this dead drone on the bottom board. As you can see, his wedding tackle is fully deployed, something neither she nor I had ever seen before. You can see why, when mating in flight, there is no way that retraction is an option, and the drone dies. And this drone is a little dried out by now (MaryEllen originally gave him to me to try to photograph under my microscope, but the object was actually so big that I could not get good depth of field. In the course of my manipulations, the poor guy's head came off, sorry). If you click this picture, you can get another view of the same thing (it seemed morbid to post more than one here).
I need to run away now and try to get some more food on the Monastery bees, if they need it. It will rain and rain (and be over 60 degrees each day) tomorrow and the day after. At least those girls don't seem to have so many dead sisters on their doorstep.