Tag Archives: Entomology

Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020

The picture above is by Vincent Van Gogh (obviously says you), it lives in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam and is called ‘Wheatfield with Crows’.  It was painted in 1890 – possibly his last picture. Vincent didn’t know about climate change or intensive agriculture; if he had, he would probably have cut the other ear off and left the crows out.  Continue reading Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020

Pollination and Honey Bees

So, why are honey bees such important pollinators?

From an ecological point of view there are at least 3 reasons:

  • Honeybees have evolved in tandem with certain flowers and they have adapted to facilitate each other;
  • One bee is able to rapidly communicate the location of a pollen/nectar source to the whole hive and an army sets out;
  • The bees then concentrate faithfully on that flower species until the pollen runs out or the nectar dries up, at which point the job of pollination is accomplished.

These features obviously make the honey bee important from an agricultural/commercial point of view. In addition, hives of bees are mobile and can be moved from crop to crop – an arrangement which can suit bees, farmers and beekeepers so long as everyone has a bit of respect. Wouldn’t that be great?

But some detail: Continue reading Pollination and Honey Bees

Heather Ecosystem

When beekeepers think heather, they think weather and ‘Will it ever stop bloody raining?’

Or you might wonder – ‘IS there a flow at all?’ Because often there isn’t and you can never tell in advance if it will or if it won’t. Heather honey is the most bewitching and frustrating of all honeys; if you can get a crop of sections or cut comb honey it’s close to heaven and so costly and disappointing when it fails.

But there’s more to it than the weather. It’s the ecology – Stupid! Continue reading Heather Ecosystem

Carniolan Bee

The Carniolan bee also known as Apis mellifera carnica or A.m.carnica for short has its origins in Eastern Europe and is therefore adapted to a continental climate with cold hard winters and long hot summers. It is now the main bee in Germany.

Carniolan Bees
Carniolan Bees

Photo from https://beeinformed.org/2012/04/queen-bee-identification/

It is also known as the Grey bee because 3 segments of its abdomen are broadly covered in a thick pelt of short grey hairs which partially conceals the underlying dark abdomen giving it a frosted look. Photo from queen bee identification article on www.beeinformed.org

It is similar to the Italian bee in that it is a medium sized bee with a long narrow body and limbs and it also has the same long proboscis which enables it to make full use of the red clover – an important forage crop in Europe.

It also shares the same gentle nature as the Italian bee but has a stronger swarming tendency. Coming from further north it fares better over winter being very thrifty with a smaller brood nest. Come spring and the build-up is very rapid indeed an adaptation to take advantage of an early flow.

If you are thinking of importing Carniolan bees – or buying from somebody else who imports Carniolan or any  other bees for that matter – remember Small Hive Beetle is out there waiting for somebody like you. You don’t want to find yourself in front of god explaining why you introduced the most devastating bee parasite to Ireland now do you?  Click here for more on Small Hive Beetle

Click here for more about the Native Irish Bee

Click here for updated list of Irish Native Honey Bee suppliers

Click  here for more about the Italian bee

Click here for the Buckfast bee

Copyright © Beespoke.info, 2014. All Rights Reserved.


Buckfast Bee

The Buckfast Bee is named after Buckfast Abbey in Devon where it was first bred by famous bee breeder Brother Adam.

Brother Adam
Brother Adam

Brother Adam (Karl Kehrle 1898-1996) came to Buckfast Abbey from Germany at the age of 12 and began to assist the beekeeper. In 1916, 30 of the 46 beehives at the Abbey were wiped out by Isle of Wight disease, now recognised as Acarine – another parasitic mite which moves in and occupies the windpipes of bees. Continue reading Buckfast Bee

Italian Bee

The Italian bee – also known as Apis mellifera ligustica or A.m.ligustica for short – is perfectly adapted to the Italian climate and flora and a very glamorous bee altogether.

As you can see from this photo, borrowed from http://beeinformed.org, it is mainly light brown in colour and strikingly striped with dark brown on the abdomen.

Italian Bees
Italian Queen with retinue

Continue reading Italian Bee

Blooming Gorse

The gorse is in bloom early this year, although what is it they say – ‘When gorse is out of blossom, kissing is out of fashion’ – is that it?

Look out for orange/brown pollen loads – along with the brighter orange from the snowdrops.

In fact, when the weather does warm up and the bees are active and bringing in that brown pollen it is worth going out to watch them working the gorse because the flower is specially designed to  make best use of the bees for pollination. Enjoy the strong coconut scent of the flowers while you’re at it. Continue reading Blooming Gorse


Any warm sunny days in spring the bees will be working the snowdrops so watch out for orange/brown pollen loads – see photo above.

For the bees, this fresh pollen and perhaps a little nectar heralds the beginning of a new year and may help nudge the queen into lay.

From the point of view of the snowdrops – the bees are welcome pollinators. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male parts of one flower to the female parts or another flower. Wind pollination is where male flowers or catkins of a plant, hazel for example,  release massive amounts of pollen into the air where it is carried on the wind to the female flowers. Insect pollination is where the same job is carried out by an insect. To attract insects, the flowers of such plants often exude nectar.

That’s the bare bones of it and that might be enough. For the nitty gritty though – read on… Continue reading Pollination

Bee Basics – the Colony

Honey bees are social insects which means they are unable to survive as individuals – instead they live together in colonies.

Each colony is made up of three types of bee or ‘castes’:

  1. One queen bee;
  2. Up to 50-60 thousand worker bees in summer or 10 thousand in winter;
  3. Up to one thousand drones. Generally there are no drones in the colony in the winter as they are evicted in August.
  • The  queen bee is a fertile female. She lays all the eggs and is the mother of the colony. She also secretes pheromones or messenger chemicals which contribute to the social cohesion of the colony.
  • The worker bees are infertile females. They do all the work in the colony.
  • The drones are males. They don’t do any work. Their job is to mate with a new queen after which – they die. Otherwise they are evicted from the colony at the end of summer.

The colony consists of honeycombs made of beeswax and suspended in a hollow tree, chimbley, roof space or similar in the wild. Otherwise the honeycombs are contained in moveable wooden frames inside a beehive. Honeycomb is a system of hexaganol cells made of beeswax.  The wax is secreted by the worker bees, processed and moulded into position, then strengthened and varnished with propolis.

 Generally honey is stored in an arc at the top of the frame, then there is an arc of pollen, in the centre is the area where the queen lays eggs and the larvae, or ‘brood’, are reared.

The Brood

The queen produces two sorts of egg, fertilised and unfertilised. Fertilised eggs become workers and unfertilised eggs become drones. Worker eggs are laid in worker cells and drone eggs are laid in the larger drone cells. The mechanism by which she decides whether or not to fertilise the egg with a little squirt of the stored sperm is unknown but it is thought that she can gauge the size of the cell with her forelegs and acts accordingly.

Larvae hatch from eggs after 3 days and they are fed ‘brood-food’ by workers. On the 8th day, the cells of worker brood are sealed and the larvae pupate for a further 10 days during which metamorphosis occurs after which the pupa moults and the young worker bee hatches on the 21st day after the egg is laid. The drone takes rather longer and doesn’t hatch until the 24th day

When the colony is ready to reproduce, or when the old queen needs to be replaced, especially large cells, queencells, are made by the workers and she lays fertilised eggs into them. Queen cells hatch and new queens emerge after a mere 16 days.


If the colony is strong and well in itself the bees will probably decide to swarm. In this case several to many queencells will be raised – usually along the bottoms, edges or top bars of the frames. When the first cell hatches and the virgin emerges, half the flying bees will leave the colony with the old queen. If the weather is good and the colony is still strong even after the first, or prime, swarm has left – other smaller swarms, or casts, may continue to leave – each with a newly hatched virgin queen. In some cases they will continue to swarm out until there are no bees left!

Swarms hang up in a cluster on a nearby tree, shrub or fencepost and wait for scouts to come back with news of a new nesting site – a hollow tree or a roof-space. If scouts come back with news of more than one possible site, the bees will visit each, after which a democratic decision is made and the swarm will depart to the chosen site.

Meanwhile, back in the old colony – there can only be one queen. Any virgins that do not fly off will fight each other to the death. When only one virgin queen remains in the colony she will go through it from frame to frame dispatching any unhatched cells. After 4 days maturing, young virgins fly out to be mated and the cycle begins again.


If the bees only want to replace a failing queen this called supersedure. This tends to occur at the beginning or the end of the season when the colony is not over-strong. Only a few queencells, perhaps just one, will be raised – usually on a single frame and generally towards the centre. When the new queen hatches she will usually dispatch the old queen and take her place immediately. Sometimes though, they will tolerate each other even after the new queen gets mated and begins to lay – the two queens can be seen often on same frame and the old queen will continue egg laying till she drops.

Copyright © Beespoke.info, 2014. All Rights Reserved.