What is torpor in general?
Torpor, is generally scientifically defined as follows;
Torpor, a state of lowered body temperature and metabolic activity assumed by many animals in response to adverse environmental conditions, especially cold and heat. The torpid state may last overnight, as in temperate-zone hummingbirds and some insects and reptiles; or it may last for months, in the case of true hibernation and the winter torpor of many cold-blooded vertebrates.
"Torpor". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2018. Web. 05 Jan. 2018 <https://www.britannica.com/science/torpor>
Basically “torpor” is a physical response to changes in temperature in a number of animals.
We’ve talked about torpor before in a previous article but not quite in as much detail. Here I’d like to get a bit more specific.
What is torpor in regards to honeybees?
Torpor is not effected identically across the board between mammals, lizards, birds and insects Unfortunately, all too many times, people will try to apply the understanding of torpor to honey bees as it applies to mammals. That is to our disadvantage.
In regard to bees, torpor is a point in which the temperature has the effect of causing bees to be unable to sustain an inner temperature that allows bees to stay mobile and active.
I’d like to quote directly from the well respected book, “Honey Bee Democracy” by Dr. Tom Seeley in the description of bee swarm/cluster temperature regulation. He cites Dr. Bernd Heinrich research in about 1980.
Heinrich discovered many marvelous things about temperature regulation in honeybee swarms, all of which are key to understanding how a swarm prepares to fly to its new home. First, he found that a swarm does indeed precisely control the temperature of the cluster’s core so that it stays at 34– 36 ° C (93– 97 ° F) regardless of the ambient temperature. He also found that a swarm allows the temperature of the cluster’s mantle (outer layer) to vary with the ambient temperature, but that it keeps the mantle temperature above 17 ° C (63 ° F) even if the ambient temperature falls to freezing (0 ° C or 32 ° F). This means that the outermost bees, which are the coolest, keep themselves warm enough to stay active on the swarm. If they were to cool below 15 ° C (59 ° F) they would enter “chill torpor” and easily fall from the swarm. They would also be too cold to warm themselves back up by shivering.
Seeley, Thomas D.. Honeybee Democracy (Kindle Locations 2025-2032). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
I highlighted some pertinent information as to the effect of torpor on honey bees above on the effect of torpor on bees in a cluster.
Bees resist Torpor
In effect, torpor is something honey bee colonies actively work to prevent. Bees in the cluster work to generate heat that warms not only themselves but is trapped within the cluster by the outermost layer of bees (the “mantle”. Those bees in the mantle don’t just take it as a given that being exposed to the cold, they must enter torpor. They will work to retain their own effective body temperature and move to the inside of the cluster to preserve that temperature if possible. Honey bees actively resist torpor.
…when the ambient temperature falls below 17 ° C, and the mantle bees start to feel too cool, they crowd inward, causing the swarm cluster to shrink, its porosity to decrease, and its heat loss to diminish (figs. 7.2 and 7.3). In this way the mantle bees skillfully trap inside the swarm cluster the metabolic heat generated by the thousands of resting, immobile bees, and they also keep themselves sufficiently warm. It is only when the air temperature falls below about 10 ° C (50 ° F) that the mantle bees must take the extra step of raising their metabolic rate by shivering.
Seeley, Thomas D.. Honeybee Democracy (Kindle Locations 2037-2041). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
Honey bees have figured out how to maintain over the Winter
Thus Heinrich discovered that the bees in a honeybee swarm have an effective means of conserving their energy reserves. The mantle bees, those most exposed to low temperatures, minimize their need for active metabolism by doing two things when the air becomes cool: (1) letting their body temperatures drop to just above the chill-torpor temperature rather than working to maintain a higher body temperature, and (2) keeping their body temperatures above the chill-torpor temperature mainly by huddling rather than shivering. Of course, these energy conservation measures mean that most of the time the outermost bees in a swarm are too cold to fly, something that is easily demonstrated by skimming a spoonful of mantle bees from a swarm and shaking them into the air. The bees tumble to the ground rather than fly away. So before a swarm can take off to fly to its new home, the cool bees in the mantle must warm their flight muscles to the flight-ready temperature of 35 ° C. And not just in theory! When Heinrich made continuous recordings of the temperatures at various locations in a swarm cluster from when the bees settled to when they departed, he found that during the last hour or so before takeoff, the temperature in the mantle did indeed rise to match the 35 ° C of the core.
Seeley, Thomas D.. Honeybee Democracy (Kindle Locations 2045-2050). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
Again, I’ve highlighted pertinent text that affirms that honey bees avoid or resist torpor because for honey bees, it does not have the same effect as it does in mammals. Topor in mammals is beneficial to their survival for short term temperature changes in conserving heat and energy. For mammals. It’s a short term solution whereas hibernation is for long term survival in extreme changes of temperature.
Not so for bees. For bees, torpor is a state that can lead to death due to failure to maintain just enough self generated heat.
How is torpor important in honey bee colony management?
For many apiculturists, Winter is a nervous time. We try to send bees into Winter with plenty of stores to sustain energy specifically so that they can continue to generate enough heat to prevent torpor.
We also use mechanical, environmental and other methods to make the hive more efficient in heat retention. By making hives more heat efficient, we allow bees to expend less energy to maintain sustainable temperatures in the cluster. Conserving energy also helps the colony to retain their food stores for a longer period of time, preventing starvation.
Causes for concern in beekeepers
In recent years, we have seen an increase in concern and interest in methods being used to check the conditions of over-wintering colonies. Unfortunately in many articles and videos torpor and it’s effect on bee colonies is not accurately explained or understood. Sometimes it is even suggested to be a normal or “good” thing that bees enter a state of torpor in cold weather. These misunderstandings have caused colonies to be lost unnecessarily.
- We can use efficient hives that are insulated naturally, or if necessary, adding extra insulation.
- Ensure that hives are well ventilated. Keeping hives dry can’t be overstated.
- Use effective pest presence restrictors. Entrance guards or different sized bottom boards perhaps. When we try to do whatever keeps predators and scavengers from getting into hives. Colonies can be depleted or have their resources consumed before they can access them.
Beecause I can, that’s why
I refer frequently to “Beekeeping Rule #1” when I teach classes and in various social media. My rules are something I just came up with one day in a joking reference to the old joke based on an old commercial listing reasons or excuses for using a particular product.
Most recently, I actually compiled a very short list of “Beekeeping Rules”according to how important I see them. These are “Big Bear’s Rules of Beekeeping”. In addition to the few rules, I also have tossed in some axioms that are particularly relevant to apiculture as I see it.
On to the list…
Big Bear’s Rules of Beekeeping
Rule #1: Bees are crazy.
One of the worst things we do when getting into playing with bees is to expect them to do things that make some sort of sense to us. We expect them to think and behave in accordance to the way humans think. They don’t. They don’t “reason” or think the way we do. compared to us, bees are truly and utterly crazy. Don’t let yourself bee fooled.
Rule #2: Have a Plan
Originally, and on a recent podcast episode, I said that I put this rule as #3 but I was wrong. It’s really second in line. I can’t stress the importance of having a plan for at least the next 12 months if not longer depending on the beekeeping you are involved in.
Axiom to Rule #2: Proper planning prevents poor performance.
The more in-depth your plan is, the better prepared you can be. It’s a horrible feeling walking up to a hive or multiple hives finding a die-out or major problem and knowing or finding out it was preventable or able to be corrected with basic early intervention. Planning out ahead of time sets you up for success. A proper plan includes;
Goals. What is the purpose or the point, the reason you are doing this?
Objectives. What specific things do you want to accomplish by the end of the season or time frame? Set up things that are measurable and trackable so that you can monitor your progress along the way.
Strategies. What methodologies and processes are you going to follow to achieve those goals an objectives? For example, will you include an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in your operation? How specifically will it be tailored to the way you are going to meet your goals and objectives?
Tactics. What specific techniques and tools, specific equipment and materials will you need to obtain and have ready to use? The tools and handling methods you use should be chosen to fit into your strategy and help you to meet your goals and objectives. Too often people choose the tools, equipment and methods they use with very little thought beyond cost or ease of use and end up causing themselves more trouble in the long run.
Rule #3: Bee Prepared
Back to the example of walking into an apiary and finding that there is a particular issue or problem. Maybe what you find is actually something you planned for. That’s good. Did you actually follow through and get all the tools, equipment and materials to do something about it? If you didn’t, you are probably in trouble. There are situations in the apiary when by the time you discover the issue, it’s too late. You might fix it if you deal with it on the spot. If you don’t have the things you need though, you will just be prolonging the inevitable.
Axiom to Rule #3; It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Your beekeeping is yours and yours alone. It’s fine to get advice from mentors, coaches, instructors and other beekeepers but always think for your self and specifically to your own goals and objectives. Those might not be the same as those other people and what those other people suggest may or may not work in your specific, particular situation. Don’t let yourself be bluffed, bullied or otherwise put in a corner to do “what everyone else does”. They’re your bees, your hives, your apiary and your goals. You need to make decisions to meet those, not what someone else is doing.
An axiom without a rule
While all of the above are things I find to be very important, critical actually, to apicultural success, I have a saying that overrules all of them.
Beekeeping should be fun.
By extension, all things related to beekeeping should be fun, bee clubs and associations, running honey booths and information tables. Whatever. If beekeeping isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong.
For those involved in professional apiculture, no, it won’t always be fun because it’s business and business means hard work and effort. Even so, it should be satisfying and fulfill your passion. If not, you’re in the wrong business.
Over on my professional services website, I post more specifically on more esoteric topics specific to professional apiculture theory, concept, etc..
I like to post there going into more on the what’s and why’s of apicultural things over there. Here at Bee Smart, the goal is to provide more applied information that can be used across the beekeeping spectrum.
Mostly what I cover over there is more classroom based content rather than “in-the-field” as this website is focused on. In response to a question from a client of mine wanting to know what real purpose packages serve in apiculture, I wrote the following post.
Packages aren’t primarily about the bees in the package
Buying bee packages has been done for so long now that most people in beekeeping think it’s always been that way. In the history of beekeeping, it’s actually still a relatively new thing. Ultimately though, all of those bees from different colonies aren’t there to build a new, cohesive colony among themselves necessarily.
They are there to help build a strong colony. They are there to provide a high population to gather resources and build a nest that is conducive to establishing a genetically cohesive colony.
The Queen is bringing her own colony with her
Queens are often shipped with bee packages, but not always. It’s not necessary to ship a queen with a package because any queen that is sent along is almost guaranteed to not be the same genetic line as the bees in the package.
The queen, whether purchased with the packaged or obtained some other way by you, is going to establish a new colony of her own genetics using the bees in the package as the startup team. The mated Queen you choose will get busy laying eggs to establish her colony while the package bees set up shop, so to speak.
Selected traits make your Queen more valuable than a package
Apiarists who are focused on establishing a line of selected traits that will be highly successful in their area will likely be raising their own queens or purchasing from a breeder they have investigated and trust for the traits they desire. Those selected queens will be the real beginning of the colony that “owns” the hive you place them in.
After the larvae emerge and begin taking over duties, they will raise any new queens from the eggs laid by that Queen. Eventually, every bee in this hive will be of the same genetic line as the selected queen.
Packages are about a strong start in a small box
What the initial package bees are is the startup crew. They essentially exist solely for the purpose of providing a large enough workforce to forage, build the nest and care for the initial eggs and larvae of the selected Queen. After a certain point, that hodge-podge crew will die out entirely leaving only the offspring of the selected Queen.
The package bees play a vital role in establishing the new colony. Keep in mind though that they are not themselves ultimately the end result colony. This places even more importance on the qualities of the Queen you obtain that into the hive with the package bees.
The package bees pave the way and never get to see the the end result
After the new package is installed into a hive, they will get to business right away. It’s usually a good idea to feed a newly installed package heavily with 1:1 sugar syrup as soon as possible to help them get started on nest building and getting energy to go out foraging. Depending on the quantity and quality of nectar available at the time of hiving a package, it’s est to continue to make sugar syrup available until they stop taking it. They know what they want and when there’s enough of it to stop bothering with the “fast food” you provide.
If you have some relatively clean and drawn out combs, using a few of those in the initial hive box at installation of the package will also help the bees get a more successful start and make them more efficient. Also know that you shouldn’t add too much space to the hive stack right away until they expand to the point of needing more boxes added. keeping the space as manageable as possible also increases the bees efficiency in building and maintaining the new nest.
What’s in a word?
Apiculture and beekeeping. Two words that are synonymous of each other and yet not exactly the same. Many words often refer to something similar yet every word also retains it’s own special definition. Each word isn’t exactly the same as other synonymous words.
Words have meaning. Apiculture refers to beekeeping, yet it means something more distinct. Yes, apiculture and beekeeping both refer to the practice of maintaining honey bee hives. Yet, while one term, “beekeeping”, is obviously more generic, “apiculture” suggests something more refined.
Apiculture as a trade
I know that I am not the only one who looks upon and goes about my efforts with bees as a hobby or even in a “commercial” approach. Apiculture as a trade exists in a place somewhere in between the two.
One one hand, it is a specialized, professional endeavor. A process through which a person has undergone formal and informal education. Apprenticeship and working with and alongside a person who has made a living with bees and all they provide.
It is, in part, setting goals and objectives for productivity and profitability. We establish and follow objective measures and a course of action to be planned and followed.
As a trade there are technical issues and aspects we must identify and practice. We develop a mastery of skills and knowledge and never cease to build upon it.
Apiculture is also a passion
This path also requires a philosophical approach, if not an artistic one. Apiarists are guided by a sense of design and purpose. There is purpose from the initial stages of preparing the grounds and putting together hives to selecting the type of bees and the management methods to achieve the goals of the apiary.
As an Apiarist (or Apiculturist) there is a connection we feel not just to the bees but to the apiary and to the work as a whole. It is in it’s own way a Holistic enterprise. We are always trying to achieve this balance. We want to work toward a symmetry of sorts between the immediate environment, the bees and our purpose.
Apiculture is equal parts practicality and ideology
If we bring all the parts together, we get a grand purpose. It’s both a career and a passion. For so many, it becomes a part of their essential identity. It’s a part of who and what we are. The term, “Labor of love” is heard from apiarists fairly often.
This in no way slights either hobbyists or commercial operators. The interactions they pursue in those avenues are admirable in their own ways as well. Still, there is indeed a difference. There is a difference economically and philosophically.
The Bee Smart beekeeping project
Bee Smart beekeeping project is to provide information and insight for anyone and everyone who wants to know more about bees and beekeeping. You could say it is an enterprise of apiculture passion. I want to share with people not just knowledge and information about bees. It’s also about sharing the experience, the enthusiasm, and the opportunity that bees and beekeeping presents.
Everything posted here is an effort to share all of those things and have fun and keep people interested while doing so. From the puzzles and article posts to the podcasts and occasional videos. It’s all about sharing the experience of apiculture.
Let me share with you the world of bees and beekeeping that I and other apiarists I am lucky enough to call my friends can show you. See you in the forums.
Hello fellow melliphiles, you might have noticed that last week, the week of Thanksgiving, we didn’t have a puzzle for you, that is to bee expected as we are always trying to meet the demands of bees, family and business.
Have no fear though! We have a fun and tasty new puzzle for you all about honey. In tune with this week’s theme of honey here on the Bee Smart beekeeping project website AND the podcast featuring C. Marina Marchese co-author of “Honey Connoisseur” (with Kim Flottum).
Of course, you can print out this Crossword, as always using the link to the PF below and yes, it has a word list to help you folks who aren’t into the beekeeping lingo yet.
Domestic or local honey is entering an new era of “craft” production and presentation. The degree of effort and ingenuity that many beekeepers are putting into their honey products is nothing short of amazing.
Most honey sold in the U.S. now is imported. The majority of the honey you find on store shelves and baked into the foods that use honey comes from South America and Asia. Yes, a lot of that “banned” Chinese honey still finds it’s way into the country via “honey launderers” in Europe and U.S. honey packers that really don’t care what is in the honey they import, as long as it’s cheap. They are going to blend it all anyway.
Where does that leave domestic honey? Some of it, mostly produced by commercial pollinator bee businesses, does find it’s way into the big honey packers. It too gets blended into the job lots of imported honeys to add to the flavor and allows the packers to say that the honey they offer is also domestic.
What of the rest? More and more, we’re beginning to see a rise of artisan honey. Local producers working to time their harvests to get small but unique bouquets of nectar based honey that become sought out and bought by locals and new “Honey Connoisseurs” that live to experiment with honey the way other people collect and sample fine wines, scotch and spices.
C. Marina Marchese and Kim Flottum, both established beekeepers and authors, co-wrote a book titled “Honey Connoisseur” that has swept the imagination and taste-buds of beekeepers and non-beekeepers alike by introducing readers not only to the nectar sources that produce exquisite honeys but delightful ways those honey can be identified, matched with other foods and drinks and used in cooking as more than just a sweetener.
Other honey craftsmen are getting into the infused honey market and are delicately blending other, unique, flavors into their locally collected honey. I know a beekeeper in New York State with a burgeoning side business that infuses some of the hottest peppers into his honey and is picking up like gangbusters. It’s an awesome thing to experience according to those who rave and beg for more even when his supply is sold out for the year.
The mead makers are still out there making their finest honey wine and beer. This is now even further accentuated with the explosion of craft brewing. The possibilities now for honey based brews is staggering. Alcoholic honey beverages aren’t alone. There’s a slowly building community of honey based soda and non-alcoholic drink makers making an entry into the craft honey beverage realm as well. Here in my own back yard down in Bellevue, NE we have a fellow who makes a spectacular mead AND a honey root beer that is simply awesome. His business has built quite a reputation for creative honey beverages.
As domestic apiculture moves further into the twenty-first century, we will see, I believe, an explosion of “craft” honey offerings. Honey producing beekeepers, hobbyists and professional apiarists alike, have their work cut out for them to find ever creative and unique ways to expose new customers to not just local honey, but custom, crafted honey products and uses.
Quite a delicious problem to take on.
We literally break ground this coming weekend to start setting hive stands at the new teaching apiary at Scatter Joy Acres up in Florence.
We are starting off with 2 new interns, 1 full apprentice and 2 volunteer assistants.
We are still encouraging people to donate materials and resources directly to Scatter Joy Acres and if you would like to support the Bee Smart beekeeping project effort to manage the apiary, train new Apiarists, and provide positive interaction opportunities for visitors, please consider supporting us over at my Patreon page for the Bee Smart beekeeping project. Our Patreon supporters will have exclusive access to video updates on the progress of the apiary throughout the year.
Part of the work I do is live bee removals around the Omaha metro area. As I rescue these bees before they might be killed, I will start them in a process to hopefully end up at the Bee Joyful Teaching Apiary. Again these live removal efforts are greatly helped by our Patreon supporters whose patronage helps to reduce costs of work for low income people. Costs can get very high trying to open up and repair an opening where a bee nest is removed.
My goal is to help people bee better beekeepers and keep bee alive and thriving. My apprentices want to to be that kind of beekeeper as well. With projects like this that allow us to offer fun, informative and creative content to share with the world, everyone comes out a winner. Your patronage at the Patreon page help create winners.