Dance language of the honey bee

Honey bee on lavendar

We're into July and the girls are working flat out on a nectar flow. Just watching the entrance to their beehive at times like this is absolutely amazing. They dart out as fast as their little wings can carry them all in one direction as they make their way to a source of food that they have found. Once gathered, they are on their way back to drop off their loads to the bees waiting inside the hive before turning round and heading straight back out again. Bees are incredible in the way they all work together for the good of the colony.

Just how do bees know where the food sources are? Honey bees all have a purpose and a role to play in their colony. Two of these roles (just like us humans having job titles) are as scout and foragers. Around 5% of a colony are scout bees. These little girls go out looking specifically for new sources of food and they report back to the foragers to let them know what they have found and where. You may have heard of the waggle dance but there are actually two dances:

Round Dance

The round dance indicates food very close by to the hive.

Waggle Dance

Indicates direction, distance and quality of the food source and by tasting the food the bee receiving the information knows what to look for.

When the girls head off, they will all be out either collecting pollen (for protein), nectar (for carbohydrate), honeydew, resin from tree buds (for propolis, also known as 'bee glue') as well as water.

A colony of honey bees needs about 300lb (136 kg) of nectar (honey) a year to survive from day to day with late June marking the start of the main flow. Trees (such as lime and sweet chestnut) as well as brambles and willowherb are good sources yielding nectar when weather conditions are right during this time through to Autumn. The last nectar source of the year is ivy, flowering in September and if we have a mild Autumn, the girls will be out foraging to bring back as much as they can from around the area to add to their stores to help sustain them through the Winter to early Spring.

As well as nectar, a colony of honey bees also needs to collect and eat about 100lb (45 kg) of pollen a year. Different types of pollen provide different protein requirements to avoid malnutrition and the girls will forage for pollen as and when the colony needs it.

I'm now three months into keeping bees and after each weekly inspection I find there's always something different to challenge me. So much seems to change within the course of one week!

Having watched the girls darting out on their foraging missions over the past few days, I'm really looking forward to opening the hive up later this week to see how their stores are coming along. I've read somewhere that they can fill up a super (box above the brood box where they store their honey) in a week... I've bought another spare just in case to put on top if I need too!