I’ve raised chickens since 1993 and in those 24 years I’ve encountered many-a broody chicken. But never have I ever heard of a broody bee…until now.
I’ve been fascinated with bumblebees lately. I’ve always found them adorable —like little yellow Teddy Bears buzzing around the garden. But recently I’ve been doing some research to learn more about these amazing pollinators and found something not only interesting, but kind of endearing.
Bumblebees go broody!
Broodiness in the chicken world is when the hen gets the instinct to raise a “brood” of young. She will run an elevated temperature, build a nest, lay her eggs, pluck the feathers from her breast so that the warmth of her skin comes in contact with the eggs and she will begin the long sit. For 21 days (in the case of chickens) she will leave the nest only once a day to eat, drink, and defecate. Other than that, she is fixed in something of a trance until her young hatch.
I’ve only ever heard of this happening in the bird kingdom. Even reptiles that lay eggs usually abandon them and let Mother Nature take over the responsibility of incubation.
But the bumblebee is one of the insect kingdom’s most nurturing mothers. Not only does the queen lay her eggs and raise up her first batch of young by herself, but part of that rearing includes sitting on her eggs to keep them warm.
When the lone bumblebee queen comes out of hibernation, she has an abdomen full of viable eggs that were fertilized the autumn before. She is hungry after not eating all winter long, so she finds the earliest flowers and consumes nectar and pollen. The pollen causes her ovaries to plump and signals her to find a suitable place to start her colony.
Bumblebees usually nest in abandoned rodent holes or in cave-like indents in the ground.
She is a responsible mother who first creates something of a wax honey pot where she builds up a large cell of wax and fills it with honey and bee bread (a mixture of pollen and saliva) to sustain her while she sits on her eggs.
Near the honeypot, she creates her wax nest where she lays 4-16 eggs and sits on them for 4 days nonstop. The store of honey is close by so she never has to leave the nest to search for food.
Like the chicken who plucks the feathers from her breast, the honeybee has a bare patch where the fuzzy hair is missing. This allows the warmth of her body to pass to the eggs and keep them at around 86 degrees F.
After 4 days, the larva hatch. The queen is then able to leave the nest for short periods to gather food for energy to keep her body at brooding temperature. While she is gone, the eggs cool so she must hurry between trips.
After two weeks, the larva are developed enough to where the queen no longer needs to keep her young warm and her broody period is over. For this new generation will grow and help her tend the hive and future bees.