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The Rebel Queen

08:30 this morning: It was a bright sunny morning, already approaching the 30s as I stepped out onto my back porch. This weather would be an unmitigated cause of excitement for me except they'd slapped a state-wide fire-ban on the day so I couldn't actually do any beekeeping -- lighting the smoker counts as (and is) a fire risk. Despite this I still had a busy day ahead of me delivering honey.

   As I cut across the corner of my lawn between the back porch and garage to get some honey jars, I noticed something in the grass.

   A cluster of bees. On the ground. A suspiciously sized cluster of bees on the ground. A cluster of bees on the ground only generally happens if the queen is injured or can't fly. I happen to know a queen who is injured or can't fly. This cluster of bees is much much bigger than the literally seven retainers I found "Queen Sera" with last week, but much smaller than a typical swarm. In fact, it's about exactly the size of the amount of bees in the hive I had put her in.

   Suspicious, I lift the lid on that hive box. Sure enough a proverbial tumbleweed blows out; it's empty. It's rare for (non-African) honeybees to "abscond" (leave entirely) from a hive after they've been there longer than about three days. So this gives us actually a relatively revolutionary insight. Generally when explaining bees to people I emphasize that the queen has no role in decision making. But in this case, these bees have been here for several weeks, all except Queen Sera who has been there about three days. That means that basically as soon as they accepted her as their queen she must have somehow rallied them all with her cry of "come on girls let's get out of here!!"

   Were the workers in the hive too feckless to do anything until a queen arrived, or did she rally previously content bees to stage a walk-out? These are very intriguing questions.

   I knelt down and tried to pick through the bees with my fingers to find the queen and return her to the hive, but it was proving difficult as they were intermingled amongst the grass, and I had work to do. I took their hive box and placed it just beside the bee pile, with the entrance just beside them, and headed off to the workshop (about half an hour from where I live).

This Afternoon: I was back home in mid-afternoon to pick up some jars of honey I had in the garage. The temperature had peaked around 35 and all day people seemed to be trying to get me to agree with them that it's "really hot." No this is not "really hot" this is lovely I just wish there wasn't a fire ban so I could work (I used to run bees outside Bundaberg where it was 40+ every single day).    The bees, however, as I expected, had decided to get out of the sun and go back inside their home which had weirdly appeared beside their new location. Only a few bees remained outside and others were going in and out of the entrance on normal nectar or pollen collection flights. I opened the box and examined the two occupied frames in search of Sera.

 I endeavored to get a photograph my presently most well-known queen bee, but it's very hard to get a good picture holding the frame with one hand, my phone in the other, unable to clearly see the screen due to sunlight and knowing my camera is very bad at focusing up close. Fortunately one photo came out well enough for her to be seen.    For ease of identifying her in the future I attempted to place a green dot on her back (by very carefully and gently pinning her in place with one hand and making a mark with a "posca" paint pen). I didn't get a very good mark on her and she seemed irritated with me.

   "Is rebellious" my fiancee remarked with her adorable Venezuelan accent when I informed her of the goings on, and "is like me."

   I quickly put the box back together with Sera in it. Then I moved it to its former position, thinking maybe confused returning foragers would easily find it again since it's the position the hive was in until recently, but after a few minutes a lot of bees seemed thoroughly confused around the position the hive had just been so I put the box back there.

Appx 15:00 - As I pulled up to a location in some fields where I planned to shake out a swarm I had just collected I found myself shivering. Misty low clouds scudded past on a stiff cold wind. Phone says the temperature below 20 now. Even the "hot" days here are cold!!

Right now, 20:24 - I'm going to move it back to its former location now that it's dark out.

Addendum, A Week Later: I found Sera out walking once more today (the 25th) and returned her to the hive. I've confirmed she appears to have one shorter wing and hasn't laid any eggs yet so I think it's almost certain she has failed to mate and is continuing to leave the hive to fulfill that essential lifegoal. Queens can only mate while flying, which she can't seem to do. Technically she is of no use and cold hard farmer logic would be to do her in, but to get that small group of bees she's with up to speed with a new queen would take as much work as just starting a hive without them, ie she's not holding up any resources and I've come to enjoy constantly looking in on her and observing her unusual behavior, and there's certainly value in learning about more obscure bee behavior anyway.

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