It's been another eventful day in several ways.
Firstly, we were able to confirm that the drowned bee we rescued, which then 8 hours later showed miraculous signs of life, pulling herself to her feet and moving for 20 minutes, didn't make it. We tried to warm her up and get her dry and even offered some honey water. But she was unable to get to it, with her tongue trapped under her body and not enough strength the raise her head. She's been completely still now for 24 hours.
Back in the nest, the day started quietly, in terms of activity. Our "stop out" bee, which normally comes back at 6.30 in the morning didn't show up till 8.35 - that immediately signalled something different about the way the day was starting. Indeed it seemed colder, despite (or indeed because of) the clear blue skies and bright sun.
A lot of scraping and scratching sound was coming from inside the nest, as well as some high pitch squeaks. I'm starting to equate this with the emergence of new bees. Not necessarily hatching, but drying out and preparing to leave the nest for the first time; a process that can take a few days.
Just after 9am big mamma bee came up on top of the bedding and rested right in front of the infra red camera, no doubt to keep warm; she stayed there till 10:45. There was very little activity during this time, just one or two mid-size bumbles taking a few foraging trips.
As we headed towards midday, the activity levels increased. The little baby bee in the nest, who worked so hard yesterday, started her trips at exactly midday, remaining unseen until then. Her exit from the nest allowed us to confirm the existence of a new tiny bee in the nest. I'd had a hunch about this yesterday and the 'squeaking' earlier in the morning I think might have been attributable to her. The final proof of her "newness" would be to see her leave the nest for the first time.
Prisoner in her own home
During this time, big mamma was appearing regularly on camera. It became apparent she was trying to leave the nest. She was absolutely huge, larger than what we remember and she struggled to climb toward the nest exit, falling back under her own weight time after time - it wasn't good to watch. Then, of course, we realised she'd be fattening herself up now in readiness for hibernation and that would explain her increase in weight - clearly her strength no longer matched her weight. Consequently she spent a lot of time scratching at the join of the lid and base of the lodge - and I realised this accounted for a good deal of the scratching sound we'd been hearing.
She never made it out of the nest all day, despite hours of trying, but it was very obvious to see she wanted to exit. Sad though it seems, for it surely signals the end of brooding and stability in the nest, it is of course Nature's intended course. Indeed, we are surprised (if not a little worried) that she's stayed in the nest this long, as time is running short for her to find somewhere to hibernate. (Although we could probably keep the nest at a good temperature for her to survive the winter in, it would not be a hygenic environment: full of dead bees and unhealthy interest from other insects.) She may also have been missing her supplies - it was the drowned bee that had had the responsibility for bringing honey-water into the nest. We were baffled as to why such quantities were involved for such a small colony, but of course it's obvious now - Big Mamma was building up for winter.
Much as we'd love her to stay, it was agonizing to see her "trapped" in the nest, so our plan tomorrow is to insert a small piece of card into the lodge that will provide a step to the exit - that should allow her to leave. Our only hope is that she is fit and well and will find somewhere to hibernate and is not leaving to go and die. She does seem to look as healthy (as much as we can tell from the CCTV).
At 13:19 our newest member of the colony tenatively climbed to the entrance. She turned and launched backwards as all new borns seem programmed to do. She was in flight! She circled close to the entrance and kept close to the nest, memorising everything she could see, gradually rising in height and wider arcs. We could see her easily on all 3 main cameras (1 newly positioned) but BCW was able to see her through the patio window - a tiny black speck against the sky. The in moments she was off up the street, the same way all the others go. Amazing and beautiful.
She came back at 13:32 (without pollen) a trip time of 13 minutes - just enough for a first flight.
As per yesterday, I decided to collect some activity stats today, here are the main ones:
- Total number of trips: 47
- Trips by "baby bee": 13 (down from 21 yesterday)
- updated average trip time for baby bee: 22 mins (stdev 6.67)
- updated average pollen turnaround time for baby bee: 4.7 mins (stdev 2.27)
Activity levels were very clearly down and Baby Bee was pretty much responsible for all the pollen collection. Our newest "baby" addition didn't make any more trips after he inaugural flight.
Most of the other trips are by a mid-size bee that never seems to collect pollen. In fact it takes honey water from the entrance every few minutes, but flies back out of the nest; Then every 30 minutes or so comes into the nest proper for a minute or two, then leaves, and repeats the whole cycle. So, it spends most of its time outdoors, just coming and taking honey from the entrance. This is the same bee that chooses to stay out of the nest every night. We have no real explanation for this behaviour - but our theory is, it's a boy and he's just having the easy life, and is probably not too welcome in the nest. Though we're at a loss to explain why he goes into it at all every half hour or so!
Tonight we are going to look into the nest for the first time in 3 weeks. We feel that disturbing it at this stage will not adversely affect the natural course of events, as we fully expect our Queen to leave tomorrow with a bit of help and the natural decline of the colony will set in. In a way it's a sad final chapter - but boy, it's been some journey getting here!