Bees in the Trees

Every once in a while, an oak tree — especially a Southern Live Oak — will lose a branch. Perhaps the limb was under-producing and not bringing in enough carbohydrates to the mother tree, or it was injured. The woody root where the branch joined the tree, rots away and the tree’s living bark slowly knots-up around the wound to protect Mother. The result is a more or less permanent cavity and a place where numerous creatures can find shelter. One of these creatures might be the Honey Bee.

 

 

Man has learned these social insects will also accept housing in a certain kind of box and has developed a symbiotic relationship with them, getting their honey and pollen spreading habits in exchange for this artificial habitation. This is actually a big industry that helps keep the world fed on successfully pollinated crops.  But some bees would just as soon take the natural route and live wild in a hole in a tree.

 

Instead of building neat, orderly wax combs in rectangular trays in the boxes, the bees in these tree hollows build vertical-hanging, irregular, lobe-shaped combs layered side-by-side in the cavity. The individual hexagonal wax cells in the combs are used either for storing honey or raising the young.

 

For a number of possible reasons some or all of the bees might decide to leave and establish a new hive elsewhere. This is called an absconding. Scouts report in to the queen bee by doing one of their little, wiggling “bee dances” and then the pioneers take off to follow them to their new home. This recently happened in a deteriorating Water Oak across the parking lot from the Camp Salmen Office. The hive never bothered anyone, they rarely do, unless, of course, someone or something would have been stupid or desperate enough to climb up there to try to rob the hive. An unusual number of bees were recently observed loudly buzzing around the opening and now they are all gone.

 

Several years ago, a buzzing, swirling yellow tornado of Honey Bees was first heard then seen in an open area of the park. It was an entire hive marshalling their thousands during one of these moves. In a few minutes the tornado collapsed into a mass gathering the size of a football on a branch before making the final collective decision to melt off into the woods to wherever it was the scouts led them. Bee fanciers can actually capture bees in this situation, without very much risk, for the bees are in a relatively passive state when absconding.

 

There is another hive, still in use, in a small knothole in a Live Oak branch high above one of our trails. No one knew about it until one of the groups using the park had an evening ceremony involving flaming luminaires and torches. It seems that Honey Bees will become quite agitated if flames show up near their hive at night and some of them went out to seek the transgressor and administer punishment. Perhaps there are too many ancient memories of nighttime raids by cavemen burned into their genes. Fortunately, only a very few in the ceremony received unexpected notifications by bee sting and we have since learned to avoid this particular situation. 

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