The dynamic in our nest is definitely changing.
With each passing day there seem to be fewer queens. We can be certain this is one still in there; and she is collecting pollen. They may be another, I'm not totally sure. They seem to have a habit of coming and going all day long and then mysteriously not returning without me being able to pinpoint exactly when. (This is really down to the limited time I have to be able to scour the CCTV).
Also, we definitely have more smaller bees, that weren't there at all about a week ago. Two emerged and sadly died within about 12 hours, they weren't properly formed: one was completely missing wings. But that gave us a hunch that new births were occuring, and also that they were not being very successful.
I put this down to temperature so I resolved to help get the nest up to the requisite 30 degrees.
Over the last few days we have seen an increasing ratio of smaller bees - perhaps one or two in place of one or two queens that no longer seem to be around. But the difference in relative activity and size is noticeable.
So, this adds yet more weight to the idea that new bees are being hatched.
We can't fully tell whether these new bumbles are workers or males. What we can tell is we definitely have a worker or two: there's definitely some "partrolling" going on around the nest (frequent tours of the perimeter), occasional checking of the entrance and then there's what happened with the bedding...
So, the bedding...
I was concerned based on general properties of the lodge, its location (shady), state of the nest (damaged internally) that there was no way a queen could be getting her brood up to 30 degrees. The two sick bees that emerged and died shortly after were not well formed - a classic sign of too-cold-a nest. So I took a two-pronged attack to helping get the warmth of the nest up.
The first of these was to install some infra-red lighting directly underneath the lodge. Ideally I would have liked to have it inside the nest, but logistically this was too much of a challenge due to space, wiring and control/monitoring - there would a risk of making things too hot and I would need to be able to monitor that and respond accordingly. This also means being able to do so remotely while away from home and I've not yet had time to devise a system for doing so (though it would be possible, as I now have remote power control over IP and remote telephone control to reboot the broadband router). So, outside installation was the realistic option.
Since the IR is outside the wooden lodge I can safely leave it on permanently as it will not be making huge impact
The second prong of the strategy was to add some bedding material to the nest. This is what we did for queens back in March when we were trying to encourage them to choose our site for nesting and we had loads of hamster bedding left over. We know it's not their first choice compared to moss from our own observations, but we also know they are safe working with it and don't get tangled up.
So, last night we put two bundles of it in the nest, in the corners (not over the centre where the actual activity was taking, as we didn't want to cause excessive stress or get any honey from honey pots soaked up). You can see in the picture below how we just tucked it into the corners to minimise stress to the bees and make sure we didn't get it any of their honey etc. We know that they can organise the bedding as they see fit. What we didn't was quite what they were going to do!
So, before I go into what was done, have a look at the final effect. We've taken this picture almost exactly 24 hours later.
What an amazing change! The bedding has been drawn into a dome over the centre of the nest; drawn away from the corners and tidied into a single mass.
All this work has been done by a single bumblebee worker, working tirelessly through the night.
You have to bear in mind that throughout the the night the nest is pitch black for the bee; it is mainly working by feel. It doesn't have any tools, it weighs less than a gram, but by cleverly weaving a repetitive path through the bedding. And this was done by one worker bee taking on what I call the "Nest fixing" role. Over the course of about 7 hours it put in about 4 hours solid work, stopping occasionally for a drink, and weaved its way through the bedding, tugging and pushing to create this new structure. Frankly, I find it totally astonishing.
I took a video of its activity at 32x speed to show what it did through the night to create this masterpiece:
You can see she works tirelessly all through the night, alone, to re-arrange the bedding. During the day there is little activity like this and it starts again at night time - my theory is that as the day cools the bees are triggered to make sure the nest is providing warmth and insulation.
What I also find remarkable is how the bees take on a role when the need arises. We hadn't seen much of this individual until we added the bedding; but then she sprung into action, took on this role to assemble the nest structure, and worked tirelessly through the night to do so. I find it all rather inspiring.