I was away from home today, so at 6.30am when I got up for work I duly skyped into our 'incubator' to see if any of our bees were up and about. Nothing. That seemed odd. I checked again at 7.30. Nothing. Definitely Odd.
At about 10.30 I logged in again and saw BCW tending to the box, refreshing the honey-water and helping to upturn a bee that was obviously struggling to get up. I assumed it was TLB (TinyLittleBee) whom we added to the box yesterday. But then she texted me to say that LBB (LittleBigBee) was in trouble and not well. It was not news I wanted to hear - he's only been in our care for 8 days. I dread this moment, wondering if it's something we have done or caused. (We did, for example, add some sugar water to the 'ward' a few days ago).
LBB was struggling to move around and cope with the undulating floor of the nest area; and refusing any kind of drink. He was dragging his sorry body clumsily about the box, barely making any progress whatsoever. He got stuck in the small gap where we plant the lavender stalks. It was very sad to see. We agreed that BCW should move him to a small separate tub so protect him from falling over and getting stuck. He rallied a little, appeared to drink from some soaked kitchen paper, but ultimately crawled to the edge of the tub where he has been still since for many hours. We will wait 24 hours for a final verdict.
Meanwhile, TLB, who had already started to inherit from LBB's behaviour, and benefitted from his helpful presence, appears to have gone from strength to strength. She climbs over the moss in the nestbox with great ease; she patrols the perimeter of the outer tub over the stones behind the nestbox; she hauls herself up the pine cones. Just over a week ago she was a still and lifeless as LBB is now - her recovery is miraculously remarkable.
Her routine, during the main part of the day at least, consists of patrolling the outer tub for short periods of time, then returning to the nestbox, sometimes to feed or scratch away in the moss - behaviours we still don't fully understand. This evening we've seen her come to the pollen in the outer tub, walk over it, then return to the nestbox; it's not obvious that she's collecting pollen, but it is obvious that she is heading straight for it.
Also, I say patrolling the tub quite deliberately: she is not exploring like she did initially - appearing to map out the box by going over and over its various sectors. Rather, her behaviour is quite deliebrate, following a short path that either involves checking the pollen or nectar supplies, or touring round the edge of the tub that encloses the back of the nest box. Then she heads straight back in again.
Quite what triggers her to come out and perform this routine is not obvious to us, other than she seems to do it regularly. So it seems this is not a response to a nest attack (even though we have observed this behaviour in our outdoor hive). One of my theories is that it's part of the standard behaviour to check what's happening outside the nest. While we have not observed this to the same extent in our outdoor nestbox, we have from time to time seen a bee sitting in the entrance/exit and not actually leaving the box. I wonder if this happens more often than we realise (our CCTV would not really trigger the motion detect if the bee doesn't come right out of the exit).
This would explain something that has puzzled me: how do the bees know, when they spend their time in a nest that they keep at 30 degrees, when to come out in the morning as the temperature changes. The only sensible theory is that they come and sense what is happening outside the nest at regular intervals, triggering a chain reaction when the time is right for foraging.
Is TLB teaching us how bumblebees manage their working day?