Cloud of very small bees: Why?

Beekeeping & Apiculture Forum

Help Support Beekeeping & Apiculture Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.

Amari

Queen Bee
***
BeeKeeping Supporter
Joined
Mar 27, 2012
Messages
2,977
Reaction score
1,432
Location
Suffolk
Hive Type
National
Number of Hives
8
Lovely day, T 22C, so thought I'd lift my spirits by observing the activity of my five hives. However all the bees busily landing on and flying from the landing board of a polyhive were distinctly smaller than normal eg the bees in the adjacent hive. They were shorter and thinner but of similar colouring and shape. I guessed, maybe wrongly, each bee would weigh half the normal. One more difference: the customary cloud of bees waiting to land and enter the hive was much larger than the other hives.
I had neither bee suit nor camera so rushed home 600m distant and returned with two honey jars to capture samples from both hives for comparison.
You've guessed it: when I got back 15 mins later there were no small bees to be seen! Hive activity was the same as the others and a quick look under the crown board showed normal bees.
In my 50-odd years of beekeeping I've never witnessed this phenomenon before. I had wondered if my hive had been taken over by a different species of Mellifera Apis
Maybe these small bees were newly emerged and stretching their flight muscles? Grateful for your thoughts.
 
Last edited:
I wonder if there another species of smaller bee in the UK that has mating congregations, and they just happened to be in front of your hive?
 
I wonder if there another species of smaller bee in the UK that has mating congregations, and they just happened to be in front of your hive?
No, their behaviour was, apart from the much larger cloud, the same as normal bees - hovering, landing, then hurrying into the hive. I don't think they had pollen sacs.
 
No, their behaviour was, apart from the much larger cloud, the same as normal bees - hovering, landing, then hurrying into the hive. I don't think they had pollen sacs.
Fascinating - let us know what you find when you do the next full inspection.
I've occasionally seen a much smaller bee in a hive but not often!
 
Taking into account that normal visual acuity corresponds to line 8 of the Snellen test, that is, discerning a letter enclosed in a 8.86 mm square at a distance of 20 feet.
Additionally, on line 6 the letter would be a square with a side of 13.3mm (which is a value close to the length of a worker bee) at those same 20 feet.
Now if I observed from a distance of 30 feet I could clearly distinguish a bee at its approximate size. At smaller distances our brain interprets them as larger and at greater distances as smaller.
So, how far is the window from the apiary?
 
Taking into account that normal visual acuity corresponds to line 8 of the Snellen test, that is, discerning a letter enclosed in a 8.86 mm square at a distance of 20 feet.
Additionally, on line 6 the letter would be a square with a side of 13.3mm (which is a value close to the length of a worker bee) at those same 20 feet.
Now if I observed from a distance of 30 feet I could clearly distinguish a bee at its approximate size. At smaller distances our brain interprets them as larger and at greater distances as smaller.
So, how far is the window from the apiary?
Ingenious ophthalmic speculation - surprised that your Spanish Snellen chart measures in feet as well as mms! I was wearing a hat veil so was able to get really close to the bees of both hives - maybe 0.5m.
 
Ingenious ophthalmic speculation - surprised that your Spanish Snellen chart measures in feet as well as mms! I was wearing a hat veil so was able to get really close to the bees of both hives - maybe 0.5m.
Open them up and have a look inside?
I can't wait to see them. Take a camera and jars this time :)
 
Sounds strange i've never seen anything like that. Maybe you have some comb in the hive that has small cells and the young from that comb were on thier maiden flights?
 
Taking into account that normal visual acuity corresponds to line 8 of the Snellen test, that is, discerning a letter enclosed in a 8.86 mm square at a distance of 20 feet.
Additionally, on line 6 the letter would be a square with a side of 13.3mm (which is a value close to the length of a worker bee) at those same 20 feet.
Now if I observed from a distance of 30 feet I could clearly distinguish a bee at its approximate size. At smaller distances our brain interprets them as larger and at greater distances as smaller.
So, how far is the window from the apiary?
 
I have a completely untested theory which could be a load of rubbish. I had a mini mating nuc with what seemed to be slightly smaller bees in it that got me wondering.

We know that queens reared from slightly older larvae are often poorer quality due to feeding not being optimum- I've had some very small scrub queens. Might it be possible that if there is feed restriction to the worker larvae- not enough food to thrive and not enough of a lack of food for them to die off- that the resulting workers are slightly smaller in the same way scrub queens are? Essentially growth restriction/stunting by diet.

If this is conceivable, could it be in the case with @Amari that a few weeks ago a group of larvae of around the same age were exposed to such conditions so when they emerged they were stunted and being the same age they happen to be on orientation or toileting flights together so they all came out at once. It might make sense if the diutinus bees were severely worn out at the end of winter thus struggled to make enough royal jelly, leading to the restriction of the first cohorts but then once those emerged there are plenty of them so they produce enough RJ for the next lot which are consequently the right size.

All conjecture though. I haven't measured the bees so they it could just be me imagining the size difference with mine.
 
In my 50-odd years of beekeeping I've never witnessed this phenomenon before. I had wondered if my hive had been taken over by a different species of Mellifera Apis
Maybe these small bees were newly emerged and stretching their flight muscles? Grateful for your thoughts.

My untested theory is that there is only one Apis mellefera bee species in Europe.
 
Ingenious ophthalmic speculation - surprised that your Spanish Snellen chart measures in feet as well as mms! I was wearing a hat veil so was able to get really close to the bees of both hives - maybe 0.5m.
He had assumed that he was watching them from the window of his house.
Now, since it was at a distance of 0.5m and keeping the proportion, it would be able to distinguish variations of more than 0.74 mm, so if its usual bees measure around 13.5 mm, the small ones should measure less than 12.75mm.
I was talking about perception, not the bee's natural motivation to be smaller or bigger.
 
https://medlineplus.gov/spanish/genetica/entender/rasgos/height/
Bridging the gap between a bee and a person.
I would accept Wilco's theory, although there is also a certain genetic component, I say this with knowledge since a long time ago I acquired some small bee hives and some of them still exist today since when carrying out the reviews the change is noticeable. in size (the eye and brain get used to the general size when searching for the queen).
 
Fascinating - let us know what you find when you do the next full inspection.
I've occasionally seen a much smaller bee in a hive but not often!
Open them up and have a look inside?
I can't wait to see them. Take a camera and jars this time :)
I have a completely untested theory which could be a load of rubbish. I had a mini mating nuc with what seemed to be slightly smaller bees in it that got me wondering.

https://medlineplus.gov/spanish/genetica/entender/rasgos/height/
Bridging the gap between a bee and a person.
I would accept Wilco's theory,
Sounds strange i've never seen anything like that. Maybe you have some comb in the hive that has small cells and the young from that comb were on thier maiden flights?
I'm going to bed
Did a complete inspection today. No small bees seen in a very populous colony - maybe they've fattened up overnight - there's quite a flow on - probably OSR in full bloom about 800m distant. Ideal weather, bees busy++, 2nd and third supers added today. Thanks for your thoughts.
 

Latest posts

Back
Top