When the Weather Warms, the Bee Swarms

When the Weather Warms, the Bee Swarms

A worker bee gathering nectar and pollen.

As the weather warms, it seems that all kinds of living things start stirring. From birds to bees, plants to ants, and gnats to tourists, the world comes alive in the spring. It’s those bees we’ll discuss here, because every year they swarm, and that can cause some consternation among the homeowners whose houses they invade.

Honeybees are vitally important to our wellbeing, as they act as pollinators for many of our crops. They supply us with honey and wax and are a source of livelihood for many individuals. Important though they may be, they can sometimes become a nuisance.

Honeybees are eusocial organisms. Each honeybee lives in a colony or hive that it cannot survive without. In fact, it can be helpful to think of the entire hive as a single organism, even if it is made up of many individuals. The queen bee is the only one who lays eggs, but she cannot forage for her own food. Workers supply pollen and nectar to the hive but cannot reproduce on their own. Drones, or male bees, exist only to mate and would quickly die without the support of their sisters.

When a queen reproduces, she lays eggs that develop into new workers. When the time is right, she may lay eggs that develop into drones, or new females may be fed a substance called royal jelly that causes them to develop into new queens. These new drones and queens are born in preparation for a new hive to be created rather than to add more bees to the existing one. The old queen will be the adventurous one, so the workers put her on a diet. Once she has lost weight (to make it easier for her to fly), she takes half the workers in the hive and goes out in search of a new place to live. One of the new queens, after mating, returns to the nest and prepares to continue the work of her predecessor.

When the old queen leaves with her coterie, this is called a swarm. When weather warms and nectar begins to flow, the

A swarm of bees looking for a new home.

bees travel from place to place looking for a good spot to live. Hollow cavities in trees are a favorite spot, but bee scouts often find what they think are perfect living places in our homes or sheds. While they are searching for a new place to set up shop, they may rest on trees or branches in large clumps. Do not be alarmed if you see one, as it does not mean they are nesting where they’ve stopped. Wait a while to see if they leave on their own or contact a local beekeeper to see if they want to collect the swarm.

If bees have taken up residence somewhere they’re not welcome, there are companies and individuals who may be able to collect the bees rather than destroying them. If removal is not an option, nuisance bees may be eradicated under Florida law, but this must be done by a certified Pest Control Operator.

If you have a swarm or hive on your property, check with the Department of Agriculture (Bee Removal or Eradication in Florida Resources) to find information and for a list of bee removal specialists. See our EDIS publication on choosing a pest control operator at Choosing the Right Pest Control Operator for Honey Bee Removal: A Consumer Guide. You can also contact your local Extension office for help with finding someone local.

Virtual Bee College Saturday Mornings March 2021 7:30-11:30 am CST / CDT

Virtual Bee College Saturday Mornings March 2021 7:30-11:30 am CST / CDT

Bee College

Join the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory for the 2021 Spring Virtual UF/IFAS Bee College! Imagine FOUR Saturday mornings in March 2021 of all things honey bees. Those new to beekeeping can follow the beginner track, while more experienced beekeepers can participate in sessions focused on honey bee stressors and other advanced topics related to beekeeping. Speakers include UF/IFAS faculty, staff, students, members from the Florida State Beekeepers Association, specialists from Bee Informed Partnership, and other honey bee specialists around the world! Participants can choose to attend one session or all four as a “Package Deal” for a reduced fee. Register for the “Package Deal” or for each session separately– whatever works best with your schedule.

Register Here

Downloadable Agenda

Bee College Info Site 

Avoid Firewood Pests

Avoid Firewood Pests

Fire in fireplace

Be careful when bringing firewood indoors. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Your firewood pile could be “bugged.” Many insects like to overwinter in wood. A wood pile is an ideal place for some insects to survive the winter. They don’t know that you intend to bring their winter home indoors during cold weather.

During colder weather, you can unknowingly bring in pests such as spiders, beetles and roaches when you bring in firewood. It’s best to bring in firewood only when you are ready to use it. Otherwise, those pests could become active and start crawling around inside your house. Many insects are potential problems indoors and there are usually control options once insects move into your home. However, preventing the insects from getting inside is the best approach.

If you store wood indoors for short periods of time, it is a good idea to clean the storage area after you have used the wood. Using a first-in, first-out guideline as much as possible will reduce chances of insect problems.

It’s best to keep your wood pile off the ground and away from the house. This will make it less inviting to insects and help the wood dry. It’s not difficult to keep the wood off the ground. The wood can be stacked on a base of wooden pallets, bricks or blocks, which will allow air movement under the wood. The wood can also be covered with a waterproof tarp or stored in a shed. Regardless of how it is stored, avoid spraying firewood with insecticides. When burned, insecticide treated wood may give off harmful fumes.

Some critters that live in firewood can be harmful to humans. To avoid a painful sting or bite from insects, spiders or scorpions (no Florida scorpion is considered poisonous, but they can inflict a painful sting), it is a good practice to wear gloves when picking up logs from a wood pile.

Firewood can be a good source of heat during our cold weather. If you’re careful with how you handle your firewood, hopefully it will warm you, not “bug” you.

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! 2021

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! 2021

We are back with new topics and guest speakers for 2021! All sessions are Thursdays at noon CDT or 1:00 p.m. EDT.

There are two ways to join the Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! webinars:

1. Facebook Live – Follow us on Facebook and follow individual webinar Events.
2. Zoom Webinar – Pre-registration is required for Zoom. Users must have an authenticated account (free at https://zoom.us/signup). Be sure you have security settings up to date to prevent connection delays. Links to Zoom registration will be added to the topic one week before the webinar and a closed captioned recorded link to YouTube will be available approximately one week after the program. (Underlined words have active links!)

 

Date

Topic

Panelists

12-1 pm CDT

2/4/2021

Weeds
Reference links

Dr. Chris Marble, Beth Bolles, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams

3/11/2021

Spring Vegetables

Dr. Josh Freeman, Matt Lollar, Sheila Dunning, Evan Anderson

4/8/2021

Lawns

Dr. Bryan Unruh, Dr. Pat Williams, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams

5/13/2021

Herbs

Beth Bolles, Julie McConnell, Mary Salinas, Trevor Hylton

6/10/2021

Ornamental & Turf Diseases

Dr. Phil Harmon, Stephen Greer, Larry Williams

7/29/2021

Beneficial Insects: Predators!

Dr. Adam Dale, Beth Bolles, Julie McConnell, Danielle Sprague

8/12/2021

Open landscape topics Q&A

Beth Bolles, Mark Tancig, Matt Lollar, Evan Anderson

9/9/2021

Beginning Beekeeping

Amy Vu, Ray Bodrey, Evan Anderson

10/14/2021

Invasive Species

Dr. Stephen Enloe, Dr. Pat Williams, Dr. Gary Knox, Sheila Dunning, Ray Bodrey

11/4/2021

Houseplants

Marc Frank, Dr. Pat Williams, Stephen Greer

12/9/2021

Selecting and Maintaining Trees

Larry Figart, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams

Missed a session and want to catch up?
All webinars are archived with closed captioning on our YouTube Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Playlist.

 

 

Natural Ornaments – Preserving Hornet Nests

Natural Ornaments – Preserving Hornet Nests

Many folks are giddily decorating their homes for the holiday season. For some outdoor enthusiasts and/or environmental educators, now is the time to collect and preserve a natural decoration, with care. Hornet nests offer a large natural ornament that can be used as a conversation piece or to teach people about an interesting native wasp that is often feared.

The face of a baldfaced hornet! Credit: Piccolo Namek, Wikimedia Commons.

The bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) is a type of wasp closely related to yellowjackets, of which there are two species that are known from Florida, the eastern yellow-jacket (Vespula maculifrons) and southern yellowjacket (Vespula squamosa). The bald-faced hornet is different than its yellowjacket relatives in that it creates a large aerial nest rather than a subterranean nest. If you have seen a hornet’s nest in person, you know how impressive they can be. Surprisingly, they can be safely preserved for indoor display!

Hornet colonies begin each spring and are “founded” by a lone adult queen that made it through the winter, hiding under the bark of logs and such. The lone queen begins creating the papery brood cells and laying eggs. Once those eggs begin to hatch, the newly hatched all-female crew of hornets begin assisting in nest building and foraging while the queen shifts to only laying eggs. Towards the end of fall, some of the eggs receive more food (they become queens) and the queen also begins to lay male eggs. Once these emerge, they mate, and the cycle starts all over again, with the colony dying back, leaving an abandoned and impressive aerial nest behind.

The aerial nest of the baldfaced hornet. Credit: Preston Robertson, Florida Wildlife Federation.

To collect that impressive nest safely, wait until a couple of freezes have passed. At this point, most, if not all, of the hornets will have perished and that lone queen will be sheltering through the winter. Don’t wait too long since these nests are utilized by other wildlife and may be destroyed or get beaten up by the weather. Simply cut the nest off its support (realize it may be heavy). To be extra sure you don’t bring live hornets inside, you can leave the nest in a protected outdoor location, such as a garden shed or the garage, where it will be exposed to further cold temperatures. This also allows any “off” smells from rotting larvae to air out. Don’t worry about harming these larvae as they would starve either way since they must be fed by adult hornets! There is no need to use varnishes or polyurethanes for preservation as the nest will keep indefinitely as long as kept in a dry environment free from a lot of handling or vibrations.

Bingo, you now have a natural ornament that can last through many seasons and provide for learning opportunities and lots of conversation!

For more information on wasps, including hornets and yellowjackets, please see the Yellowjackets and Hornets EDIS document from UF/IFAS. Information from Iowa State University’s website Preserving and Displaying a Hornet’s Nest was also used to help write this article.

Full Moon Fever: Wolf Spiders and Werewolves

Full Moon Fever: Wolf Spiders and Werewolves

The Carolina wolf spider (Hogna Corolinensis) is the largest wolf spider, measuring up to 22-35 mm. It is the state spider of South Carolina, the only state that recognizes a spider as a state symbol. Photo by Eugene E. Nelson, Bugwood.org.

The Carolina wolf spider (Hogna Corolinensis) is the largest wolf spider, measuring up to 22-35 mm. It is the state spider of South Carolina, the only state that recognizes a spider as a state symbol. Photo by Eugene E. Nelson, Bugwood.org.

Halloween coincides with a full moon this year, so you may want to be on the lookout for hungry werewolves. In your garden, you may also be on the lookout for a much smaller, yet just as frightful, type of wolf. Well – wolf spider, that is!

But have no fear, just as the little werewolves of the neighborhood will be sated by a handful of sweets, a wolf spider will be satisfied once it finds its meal of choice. Wolf spiders are predators, feeding primarily on insects and other spiders. Much like a werewolf, wolf spiders prefer to stalk their prey at night. This is good news for gardeners – as it means you’ll have an insect hunter working for you while you sleep.

Wolf spiders are in the family Lycosidae, and there are over 2,000 species within this family. Lycos means “wolf” in Greek, inspired by the way wolves stalk their prey. Although, unlike wolves who hunt in packs, wolf spiders are very much solitary. These spiders do not spin webs; instead, they keep to the ground, where they can blend in with leaf litter on the soil floor. Some wolf spiders even dig tunnels, or use tunnels dug by other animals, to hide and hunt.

Although most spiders have poor eyesight, wolf spiders have excellent vision, which they use to spot prey. Photo by James O. Howell, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org.

Although most spiders have poor eyesight, wolf spiders have excellent vision, which they use to spot prey. Photo by James O. Howell, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org.

Wolf spiders have eight eyes that are arranged in three rows. This includes four small eyes in the lowest row, two very large eyes in the middle, and two medium-sized eyes off to either side on top. Some of their eyes even have reflective lenses that seem to sparkle in the moonlight. Using their excellent eyesight and sensitivity to vibrations, they stealthily stalk prey such as ants, grasshoppers, crickets, and other spider species. Female wolf spiders, which are bigger than males, may even take down the occasional lizard or frog.

No matter the meal, many wolf spiders pounce on their prey, hold it between their eight legs, and roll with it onto their backs, creating a trap. They then sink their powerful fangs, which are normally retracted inside the jaw, into the victim. The fangs have a small hole and hollow duct, which allows venom from a specialized gland to pass through during the bite. This venom quickly kills the prey, allowing the wolf spider to eat in peace.

Although wolf spiders could bite a person if threatened, they prefer to run away, and their venom is not very toxic to humans. If you do get bitten, you may have some swelling and redness, but no life-threatening symptoms have been reported. Werewolves on the other hand? For these, you’re on your own!