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Honey Bee Biology

Bees: A Rare Bee Journal

- May 1, 2015 - Dr. Wyatt A. Mangum - (excerpt)

From collecting and studying beekeeping literature and antiques since the 1970’s, I mostly see things already encountered. So when I came across a stack of journals titled just Bees, from the late 1940’s to the early 1950’s, I was surprised. Happily surprised. Something new. I had never heard of that journal before. According to Bees, it formerly was the Southern Beekeeper, a rare journal I had read about. Beekeeping journals from the South are rare regional windows into that industry. While many of the articles are on industry news of past time and political matters, others relate to current interest.

In a time when color pictures were rare and expensive, technically accurate biological drawings were immensely important to understanding subjects like anatomy. And still, these pictures have the power to illustrate key points. In the September 1949 issue of Bees, an article from a series explained front leg anatomy, and was written and illustrated by Todor M. Dobrovsky from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. Figure 1 shows the entire front leg. Figure 2 shows a close up of the main point of the article, the antenna cleaner, a small circular notch in the fore leg. In the notch are small spines like the teeth of a comb. When a bee needs to clean an antenna, presumably to remove tiny particles clinging to it, she draws it through the notch. An appendage closes around the antenna (listed fi in Figure 2) to hold the other side of the antenna in the notch.

From plenty of bee watching, seeing bees clean their antennae is not difficult, although it happens quickly. If a worker bee pauses on the alighting board, just before launching, she might clean her antennae. One antenna at a time gets hooked in the antenna cleaners. If the drones are flying – watch them. Virtually all will pause and clean their antennae. In the drone congregation area, and perhaps in the flyway between them, drones locate from a far distance, out of sight, a flying queen by odor. So it makes sense; they should start with clean antennae. One wonders if they could clean antennae in flight, but I would doubt it, given most likely the odor and visual disruption. In addition, I have never seen them do it flying near me, but I suppose it is an open question.

As a bee journal covering the South in the mid 1900’s, one would expect queen bee and package bee themes in Bees. Sure enough, the cover of Bees has some illuminating photographs of those times. The August 1949 cover of Bees shows a queen-mating apiary (Figure 3). The small mating nucs are at a comfortable working height. Each row of hives is not too long, to reduce queens entering the wrong mating nuc and being killed. Also within a row, the queen producer alternated the hive entrances, again to reduce queens drifting from their mating flights. In queen bee production, quite often queen cell production is not the problem because the beekeeper can control most of those variables. Queen mating can be the problem.

Once the beekeeper sees fresh eggs in the small mating nuc, the new queen is ready for shipment. The March 1950 cover of Bees shows a queen bee being put in a three-hole shipping cage (Figure 4). To pluck a laying queen off a comb, slip her in the cage hole, unharmed, all in a few seconds, takes practice. After doing it a thousand times, one gets good at it. The February 1950 cover of Bees shows the inspection of a mating nuc to look for eggs or a queen (Figure 5). This picture gives a good view of the small frame. One can work through these small colonies fast and efficiently. It is very enjoyable work, caging queens and putting out queen cells, when …