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
Your two photos of individual bees are absolutely brilliant!
I agree Alison, these are beautiful shots, but I can’t take credit for them. They come compliments of a couple of talented photographers who share their work on wikicommons. See the credits at the end. ~James
I would love to be able to take photos like that. But first I guess I need the right equipment 🙂
A bee hive in Nuremberg! How cool. You two find the most unique things in your travels. I enjoyed the explanation from Martha too.
Thanks Darlene. I’ve never seen anything like this, and the moment I spotted it, I knew that it would make a cool post. And thanks to Martha, I was able to make some sense of it. ~James
Thanks Kathy. This was one of those instances where I was glad to have a zoom lens. ~James
Great story and very interesting!
Thanks for the comment Bertie and for dropping by the blog. This beehive has motivated me to do a bit more research into bees and their beehives. Don’t you find that learning is one of the nice side benefits of blogging? ~James
I would never have guessed they would build a hive out in the open like that, very cool! I love the shape. Thanks Martha for the explanation. I can’t wait to see what your next unusual find is! Surfers, bees, what next?
Like you, I was totally surprised that they built the hive in the open. What happens when it rains and snows? And the shape is so perfect – natural and beautiful. It really helped to have Martha’s explanation, and the additional info on her “drunk” bees. ~James
Beautiful photos! I loved seeing this example of how they build in nature. I have a top bar hive and the comb hangs in that exact manner. I’d always been told that this is how they build in the wild but had never seen it. Martha’s information was also wonderful. I’ve noticed that there are a few wavy combs in the back of the hive right now. Wonder if they got into something to make them “drunk”.
Thanks very much for the comment and for dropping by the blog. That’s interesting about the drunk bees. I suspect that bees, like other species of insects and animals are a good indicator of the health of the ecosystem. But as you know, bees can be mysterious. I was also interested to see that it took a U of Michigan math professor 19 pages of mathematics to prove that the hexagonal shape of the honeycomb is the most efficient size and shape to maximize space and strength, with the least amount of labor and materials. Amazing stuff. ~James
You’re right. This is fascinating stuff. What an oddly-shaped hive, and maybe even a bit scary with all those bees swarming not far from your heads! Interesting post, for sure.
Thanks Rusha. Isn’t this just the coolest thing? It’s an image that will stick with me forever, and I’m glad that we stumbled onto it. ~James
Intriguing little creatures. Thanks for noticing and sharing the good stuff.
Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. This was a wonderful sight and it had us scratching our heads. Bees are amazing creatures, and I’m not sure that we’ll ever totally understand how they do some of the things they do. Who knows, there may be a follow-up post. ~James
Very nice. Isn’t nature great?
Thanks for the comment Barb, and for dropping by the blog. What an intriguing sight in such an unusual place – a great show compliments of nature. ~James
Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hive built naturally without it being attached to some human-built construction. Very cool.
I haven’t seen as many bees this year as in the past. That worries me.
Thanks Cathy. We were hiking in a cypress swamp in South Carolina, and saw what appeared to be a long “beard” of bees hanging from a tree limb. It was about 2 feet long and seething with bees. It was the strangest sight. The ranger came along, and explained the bees were moving to a new nest (as Martha explained), and they hadn’t found a site yet. BTW, how was Peru and Machu Picchu? ~James
We had a small hive in our window frame once. Hated to have to remove it. Bees are very enterprising.
Machu Picchu and Peru were great — just had a day-long bit of acute mountain sickness to start ;)! It was great to see my son and his wife there, too. They are now off to Guatemala. Wish I could meet them there, but am staying home for a while. (Except for wedding in Texas.)
I’m going through my photos from Peru now and hope to post something within a week. I’m so slow. Thanks for all of your guidance! Your posts and photos are always a great inspiration. Even if I don’t follow in your footsteps in person, I feel that I am making the trip virtually.
I agree, these bees have built a perfect hive. Nature sure is astounding and the bees are more fascinating to me now than before reading this post. Thanks for this.
I didn’t realize how thick and tall the old walls were until I noticed the two ‘human’ at the bottom of the photo. Nice touch. Love the pictures. Can’t imagine how you were able to get such clear, close shots. Must be a fantastic zoom on your camera.
Thanks Tess. Our little Canon travel zoom does have good zoomage, and this was one of those instances where zoom was essential. The bees were calm, and I wanted them to stay that way. And luckily the old city walls in Nuremberg survived a major pounding by Allied bombers. Much of the rest of the city wasn’t so lucky, as is the case with lots of other cities in Germany. But the restoration has been done really well, and there are some really nice Medieval buildings. ~James
I’ve seen massive walls in China, but this one looks huge because I don’t believe I took a picture with people at the bottom to gauge the enormity of the wall.
Wonderful to have a good camera when you need one. I’m not one for taking photos until I was forced to remember I won’t be back in that part of the world and I had better remember to snap some m.e.m.o.r.i.e.s. 🙂
Wonderful shots Terri and James! Thanks too for the mention. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a local bee keeper trying to capture this hive. It seems strong and thriving.
Thanks very much Martha, and thanks again for your excellent explanation. It was such an unusual sight, and it needed an expert opinion like yours. I had a comment from another beekeeper in Colorado, who was interested in your “drunk” bee idea. ~James
Dascal loved this post. You know he (we) kept bee for a while.
I had no idea Joyce. I’m sure there are some good tales, and you and Dascal will have to tell us about it the next time we see you. Love, JH
Fantastic! We have bees in our birdhouse. They only have so much room, so now the comb in starting to stick out the entrance. It has a similar shape. Neat post!
Thanks Pam. So now I know that bees all over the world engineer their hives the same way. Interesting. Evolution is a incredible thing. ~James
I always love the sense of wonder you bring to your blog … and that little something we should notice when we travel! 🙂
Thanks very much Dixie. That’s very nice of you to say. As you know, nature doesn’t recognize borders, and for us, travel isn’t always just about the popular tourist attractions. This wonderful beehive is a great example. ~James
Watched a similar hive on the American River Parkway in Sacramento for a couple of years. It was quite gorgeous until someone knocked it down, I assume for the honey. –Curt
I have never seen anything like this Curt. And my question to you is what happened to the hive during rain and snow? A hard rain can’t be healthy for the hive. ~James
It seemed to survive just fine, James. Sacramento has a moderate climate. There isn’t any snow and the nest was well protected in the trees. –Curt
The bees are beautiful!
Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog Miriam. This was a very unusual sight for me, and its natural beauty was amazing. And I still wonder how the bees do it. ~James
Simply amazing! Love this post and Martha for the education on hives. Who knew?
Thanks Susan. Isn’t this just the coolest thing. It’s visually and scientifically appealing, and even though Martha helped with a great explanation, it’s still amazing to me that it survives; exposed to the elements on this wall. Hope all is well on your end. Say hello to Harper. Love, James
Nice to see a tale of something a little unexpected! Great little read 🙂
Thanks Chris. As a travel blogger, you must feel that little tingle when you see or experience something that you know will make a cool post. This beehive gave me that tickle, and I’m happy you enjoyed it. ~James
That is so interesting. I have an irrational fear of bees, but seeing how they create their hives so perfectly is neat!
I loved seeing this hive Jenny, and it was so unexpected. From my experience, most bees go about their business unless disturbed, and these were exactly that way – calm and busy. It was a very neat sight. ~James
Bees are so interesting. Great post! I really liked the pictures of the honeycomb 🙂
I was, and still am amazed at the simple elegance of the hive. As I said to another commenter, there’s some “math in nature” here I’m sure; a Fibonacci sequence or something. Amazing insects. ~James
I like that phrase – a simple elegance! Yes it is indeed 🙂
Since our trip to Slovenia and the discovery of the beautiful painted beehives in the countryside we are keenly on the watch for all things bee like. Fascinating post and so amazing to see these news working busily away!
This hive has inspired me to do a bit of reading about bees. They really are amazing insects, and many of their behaviors are a mystery to science. It’s interesting to me that a simple creature can manage such complex tasks. ~James
Thanks for this informative post. I know very little about bees and the building of hives. This is a beautiful home they have constructed.
I love the look of this hive LuAnn. It’s amazing to me that such simple insects can build such an efficient, complex and beautiful home. And make sweet, tasty honey in the process. ~James
That first photo is spectacular! Wow, I love the colors.
This bee hive was a wonderful surprise. Just the type of unexpected sight that I love finding when I travel. Don’t you agree? ~James
What a wonderful find. I’ve never seen a hive in the wild like that before.
A beehive in the open was new for me as well Marie. It was an astounding thing to see, and a reminder of the marvels of nature. ~James
Stunning! This is absolutely amazing! I hope no one hurts them or destroys the hive, in an ill-informed attempt to remove it. That happens a lot! I saw a MASSIVE one at the Taj Majal once. It was truly epic! But yours… is so beautiful!
I love this hive as well Dawn, and have never seen anything like it. It’s funny that you mention a hive at the Taj. We visited the Taj years ago, and there was a massive hornet’s nest hanging in one of the arches. With all those people around, I would think that it would be dangerous, but no one seemed concerned. ~James
We may have seen the same one! I believe the one I saw was hornets too… and above so many people! This was 2006’ish, I think.
Industrious creatures! These are common in India. I remember many such hives on the rafters of my childhood home. The porch light would sometimes burn them and we dreaded walking barefoot early mornings for fear of being stung by those that had fallen to the ground in the night.
It’s interesting that natural hives are common there Madhu. As I said, I’ve never seen anything like it. As a barefoot kid, I stepped on my share of honey bees, and was rewarded with a painful sting. As I said to Dawn above, we visited the Taj years ago, and there was a massive hornet’s nest hanging in one of the arches. With all those people around, I would think that it would be dangerous, but no one seemed concerned. Is there some reason that they’d be protected? ~James
After visiting a traditional apiary, it’s neat to see these bees working out in the open like this, Terri & James. The images of these magnificent honeycombs brings to mind our beekeeping host’s remark about the bees’ precision and the seemingly “supernatural power” behind it all.
I know that US Customs is notoriously restrictive when it comes to bringing in certain food products, but were you able to take home any honey from your trip? 🙂
We always try to sample the local honey Tricia. It’s always surprising how distinctive different regional varieties taste. Have you ever had orange blossom honey? Oh wow. And no, we never bring food home. Given heightened security and unpredictable enforcement, it’s just not worth taking the risk. I’ve been pulled out of line before, and I said: “Never again.” ~James
I don’t think I’ve tried orange blossom honey, but having caught the aroma of orange blossoms dancing in the air, I can imagine how fantastic it must be! 🙂 I’m with you about bringing food in. Several years ago upon returning to the States, I forgot that I had a German apple still sitting in my backpack. I’d planned on enjoying it during the long flight, and an overzealous Beagle sniffed it out. Like you, I was pulled out of line and I nearly missed my connecting flight.
Thanks Jewel. I still can’t believe this hive. Very cool.
Very cool? Yes. A little creepy? Also yes.
Wow, I never would have expected to see a hive out in the open like that. Fascinating.
Alison, I was surprised not only because the hive was in the open, but also the size and shape. It’s an mazing demonstration of nature’s art. ~James
Love it when we happen upon something so unexpected. And the shape and openness of this hive – never have seen this before either. Good thing you remembered to consult an expert. Now we all want to see this hive and study it as well.
Rusha, I absolutely love the look of this beehive. It’s just another reminder of what a marvel nature is, and the fact that it was so conveniently displayed for our viewing was a pleasant surprise. On a hike we ran into a mass of bees hanging from a treelimb, but there was no hive yet. So I assume they were in the process of building a new home. Pretty cool. ~James
Interesting post with some lovely photos – thank you for sharing this – I’ve definitely learnt something this evening 🙂 Carla
Thanks for the comment Carla and for dropping by the blog. I suspect that unless you’re a beekeeper with lots of experience, the sight of this unique beehive would be a first for most people. It’s elegant design is a good reminder of how much interest nature can add to any travel experience. ~James
I have never seen one in the wild. Was it impressive compared with the pictures (e.g. do the pictures do it justice)?
Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. I’ve never seen anything like this hive, and honestly, it was wonderful to see. I was pleased with the photos, but the sound of the bees buzzing away at their business was special. I was a bit wary at first, but the bees were unconcerned by my presence, and there couldn’t have been a more unlikely spot for a hive. ~James