Friday, June 25, 2010


bee parts in the tubMany, indeed, are the joys of beekeeping which I've wanted to share with you. For those of you with delicate spirits, please accept my warning that this one might be kindof gross.

This post is about things that eat honeybees, and why I am happy about this. Perhaps some background is necessary?

Honeybees (at least the ones that are alive today) are not native to North America, though they have been here either about 400 years (if you believe a Virginia colony ship's manifest from 1621) or maybe 500 (if you believe that the Spanish brought them to Mexico, and that the genetic traces being found out west by UDel's Dr. Debbie Delaney are the proof).

In the pro-pollinator community, some folks get a little sniffy about honeybees, raising an eyebrow at their foreign origins. Since no narrative I know of places human origin on this continent, I find this mildly amusing. Perhaps we pollinator advocates don't belong here, either?

Anyway, ever since my very first summer, I've seen European Giant Hornets, rogue jumping spiders, praying mantises, and the odd guilty-looking mockingbird hanging around the hives, and have been glad to meet them. Everything that lives depends on a network of other living things, and must die in its turn. Honeybee bodies in useless piles would do little for local ecology.

skylight over our tubWhich brings us to my bathtub. There's a skylight over the tub, and about 18 inches beyond the edge which you can see in the picture is the Wilde hive. Two feet or so to the left is the Twain hive. In season, about 4,000 bees a day die up there (have cheer: this year they are reproducing at least as fast).

We have problems with that skylight: it expands in the heat faster than the roof does, and little openings are created around the edges. For awhile, bees got into the bathroom on a regular basis, and I had to chase them around and put them back outside. But lately, it has just been bee parts.

bee parts in the tubThis is a fairly normal afternoon view of the tub. The close up above illustrates a number of things learned from this summer. The first is that bee heads and legs are apparently not good eating. The second is that the heads float pretty well.

What haven't I been able to learn? The name and nature of the creature who is eating the rest of the bee bodies. When up on the roof, I can just about see a little pile of bee bits in a corner of the skylight, and I do suspect a spider, but I have never seen the culprit either grab a bee or shove a bee bit over the edge.

It is probably not ants, because they tend to tromp around continuously and seem rather oblivious to observation, while this critter is crafty. I also don't think that this animal is a hunter, because I have never observed anything other than the usual hornets or yellowjackets messing with my bees directly. Also, there are very few bee corpses on the roof this year.

I teach new beekeepers that everywhere any creature lives is a habitat, and even human-centered places like cities count. Watching my bees integrate in yet another way with the cycle of life hereabouts, I'm truly grateful that the living things around me present daily proof of life beginning and ending and munching and flying and peering over the skylight into my people-centric world.