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We learned the ropes of beekeeping in Australia for some years with a few urban hives. These were Apis mellifera (commonly called European Honey Bees (EHB) though they probably originated in Egypt). But since establishing 5EyesFarm in Java, Indonesia, we are learning to care-take a variety of native Asian bee species.
First up, Apis cerana, the Asian Honey Bee (AHB) looks and behaves remarkably like a European bee, just slightly smaller (fn). They produce a lot of honey but not as much as their distant cousin the EHB.
A swarm of around 1500 Cerana appeared on a tall thick seemed flower on the farm in March 2020. I quickly captured it in a bamboo tube and carefully placed it on the ground while I went to get some protective clothing (I have become slightly allergic). Too late. Just wearing shorts, a tee-shirt and flip-flops, I was stung on the leg. Telfast is usually my go-to if I am stung by a EHB but I waited to see if I would react. These days, I react to a EHB sting by getting itchy all over. I didn’t react except for the usual local swelling and a bit of pain!
By the time I returned, all dressed up with gloves and long-sleeved shirt and long pants and boots and a hat with a screen they had gone. I picked up the bamboo and went around the farm looking to see if they had just moved to another tree or shrub or some other staging point. I know that bees look for a staging point when they swarm. From here they are sending out emissaries to find a new home for the colony. So they won’t have gone far.
But I couldn’t find them. I went all over the place looking. Maybe they are high up in a tree or in some neighbouring property I thought as I came to some ripe lemons that needed harvesting. I handed the bamboo I had been carrying under my arm to James who had been walking around with me. He took it while I went in for the fruit. Then he said he heard something, and then he almost dropped the bamboo. They were in there the whole time and I couldn’t see them down the dark tube with the screen in front of my face.
I took this colony to the lab and put the whole bamboo inside a box that I prepared with a slot for them to get in and out. They started to settle in there and then one day about a week later they all vanished. It was difficult to know where they had gone or why they decided they didn’t like the hive or its placement. Maybe it was because they were too close to the stingless bee colonies.
We found them in the guest room. They came in through the louvre window and started to build their hive on the ceiling between rafters. It seemed that they had scouted this out from their temporary location in the lab and decided that this was the best free rent solution. Perfect access, high up (3rd floor of the house) safe and peaceful. During COVID-19, we haven’t had guests staying and so the bees have taken over the room. Their hive has grown and so has their population. It is a healthy, happy bee kingdom that is thriving. We have left it be for now.