The Street Lamp Bees

Following on from my previous post…

Yesterday I was contacted by a site worker from East Sussex Highways about removing the panel from the street lamp so that I could access the bees inside. We met underneath the lamp (although that’s where the similarity with Narnia ends), and after a few deft stabs with a screwdriver, Kevin managed to unlock the panel and beat a hasty retreat to his van.

Having been strictly instructed to only put my hand up in to the lamp body and not anywhere near the workings, I reached up and pulled out three soft, new combs from inside, and put them in the skep. When you hold these tongues of delicate and warm wax that the bees have built entirely from themselves, it’s so easy to think of them as part of the bees’ body. I covered them with a cloth to keep the skep dark:

The bees promptly abandoned the combs, flew out, and began to swarm. Bees everywhere for about ten minutes, but they then returned to the skep and began to move inside, much to my (and Kevin’s) relief. As there were no eggs, and the bees were behaving in a flighty manner, I am thinking she may be a virgin queen who has yet to mate, and therefore isn’t kicking out a huge amount of pheromone and is still able to fly relatively well.

Then to the task of encouraging the bees out of the neck of the lamp and across in to the skep. Once the majority of the bees seemed to be out, I replaced the panel under Kevin’s instruction, and continued with a combination of smoking the cavity and stepping back to allow the bees out. I carried on until no more bees appeared at the entrance hole, and then taped up the entrances.

I returned much later than night to retrieve the skep, which was helpfully illuminated by the street lamp. There were no bees to be seen, but I did feel a reassuring weight as I gently put the bees in the boot of my car, so was pleased that they hadn’t decided to abscond.

I put the skep on top of my Warré box and went to bed. This morning, I went down and gently shook the bees in to the box and popped on the lid. They didn’t seem to like the Warré AT ALL and bearded all over the front, with much washboarding and agitation, despite a quick peek through the observation window to see that there was a definite clump of bees attached to the bars around what I presume was the queen. I saw lots of scouts at my bait box on the carport roof, and received reports from the residents that there were lots of bees at the lamppost.

[Just as an aside, “lots of bees” is often a lot more to a member of the public than it is to a beekeeper…]

Bees navigate by a combination of the sun, polarised light, and landmarks. If they are moved within a 3 mile radius of the hive, they will navigate back to the original spot. As the lamp was probably less than a mile from my house, I was concerned that bees would end up back there as they had no comb, brood, nor a particularly strong sense of “self” to anchor them to the queen and my Warré.

Hmm. These are not happy bees. I wondered if the quantity of smoke had also interfered somehow with their pheromone bond and was causing them to break up.

By lunchtime there was a large beard of bees on the roof, and still a small cluster inside. With help from Paul, I shook the bees in to the box again and gently replaced the cloth, quilt and roof. This seemed to do the trick! Thankfully they started fanning properly for the first time, and they gently trickled in through the entrance and at last, all of them were in.

I fed them some honey from my own bees to give them a boost as they had expended so much energy and there was very little nectar in the combs. The problem with swarms that have started building is that they use their main resources for that initial push with building comb, and having to rebuild that sets them back as they also have to nourish the queen and each other. I don’t know if these bees will survive as they have a huge amount of work to do, and I’m not even sure if she’s a viable queen, but the forecast is excellent, and the bramble about to flower, and there is still hawthorn and horse chestnut with blossom so they have food. I have two large areas of field beans near me too so that should help them later in the season.

Fingers crossed little bees: I am really looking forward to having a colony in my Warré so I hope they make it.

9 Replies to “The Street Lamp Bees”

  1. This just goes to show your wealth of experience and knowledge of bees and their behaviour. I really hope they settle and thrive in the new hive.

  2. I’m really glad you followed up on the Lamppost bees. And I hope they make it through and colonize your Warre hive too. You are very gentle with your bees as well. Coming from the commercial beekeeping angle, I have always hated how rough beekeepers were on their bees with nary a care as to their well-being aside from the queen. Well done!

    Thanks, Jonathan

    1. I feel really sad about the pressure commercial beekeepers and their bees are under. Honey is such a precious commodity and the bees that produce it have so much worth beyond just that too!

      1. That’s a good perspective to view it from. They also have a lot of debt from year to year and are always trying to meet their pollinator contracts with having x amount of beehives.

      2. I can imagine. Farming with any kind of livestock is always going to be a difficult way to make money…

      3. I think we have a responsibility as beekeepers to inform and educate, as our links with the environment through our bees gives us an insight that others don’t or can’t have. And that is a valuable thing to share.

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