Friday, 29 September 2017

Autumn propolis collectors

Several of my hives have very "sticky" bees, that is they collect and use a lot of propolis.  I imagine that propolis is both easier and more difficult for the bees to deal with in warm weather - easier because it is softer and more pliable but more difficult because it sticks to everything.  The opposite would be true as the weather gets colder. When I was watching the balsam bees the other day I saw several bees bringing in fresh supplies of propolis. Unlike in the summer, when each bee had a single large blob of soft propolis in her pollen baskets, these had several smaller propolis balls stuck together.

Sometimes the load was unwieldy and in danger of falling off.

The next day was very warm and sunny and the propolis looked softer.  Most bees were carrying their loads in a single drop.

I still haven't seen a convincing explanation of exactly how the bees collect propolis without getting plastered in it.  If it is in the same way that they collect pollen you'd think it would be stuck all over their hairs.  Many of the propolis carriers spend some time on the outside of the hive before going in.  This one shows she has propolis all over the pollen brushes on the insides of her basitarsi.  That makes me wonder if the bees scrape the propolis directly onto their back legs before squeezing it into the pollen baskets.

These two spent time grooming themselves before going in and yet they have no signs of propolis on their other legs or elsewhere.

This one shows well how the propolis is contained within the pollen basket and also shows propolis all over the pollen brush.

Most of the propolis coming in was deep red as in the photos above.  A few bees were carrying paler orange propolis, presumably from a different source.

Here are the two colours together.

Propolis carriers seem to be very aware of each other and often stand side by side or greet each other outside the hive.

I have never seen so many bees with propolis as I have this week.  I expect they are intent on draught-proofing the hives before the winter.  I wish I knew where they are getting it from.  One day I'll find a bee collecting propolis and take some photos of the process in action.

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