To the delight of winter-weary northerners and the dread of allergy sufferers, spring has sprung. The annual flower show has begun and Mother Nature’s floral minions, the bees, are out in force.
Whether from their winter-nap hangover or the frenzy for pollen, bees act a bit weird this time of year. One brazen bee tried to fly up my nose, and after Terri stopped laughing, this nasal fly-by started a conversation about bees and their nesting habits. Which in turn, brought to mind the miraculous beehive we saw on a 700 year-old wall in Nuremberg, Germany. It’s one of the most unique natural sights we’ve seen.
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A Medieval Castle and a charming historic center crammed with half-timbered shops and houses – this is what we expected to see in Nürnberg / Nuremberg.
What we didn’t expect was the biggest, most unusual beehive we’ve ever seen: a live, biology-in-action colony of German honeybees.
After a short walk over the moat bridge, we turned onto a narrow cobblestone street at the base of the old city wall. The ancient wall is 700 years old, and its dark staining and battered facade are evidence that the years, and Allied bombs, haven’t been kind. Near one of the towers, a few meters above the street, a buff-colored, soccer ball-size wart protruded from the weathered wall.
As we got closer, we were surprised to see that the yellowish, waffle-stack was covered with a seething, buzzing mass of bees.
Other than a few stings and lots of honey slathered on buttered biscuits, we don’t have much experience with bees or beehives. But we normally expect bees to live in holes in trees or in man-made wooden boxes, not in the open on the lip of fortress walls. Amazingly, the bees seemed quite content. They were going about their business, totally exposed to the elements, with their beeswax bond snugly holding their hive to the wall.
We snapped a few photos, and vowed to answer our questions with a bit of Googling back at the hotel. And then we thought of our blogging buddy Martha at Therapeutic Misadventures, who in addition to being a talented blogger, is also a beekeeper. What are the chances?
Forget Google, we fired off an email to Martha, at home with her bees in New Hampshire, and she responded:
“It would appear that the bees swarmed, meaning they probably left a hive that was overcrowded. This comb they have built is beautiful! And the queen is most likely deep in the middle of the comb.
The shape of the comb is exactly what they do when left to their own devices. In a “normal” hive, they build out comb according to the shape of the frames we give them – square flat surfaces. In a Top Bar hive they are given a bar at the top of the frame but build free-style down from the bar and the comb is disk-shaped like your photo. Bees are amazingly astute in their perfect proportions. The 8-sided cells are perfectly proportioned and a mathematical puzzle that people have studied for centuries. How do they know? What drives their perfection?”
“Interestingly, if there is a disease or if they run into pesticides, the comb will be all crazy and lop-sided. You can see how the chemicals mess up their sense of proportions. I had a sick hive this summer and the comb was all lumpy and uneven. The bees all mysteriously died. I think they got into something that not only made them “drunk” but also killed them.”
Absolutely fascinating stuff Martha and we agree – the comb is beautiful. Perfectly shaped discs, gradually decreasing in size toward the outside make it an elegant, efficient design. These mysterious and busy bees were programmed by millions of years of evolution, and their successful, albeit oddly placed home, is proof positive that Mr. Darwin was onto something.
Please visit Martha’s blog to learn more about the fascinating art and science of beekeeping.
James & Terri
Last updated April 29, 2019
1. Linsepatron via Wikimedia Commons
7. Gavin Mackintosh via Wikimedia Commons
9. Thomas Kohler via Wikimedia Commons