Last year there was never a dull moment in the bumblebee nest, always a surprise in store, and this year is already turning out to be no different.
As I blogged yesterday evening, I was already intrigued by the possible sighting of our queen, having seen a few very large bees, but then seeing a massive (or, as I say on twitter, mahoosive) behind trailing over the pots underneath our camera. The difference was very noticeable in her wide, plump tail and abdomen, which I had just managed to catch a parting shot of.
That all changed this morning as I time and time again I saw a massive bumblebee passing under the camera - here's a comparison shot with other the worker bumbles:
My heart was racing trying to capture pictures of her, because what I really wanted to find out was if she was laying eggs in this part of the nest. And, if she was, the prospect of capturing a bumblebee first emerging from a wax pot upon hatching. It would be amazing footage to capture.
I couldn't figure out if she was laying or not - not entirely knowing what to look for doesn't help. But my heart was soon pounding even harder when I saw this:
Not one, but seemingly TWO huge bees at the entrance, one showing an interest in the outside. You might think the size is no big deal, but here's a pic that shows some relative sizes.
This is where the measuring grid I have installed has now come into its own. A typical worker is quoted at 15mm - 20mm in size, though there are many in our nest much smaller than that - e.g. 10mm and last year we had 7mm bumbles. In contrast a queen is typically 25mm.
You can see from the picture below that this bumblebee is easily 25mm - and she's slightly scrunched - I put her nearer 28mm at full stretch. But apart from length, the staggering thing about her size is her width!
Her width poses an interesting question. The queens we saw develop last year were not wide like this - whereas queens in the wild now are moreso, because they've been fattening up to start laying eggs. So, it begs the question - is this an egg-laying queen (e.g. the queen that started this nest) or is this a queen that's been laid. And if so, how come so soon?
Not knowing the answer to this, I was concerned about the desire to show some interest in leaving the nest - and indeed, during the day both of them did. The first did a short 5 second memorisation flight and returned immediately, but that led to a 20 minute soujourn later in the day. I saw no pollen being brought back. Surely they are not going out to look to mate? There are still winter queens looking for nest sites; we're nowhere near laying boys yet (June/July typically)
Now some pics outside the nest:
And on the ledge (CH1) - which is nearly 3cm wide (deceptive! I'm going to add measurement markers!)
I saw both these bumblebees leave and return during the day, but no obvious pollen being collected. (Unlike the workers, who are bringing back plenty).
So - for now it's a mystery: could two queens somehow have been in the nest from the start? (seems extraordinarily unlikely). Is one a new queen already? Are they both new queens (after all, they both left the nest) - in which case where is our mystery mother? Can't wait to see how this develops!
The morning was very quiet in the nest - it was raining on and off outside, temperature was hovering below 10C and it was very windy, up to 10mph. A handful of small bumbles tried to brave it, most of them turned round immediately and came back in straight away. Two actually hung about in/around the inside entrance most of the day, once braved it on the porch roof above the thermometer and another (see CH1 pic above) actually stayed under the flap!
By 2.30 activity really picked up and they were playing catch up - so despite the ongoing wind there were plently foraging trips. I think some were being a bit foolhardy. In fact around 6pm I ended up rescuing a small worker that seemed to emerge for the first time and instead of going back into the nest, crawled off the ledge and disappeared.
I found her in the grass, warmed her up indoors and managed to get her back on the ledge. She disappeared again and I don't know (until I review the CCTV) whether she went back into the nest or not - I hope so!