Our Mission in Action

Where have the bees gone?

Director of Learning & Innovation Mark Silberberg
As some of you may have noticed, the bee hives, which have been active on the roof and visible from the Charlton Street 5th floor are no longer there. They'll return in a few weeks. Please enjoy the the following explanation from high school parent and apiarist Bruce Gifford about the reasons for the temporary disappearance of the hives.
What happened to the beehives?
To prepare for upcoming work to be done on the front of the building, the beehives will temporarily move to the back of the school. If the hives are moved directly to the back of the building, the bees will fly out to gather food, but then mistakenly return to the old hive location at the front of the building. They would not be able to find the new hive location since it is not far enough away to “reset” their navigation memory. So the hives are being moved to Connecticut for a few weeks. Why? Because the distance (75 miles) is far enough away that when the bees come out of the hive on the first day of their new location in the ‘burbs, they will not recognize anything and will stop and re-orient themselves to “reset” their new location. After a few weeks, they will “forget” their old location, and then we will bring the hives back from Connecticut to the rear of the building, where they will reorient themselves once again. It’s a long process to ultimately move the hives 50 feet!
Bee Navigation
Bees navigate precisely using the angle of the sun, surrounding landmarks, as well as the earth’s magnetic field. They can make use of polarized light even on cloudy days. Typically they forage up to three miles from the hive, but their navigation is so precise they can return to the exact inch where their hive entrance is located. This three mile foraging radius is why we have to move the bees so far, to get beyond that radius. You can watch this “orientation” process happen almost every afternoon up on the roof. When a new bee emerges from the hive for the first time, she spends some time flying around in front of the hive learning to get her bearings. Typically this happens in the afternoon, so if you have passed by the hives at that time, you may have noticed a cloud of bees buzzing around in front of the hives. Those are new bees emerging for the first time, learning the angle of the sun, nearby landmarks, and teaching themselves how to find their way home. Since thousands of new bees are born every day, there is always a “Driver’s Ed” class happening outside the hive.
Giving directions to each other
Bees can also communication remote locations to each other using a waggle dance. By moving in circles while shaking themselves and creating vibrations, they communicate the precise angle of the sun in which to fly (azimuthal direction), while the speed and vibrations of the dance tell how far away it is. It's a sort of internal GPS language that every bee naturally understands.
Keep your eye open for the retgurn of the hives!
Little Red School House
and Elisabeth Irwin High School

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