Bees & Covid, by Jonathan the Beekeeper

Well what a year so far! So, humans have been in lockdown and we’ve all been getting used to social distancing measures. Meanwhile what have the bees been doing here in the mountains of Snowdonia? Have they been in lockdown and self-isolating or social distancing?

Lockdown would mean the bees wouldn’t go out and leave their hive – the only time they would do that is if the weather is not good! If it is dry and sunny – then definitely no lockdown for honeybees – it’s get out and about and work your socks off as hard as you can, gathering resources for the colony of bees as a whole.

This year started very well with the first 2 months of human lockdown being sunny meaning the bees definitely didn’t know the term ‘lockdown’. Unfortunately, thereafter the weather has been mostly pretty grim and our honeybees have learnt just what us humans were having to do! So, lockdown in the hive and eat the nectar and honey reserves they had initially stored up! Yum! Yum! ….. Until its nearly all gone …. oh dear…. then what!!

Well then of course we get home delivery, don’t we? Yes – but I haven’t seen supermarkets delivering to honeybees? No, but luckily this is where a beekeeper can step in and do ‘home delivery’ of a sugar syrup feed to keep the bees going and prevent the poor things starving in the poor North Wales Summer! Honeybees will always be better off with their own honey ideally but sugar syrup is easily made up by a beekeeper and readily taken by the bees from special feeders. In nature – some colonies of bees may unfortunately die due to the poor weather but thankfully we as beekeepers can keep them going until the good weather returns (hopefully!)

And what of social distancing? Do bees know the term?

The nearest thing to them to social distancing would be:

  • Not allowing bees from a different colony (hive) to enter their own hive – they have a different smell and they may be robbing the honey stores, so they are severely repelled
  • Poor bees which are infected with a virus or disease are repelled from the nest and ejected into the outdoors to die. Sounds very harsh but at least it works for the rest of them by removing some of the source of spread of the virus/disease quickly and saving the entire colony. No PPE equipment for bees!

Bees are approx. 12 mm long. The average height of a woman in Wales is 162cms (why only women? – remember for comparison – the majority of a honeybee colony are female, all the ‘workers’ such as the honeybees you see on flowers, they are all female)

So, in our Covid lockdown, a Welsh woman has been keeping approx. 1¼ lengths away from other people (compared to her height). If bees were to do that, they would need to keep about 15mm away from another bee. Doesn’t sound much but is this possible in a hive? Basically, No!

  • Bees need to keep each other warm and critically they need to keep their brood nest warm (at approx. 35oC) where all the young baby bee development stages are, especially if the temperature drops at night etc. They don’t have central heating or hot water bottles or even ‘blankets’ made out of natural materials. They keep warm by huddling close together – yes much closer than 15mm to each other!
  • Bees build beeswax honeycombs to live on which are separated by a space of 6-9mm in order that there is enough space to pass through but not too much space that is wasted and impossible to keep warm properly, hence again impossible for bees to socially distance at 15mm.

Luckily bees haven’t heard about lockdown, self-isolating or social distancing! They only want to enjoy the sunshine! Sounds a lot like the beekeeper too – bring back the sunshine!

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