What’s happening in the hive? Festooning bees

A few years ago, we saw a clump of bees in the indoor beehive inside Pollinator Paradise at the Dickinson County Nature Center. They were linked together like a chain, hanging on to each other by their feet.

Since then, we have seen this happen quite often, and visitors ask us what the crazy honeybees are up to. Like everything else the bees, do there really is a logical reason for why the workers hang onto each other like a chainlink fence.

Photo of festooning bees

After birth, worker bees go through a variety of jobs in their six-week lifespan. They are mortuary bees — cleaning out the dead from the hive to help prevent the spread of any possible diseases, nurse bees — those that care for larvae and pupae and new drone bees, queen attendants — feeding and grooming the queen, guards — protecting the hive and foragers — the bees that we see out collecting pollen and nectar from flowers to bring back to the hive.

(Six ways honeybees differ from native bees)

Another job is that of an architect bee, or a honeycomb builder or a wax-maker, the position has plenty of titles, depending on what you read and who you talk to. These are the bees that are in charge of making honeycomb in the hive, and that honeycomb is used as brood cells and to store honey and pollen.

Honeycomb is made from wax created by worker bees midway through their lifespan. When bees eat honey, they have glands that convert it into wax through pores on the abdomen. Other architect bees will chew off the wax flakes on their co-workers and soften that wax, which is then formed into honeycomb.

But what does that chain have to do with it?

Photo of festooning bees

The chain of bees is called a festoon, and the behavior is called festooning. It can have a variety of purposes in the creation of honeycomb. Although the exact purpose is unknown to scientists, theories range from festoons being used to measure open spaces, to create blueprints for future honeycomb, to act as scaffolding to help build honeycomb and even to help with wax production. Perhaps festoons help with all of the above.

(How honeybees survive the winter)

We often wonder exactly what is happening in our indoor honeybee hive, but every time we think the bees are just crazy, we find out they have an exact, logical purpose for what they are doing.

These are some incredibly neat creatures. Check them out at the Dickinson County Nature Center!

(Read about honeybees and their native Apidae family)

Check out more in this series:
“Drying Down Honey”
“Where are the Drones?”

Leave a Comment