Nature Notes

Jenny Dixon

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

WAY back in May we discovered that a colony of honeybees was establishing itself behind the dustbins in the stone wall that supports the path to our front door. We’d noticed quite a few of them – joining the assorted bumblebees and hoverflies buzzing round our garden flowers. Then a friend spotted some creeping into a small crack in the mortar of the wall. It wasn’t too near the house and, although I’m a bit alarmed by close proximity with wasps, I take a more relaxed view of honey bees – as, I hoped, they would do of me- so they were welcome to what we imagine is a hollow space below the path.

In fact, during the hot weather I spent a fascinating few minutes each morning watching bee-traffic as the workers left their front door, soon to return with large sacs of yellow pollen adhering to their hind legs. It seemed a happy and busy community. Then the weather turned wet and chilly, so it was some time before I lingered by the dustbins again. Alas – no sign of bees at all. The colony had failed. Perhaps disease overtook them as it has so many domesticated hives or perhaps the nest site was flooded out during the storms. We’ll never know. Dead the bees – and dead my dreams of visitors being bathed in the glorious scent of honey as they approached our door.

I reflected sadly on their history: how the mated queen must have discovered our wall, explored the crack and decided it was a good spot to build her new colony. She would have foraged for pollen to supply it, laid her first batch of eggs and tended the larvae until each emerged as a worker. From that time on she would remain inside the wall, laying eggs and leaving foraging, hive maintenance and rearing the young to her ever-growing family. Come the storm – or plague – and there would be no escape.

Meanwhile a different storyline was developing in stepson Rob’s suburban garden. Here lived a colony of black garden ants - similar hierarchy – a fertile queen and workers with differentiated roles; but these were never actually noticed by the family. Then, as he was pottering about outside, Rob encountered an endless procession of ants each carrying a large white egg. Presumably they were moving to a new site. Apparently ants often do this and there’s been detailed research trying to discover why. No conclusion was reached. Clearly ants can move if seriously disturbed or threatened but, often, they make a corporate decision and move – just like people, really!