The Fable of The Bees

The cold seems heavy on the country right now, dipping deep into the southern United States. My area of Virginia was well below freezing today, and this weekend is expected to bring more cold weather. The idea of a warm spring with buzzing bees seems far away.WYRGB

Still, bee school continues. We spent the past two weeks learning about bee biology and colonies, as well as how to get bees. Our club has a policy and tradition of providing nucs (for sale) to class members. Not only does this help new beekeepers “bee” successful, it also maintains local bee stock. We received an email today with ten club members selling nucs to the class. It doesn’t keep all the “foreign” bees out — I myself have a package coming from California — but it probably helps. And what a nice benefit as part of the class.

I have written some about basic bee biology here, for exampleThe Secret Life of Bees and The Unbearable Lightness of Beeing. So some of these classes were a nice refresher. The details of bee anatomy and systems are pretty fascinating and fairly unknown to me. Did you know that bees breath through small holes in their sides rather than through their mouths? This means that a bee can suffocate in a pool or pond even though its head might be above water.

I also learned two mnemonics. This first is for queen marking color. As you may know, queens are marked to identify the year they were born, using an international standard color representing the year of birth. What I didn’t know was an easy way to remember the colors: Will You Raise Good Bees? The first letters W-Y-R-G-B represent White, Yellow, Red, Green, and Blue. So years ending in 1 and 6 use a White mark, as shown in the graphic at the top of this post, up through using Blue for years ending in 5 and 0. Queens born in 2014 and overwintered to this spring should have a Green mark, while queens born in 2015 a Blue mark.

The other mnemonic is 3-5-8-5-3. I’m a math guy, and 3+5 is 8, so I should be able to remember this! If you add successive numbers in this series (3, 3+5, 3+5+8, 3+5+8+5, and 3+5+8+5+3) you end up with the following values representing the bee egg to adult life cycle. The days are approximate, but pretty close.

at 3 days, eggs hatch into larva
at 8 days, larva are capped
at 16 days, queens emerge (usually 15-17)
at 21 days, workers emerge (usually 19-22)
at 24 days, drones emerge (usually 24-25)

I also met my bee mentor, Kristen. Another club policy is to allocate each student a mentor to assist them in their first year. These are volunteers, and what a nice way to have a large part of the club involved with the class. Kristen is a former president of the club with 4+ years of beekeeping experience. She came by our house this week to offer her wisdom on apiary location, bringing along her ever-so-cute 16-month old daughter. I’m sure we’ll see more of her this year.

In my final news, the Russians are coming! A local beekeeper near us is a certified breeder of Russian queens, one of only 13 in the United States. So we are buying our nucs from him, and my daughter S who desperately likes the thought of Russian bees will get her wish. One lucky girl. The package comes on April 12, the Russian arrive in early May. Stay tuned!

Every time I think I may run out of bee-related topics for blog titles, I find new ones. Spring is in the air, but the recent Virginia weather makes it seem rather far off, a mere fantasy. So when I stumbled across The Fable of the Bees this week it seemed rather fitting.

Written by Bernard Mandeville, the 1714 book The Fable of the Bees contains his poem The Grumbling Hive and an associated discourse on the topic. Also referred to as Private Vices, Public Benefits, the book uses a beehive as a metaphor for society, and was widely criticized as an attack on proper morals. For example, the idea that vanity and greed had publicly beneficial results. The poem and book are now seen to suggest principles of economic thought such as division of labor and the “invisible hand” long before such concepts were more fully explored by Adam Smith and others.

2 thoughts on “The Fable of The Bees

  1. I didn’t enjoy maths at school, but I do enjoy bee maths! 😉

    Bee biology is fascinating – I’m constantly amazed, for example, that royal jelly has such a remarkable effect on the development of an egg and larvae that it can turn a female egg into a queen rather than a worker. And the effect that queen substance has on the development of the ovaries of the workers in a hive. Bee biology is powerful stuff!


    • I did enjoy math (maths) at school, but was never a big fan of biology. Still, I’ve enjoyed reading about the makeup of bees.

      My favorite so far is the lack of circulatory tubes – a bee’s haemolymph simply floats around inside it’s body. Fascinating stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

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