Friday, 13 March 2015

A Very Clever Idea

Now, here's a very good idea, I think you'll agree. Regular readers will know that I get involved in surveying bumble bees for the Irish 'National Biodiversity Data Centre'. Along with many hundred other beginners and a few experts around the country, we go out spotting bumble bees from 1st March to 30th October and input our records into a database using which the team at Biodiversity attempt to update (and keep up to date) their distribution maps for all the bumble bee species. What they would like, but have come nowhere near yet, is a recorder/surveyor in every 10 km grid square on the Ireland map; they tend to end up with, as you'd expect, many volunteers in the well populated East and the cities, but not so many out here in the sticks.

Another egg glut. I may need to pickle some more.
Many of us are very new and inexperienced and we are struggling to get to grips with the different species. Biodiversity have come up with a good way of helping us out, saving us going armed with big thick entomological 'tomes' with complicated ID keys in the front. There are only 20 species of bumble bees recorded for Ireland, 14 'true' bumbles and 6 of what are called "cuckoo" bumble bees which do, as you'd expect from the name, a sneaky parasitic job laying their eggs in the hard-won nests of true bumbles and letting the true-bee workers do all the rearing. If you want to make a key for the 14 true bumbles and 6 cuckoos, the most likely start point is going to be tail colour. You are already down now to a neat short list of  four white (or pale buff) tailed. Go to your 4 white swatches and there find more detail (yellow striping on abdomen and thorax etc) allowing you to get down to a final species.

Our almost spherically pregnant 'yow', Polly, steams gently in the
frosty morning sunshine.
The group are therefore wonderfully conducive to the use of a small fan of plastic-card swatches, and that is what Biodiversity have developed. They may not have 'invented' the idea but this is the first time I'd seen it done and the swatch sets were only €6 or so. I now go out armed with my swatch and when I eventually see a sleepy queen emerging , blinking, into the frosty Roscommon March sunshine I will be able to nail it properly.

My own bees are definitely waking up now. On each of the recent sunny days, although Met Éireann are giving us average temperatures down in the 7ºC area, the sun shines warm on the front of the hive and the girls all break cluster and go out foraging. I saw plenty today returning well loaded with pollen. I wondered immediately whether this might the coming from impressive drifts of snowdrops along the lane in Una's garden, so I nipped round to look. No such obvious solution - plenty of flowers still open but not a bee to be seen. Down in the bog-land north of us, however, we can see that the gorse is starting into good bloom all along the banks of the stream-ditch which runs by here on its way to the River Lung. That could well be where they are hunting.

Melted Camembert. Sort of OK but we are not convinced we are
just ruining a perfectly good cheese.
It is a good sign, anyway. Pollen is the high protein food which gets fed to bee larvae (brood food) so it is a sure sign that we HAVE larvae, and therefore must have a queen merrily laying eggs. Bee eggs hatch in 3 days and she is unlikely to have stopped since three days ago. Soon we will be allowed to crack the hive open and inspect it properly, but if you do this when air temperatures are below 17ºC you can kill the brood (the larvae) by chilling them into hypothermia. The standard here seems to be "not till the flowering currant is in flower (Ribes sanguinum)" and we are a way off that yet with our own plants. A good month at least, I should think but the hive will keep. It looks fine to our 'external' eyes. We are confident that we have survived the Winter and never complacent.


mazylou said...

Happy birthday, Bob, from Darkest Kent.

And you're better baking Camembert in the box,I think.

Matt Care said...

Thanks for that, Mazy. We will pass on the message to young Robert. Yes, we had been told that about the cheese and we will do that next (bake it in the box having first removed the plastic cover (obvs!)). We just wanted to try out our shiny new, purpose built china dish thingy and convince ourselves that it is, indeed, not fit for purpose being too good an insulator. Ah well.

Care Towers said...

Like the bee "swatches" - a good idea indeed! And Happy Birthday Bob? I guess this is John Deere Bob, but no mention in the commentary... Happy Birthday anyway Bob.

Matt Care said...

That is correct, Mark. We only have the one 'Bob' and that is our good friend and neighbour, JDB. 71 years young on the 11th.