Given the scorching weather we’ve endured for so many weeks, you’d hardly think it time to sport a beard. But check out the colony. These little ones are right on schedule with a distinctive fashion statement.
Yeah, it’s called ‘bearding.’ This mass might look startling to the uninitiated, but it has a real purpose, as does everything associated with the hive. This phenomenon typically occurs when daytime temperatures approach 100F. And in our region, they certainly have.
Over the months, this hive has evolved from struggling colony to an organism of massive power and energy. The number of workers hanging in that beard alone easily double the crew installed last April. And unseen are the cadres of nurse and maintenance bees remaining inside who constantly tend to the affairs of the queen and the developing brood.
So why are they just hanging there? These folk are mostly daytime foragers, and after sunset they have nothing to do. But on hot summer nights, to crowd back into the hive along with the maintenance crew would only elevate the hive’s internal temperature to dangerous, brood-killing levels. So they hang out, literally, on the front porch, chillin.’
Whether the weather is freezing cold or boiling hot, a colony knows to regulate its internal temperature to a sweet 90-95F. How interesting that the optimal temperature for this super-organism falls so closely to that of humans. Whether organizing to fan moisture throughout the hive for evaporative cooling, or clumping together in the center to conserve heat, universal principles apply. Think of these as analogs to our mammalian panting and shivering.
Indeed, some of these folk work all night as part of the air conditioning system. Note the workers in the picture below with their abdomens up in the air. These little ones perch facing the hive opening. Their rapidly beating wings create the equivalent of a turbo wash behind an airplane sitting on the runway. You can easily feel this breeze against the back of your hand six to eight inches from the hive.
And this is only what we can see from the outside. Inside, more rows of fanning workers have already pushed air down through the hive toward that opening. The sound of all this activity is quite wonderful – a continuous muted sussuration, perhaps the insect equivalent of the unending word of God. Its murmured ‘aummm’ invites you to pull up a bench, sit down and hum along. . .
Stay cool, folks.