Yesterday was a bit of a mad day with the nest - so much so, I was finding it hard to review footage and collect data while also keeping an eye on live activity.
The big anticipation of the day was whether Big Mamma would make a break from the nest or not, but as it turned out, despite the cardboard step we introduced into the nest for her, she was still unable (or unwilling) to leave.
My hunch mode had been kicking in too, regarding the possibility of yet more new hatching going in. My hunches are starting to become pretty reliable!
Yet another slow start again for the colony today, although the temperature was ridiculously mild for the time of year - we are being predicted a very warm week ahead. So much so, that by mid morning there'd been no sign of "stop out" bee returning; marking yet another shift in behaviour patterns.
For reasons that will become evident by the end of this article, I decided to stop trying to track and count each and individual bee - as it's now become too onerous to unqiuely identify them. In fact, I've completely lost count of how many of each size are really alive in the nest, as each day there seems to be evidence of additional bumbles that may be leaving and not coming back. These, of course, could be males.
All all I know there are 2, possibly 3 baby size (the smallest we'd seen to date), one big mamma queen size, one very large almost seems queen sized that keeps catching me out and anywhere between 1 and 3 mid size, of which our "stop out" bee was one. But there is still "mid size" activity today, so even if he/she has gone, there are others.
Late morning I decided to review the day's CCTV so far when my jaw dropped. There in the nest was the most miniscule of bees I have ever seen. She was even smaller than Holly (the disabled bee we cared for). My hunch had been right.
She was also exhibiting the now-classic newly-hatched behaviour: exploring the nest and entrance but not venturing out yet. Here she is, compared to the size of a regular soft-drink bottle top in the middle of the picture.
It was almost unfathomable that she could be so small and beautifully formed. I estimate she's about 1/4 to 1/5 the size of big mamma - that could make her about 1/100th the volume!
Soon she came out to the entrance and I watched live with great anticipation as I prepared to see her first flight. She came out onto the ledge turned and then started exploring that too and then up over the roof of the porch. This is the moment I hate, as there is slippy tape and plastic on the porch which many an uncertain bee has fallen from. She too befell the same fate, slipped and fell to the ground. I dashed out to find her and eventually after much searching spotted her:
I managed to get her back into the nest, for now; and she sat in the entrance, still, letting all the other bees walk over her!
While all this was going on Big Mamma was still making some failed attempts to get through the join between the lid and the base. I tried to encourage her to the entrance hole proper with some powerful lighting from outside the nest - it's where the light is that she is going for. This didn'twork for her, but it did seem to bring a few more nest lurkers into view. Amongst them was yet another tiny bee. I was truly astonished, but there was no doubting it - both of them were there together on the CCTV inside the nest.
There may even be three - it's hard to tell exact sizes from this photo, but there is one tiny one in the bottle top (centre), one very small one above it, and the original tiny one in the entrance top right.
Eventually one of the tiny bees came back out to the entrance and started climbing all over the shelter. This is a bad sign. This is what happened with all the bees we had to care for indoors - basically they never flew. Sadly, I think this tiny wee one is destined to the same fate, So now we have her indoors in a tub, fed and being kept warm. She can crawl and run with great pace and agility, but so far has not taken off; indeed, one of her wings is a little bent, and this may be her disability.
I was barely recovering from the excitement and shock of dsicovering three microscopic bees when another smallish one emerged from the nest. It seemed to be carring something - at first I thought it was pollen, but a review of the CCTV shows it was in fact some kind of larvae. (UNHAPPY FACE). Even more astonishingly, we watched on as this bee perfromed nest memorisation. Her first trip!! Sent to eject an unwelcome visitor.
She returned 10 minutes later. At the time, watching live, I was baffled by what I was seeing, because she spent a lot of time almost "reverse memorising" the entrance before she came in. Indeed, she spent longer flying round it on the way in than on the way out.
On reviewing the CCTV, all became clear: she dashed out carrying a larvae to get rid of and wasn't really able to conduct a typical memorisation procedure due to her wriggling payload, which needed taking away from striking distance of the nest quickly. She did the bare minimum required to memorise the look and location of the nest and then took the larvae away. On return she found the nest site ok, but she had to examine the front in more detail to establish the exact entrance. So, she essentially reversed her tracks to find her way back in. Truly Awesome first flight!
But get this - she was carrying some pollen. Yep, in the short 10 minutes of her first flight, used to eject an nest invader, she also took the trouble to go and collect some pollen. Now, ifthat aint commitment.
Two hours later, we saw another similar eviction:
In the second picture in particular, you can see the larvae quite clearly hanging from the bee's mandibles. I timed this trip and it was more or less exactly 2 minutes. It's safe to assume that she can fly at 10 metres per second (I have timed them at well above this), in which case her outward trip of 1 minute would take her 600 metres away from the nest. Let's call it half a kilometre. Pretty impressive.
Of course, the bad bad news here is that there are some kind of larvae in the nest. I don't know what type they are or how many. We have seen the occasional fly in the nest and a small moth the other day - either of those, I suppose, could be candidate mothers. I hope so much it is not wax moth - but we will probably take a look inside tonight to see if there's anything we can spot. Not that we can do much of course if we discover more. Certain is supposed to kill Wax Moth larvae, but whether we can spray it into a live nest is another matter.
It's going to be an "interesting" evening..