Beeing Social

The weekend turned out to be a bit more beeventuful than planned. Although being warm some of the time, it's also been windy and then showery for much of the weekend. Consequently the bees were a bit less active and also getting caught out in the wind. I managed to photograph some clinging on for dear life onto the lavender and also one which landed in the grass to warm up. 

Bufftail hunkering down in the grass to get warm

We then also found another bufftail walking in the grass, which seemed to be having a little difficulty flying; so we used our previously-honed bee catching talents to scoop her up and put her over on the nest box. Eventually after wandering around the gravel she found her way in. 

Not long after that I discovered another bufftail wandering in the grass. On closer inspection, I realised it was damaged, missing a wing and a leg. And on even closer inspection I realised it had the identical problem to Holly, our first disabled bee, with a back twisted in the same direction too (although not quite as badly). There was no question in my mind that we had to care for her too and I thought we might be able to get them to cohabit successfully in the same box. 

We added her to Holly's box and kept watch over several hours. The behaviour went through several phases. At first Holly was very protective and giving lots of aggressive warning signals: lifting her leg, showing her sting etc. Our new bee (no name yet) was less bothered really and spent time chasing round the box and learning her new surroundings. 

 Holly aggressively guarding her daisy & food supplyFinally our second bee gets a look in at the food!Holly's behaviour was quite fascinating. It seemed to go from being quite aggressive initially to being more protective. She would follow the new bee around and shove it about and prod it. At no point did they actually fight, and in fact the new bee was suprisingly patient with its smaller counterpart. We never saw any warning signals from the new bee during the first few hours (though we did see a warning leg once the next day). 

Holly had suddenly found a whole new burst of energy and activity and it's almost as if she now had a role. This seemed to develop into a "supervisory" role - whenever the new bee was resting or minding its own business, it's almost as if Holly came along to prod it into action. Holly would come by and shove the new bee around until it moved. Sometimes she would follow it and keep it moving - it was as if Holly was keeping it busy. 

This behaviour mirrors something we have seen on the bee cam. There are some bees in the nest that seem to patrol the perimeter and if they find any bees resting they shove them about and try to get them moving. (Sometimes the resting bees shrug it off and eventually they part ways). It's as if they have a role to keep everything active. 

The other thing we noticed was how both bees seemed to be crawling all over the moss and wrecking it and moving it around, a bit haphazardly. But actually the more we've observed this, the more of a pattern seems to emerge. Holly does seem to have a habit of retracing the steps of the other bee which perhaps means she is fixing some of the "damage" it is causing. As a bigger bee it can't help but move the moss and flowers around without trying. It does mooch about in some of the moss as if fixing or chaging things, but this behaviour has subsided to a large degree an dit's now spending a fair amount of time resting under the moss or near the hotspot. (And it is almost impossible to spot when it burrows into the moss).  

On the other hand, Holly still seems to be keen on doing 'nest fixing'; she is far more active than the other bee from what we can tell and spends a lot more time moving the bee and the contents of the box around. In fact even as I type, she is in dark, patrolling the open area of the tub and shunting a chunk of dried pollen around. She barely stops! Interestingly, I read an article that suggests the smaller bumble bees are prone to adopt this role:

Although bumble bees also have a division of labor with some worker bees specializing on foraging or nest work, a bumble bee's age is not nearly as good a predictor of what her job is in the colony.  Rather, there is size variation among workers and larger workers tend to spend more time foraging and smaller workers work more in the nest.

When we came down after the first night, they had trashed the box between them! There was flowers and moss everywhere. It's just like we see in the hive outside - each bee seems to have its own idea of how the nest should be arranged and they spend some (or a lot) of their time moving material around and fixing it. If I was forced to commit, I'd say this is the role Holly has adopted, along with a sort of 'supervisor patrol' sideline. Either way, she is now extremely busy compared to what seemed like increasing lethargy prior to addition of the new bee (which had started to trouble us a bit). 

We are also finding that they are co-habiting more co-operatively now after 24 hours. In fact I even saw them lying practically on top of each other right in the best "hot spot" by the laptop. That's pretty impressive compared to the first introduction when it was a "this town ain't big enough for the two of us" warning from Holly. They will quite happily seem to lie in proximity of the hot spot without troubling each other. 

our second disabled bufftail mooching in the mossAlthough there are only two bees in the "High Dependency" tub, we are now hoping that the existence of each other will help them to achieve some of their social instincts.