Today I came home from work and even from inside the house I could hear a frenzy of buzzing. Fearing the worst yet compelled to investigate, I quickly found myself coming upon a rather comical situation.
When the bees stopped eating the sugar water I set out late this summer, I found myself with a full container in the hive drawing lots of ants. Unsure quite why the bees had stopped eating it but wanting to give them the option of resuming, I moved the feeder out of the hive and placed it in a sheltered spot of the back yard. Over the course of several weeks it served well as a sticky ant trap while the top formed a substantial skin which the bees were entirely uninterested in, and I basically forgot about it.
Earlier this week we had the first substantial rain in the desert since early spring, picking up just over an inch, and today was the first good foraging day for the bees since the rain. One of them had obviously found the pool of sweetened rainwater which had formed on top of the feeder skin, and many followed. Unfortunately, my bees do tend to lack discretion when presented with a feast, and several bees had consumed more than they could fly home with. While there were no drownings as far as I could tell, there was a ring of sugar soaked bees around the fluid surface which had somehow managed to become all stuck together. When new bees arrived they would land just behind the others and then try to walk over them to get to the sugar water, in the process getting themselves coated in the syrup. Those lucky few which made it over the mound while managing to keep their wings free would drink their fill, then try to fly off, only to end up not getting more than an inch or two away before gravity overcame their flight muscle capabilities. Eventually one would somehow gather enough energy to make some longer stages and, I assume, eventually make it back to the hive. Between these constant attempts and the waves of reinforcements flying around looking for a way in, the buzzing was pretty darn loud.
The scene reminded me of the final stages of a fraternity party kicking off a three day weekend. Those who could still hold a cup huddled around the keg, stepping over the snoring bodies of those to whom an inebriated sleep had overtaken, while some small few reeled home against the tide of latecomers. After suiting up, I grabbed my trusty spray bottle of lukewarm water and waded into the melee. The first order of business was to remove the temptation, so the feeder found it’s way to the far side of the driveway. After removing the ring of sticky bees from the feeder as gently as possible under the circumstances, I dumped the sugar syrup over an ant hill. Returning with a spray bottle, I gave the bees a fairly heavy shower to try and get as mch sugar off as I could without drowning them in the process, then returned to the hopping bees that were still struggling to fly around the original location. Initially they all seemed to dislike being sprayed, but after a few minutes they seemed to realize they were surrounded by sugar coated bees and began to clean each other off. As it was getting close to sunset, I picked up a plastic lid and scooped bees onto it, then gave them a few more sprays for good measure before carrying them back to the hive entrance and rather unceremoniously dumping them on the doorstep. After a few trips there was a fair sized pile of them, and some of the guard bees were fairly happy to express their displeasure of the increased workload by headbutting my veil. Other members of the hive, however, were more than happy to run out and lick off their sisters before assisting them back into the hive.