After the return of our prodigal queen, I think we were still in shock for a few days. She stayed out again the first night, perhaps in an act of defiant rebellion. But that actually allowed us the chance to look in the nest at midnight on Saturday and see what was going on in there.
There are a lot of dead bees but thankfully no apparent infestation of anything. And the height of the bedding and new wax pots is remarkable. Remember, this is all part of a second / third colony that has developed in the earlier nest due to the 'favourable' weather/climate conditions, something that 'shouldn't really be there'.
We filmed our exploration of the nest for the 'Britain in a day' film project. Be great if it makes it to the final film!
The following day queen returned and after that remained in the nest at night.
During that time we also got two glimpses of yet another new (i.e. previously unaccounted for) bumble mooching about in the nest. Astonishing that half way through November there is still the miracle of birth.
Sadly, though, she has no prospects. There is no food for her to find any more and chances are she can't fly anyway, and is likely to be under developed. Indeed, although she hasn't left the nest, we've seen no more of her.
It certainly lifted our spirits for a while until the next bizarre instalment on Monday. Our queen came out onto the nest ledge at 7 in the morning and just stayed there for hours. Eventually mid-morning BCW went out to offer some honey and sugar water, and queen lapped it up. After this she was slightly more energetic and crept info the entrance tube (but not back into the nest). Something was not right.
She spent the best part of the next 24 hours in this 'nest limbo' and we wondered if she had perished in there. The question was answered by discovering her this afternoon hanging onto the ledge again, at one point by just one leg.
Frustratingly I was heading off on business to Dublin and couldn't intervene, but BCW took excellent command of the situation.
Queenie was clearly in a bad way: terribly weak and lethargic, suddenly looking like 120 years old. We were not hopeful. Although she was seemingly trying to get back to the nest, she didn't have the energy to do so. She fell. Thankfully into a tub that BCW had in waiting.
We took her inside to get warm and fed and despite initial signs of improvement has deteriorated further and quite significantly. She's been through a recognisable period of struggle and agitation that seems to be common to many of the dying bees we've cared for. It's horrible to see any creature go through this.
The end, it would seem is nigh.
I am really very sad. Firstly because it's a horrible lingering death for her. But foremost because we had hopes that she might survive the winter and go on to have a successful colony in spring.
Sadly that won't happen. She's attempted a colony too soon, in the wrong season, because the weather has been so mild. That colony could never develop properly in winter, so she has been cruelly tricked into doing what she is programmed to do: be a mother.
What, I think, we've also learned, is that queens do not change role. Once they have started brooding they will continue to so, even if conditions prevail against them; to the death.
This happens in the normal course of events (usually about August time), when after laying daughter queens, a mother queen can be driven from her own nest while she also succumbs to age and dies a natural death, at an age of 12 -16 months or so.
It looks like that even at an age of just two months, our queen has inherited the same fate. Perhaps the completion of egg laying triggers a natural demise, regardless of age. Either way, the prospect of hibernation and a second brood in spring is a impossibility. It always was a fond hope.
This has been an astonishing and incredible journey. We've never been so close to nature, so bewitched and entranced by the daily activities of our buzzy bumbly friends. Their hidden world has been a constant source of fascination and intrigue. There is still room for a surprise, I'm sure: we've been treated to those many times. But for now we feel a pang of sorrow for the end of an era.