Ground Hog Day

Calgary’s Groundhog Doppelgänger

Pork burgers, anyone? Today is Groundhog Day, which makes me think of ground beef, hamburger helper, and ground hog. And the weather. We, of course, are far too sophisticated to depend on a rodent for our long-range forecast, even if the animal’s prediction is roughly as accurate as a room filled with big blue computers crunching the weather service’s latest data through their most promising algorithms.

Can bees predict weather? There are plenty of stories of beekeepers in the apiary noticing that all the bees are suddenly heading home, none going out to forage. The beekeepers look up and a cyclone or hail storm or lightning ball or wall of water is rushing towards them. That’s likely true. The bees probably respond to rapidly dropping barometric pressure by heading for shelter. They don’t like being caught in the rain any more than a beekeeper does.

But what about competing with Punxsutawney Phil by making a long-range forecast? Again, I have heard beekeepers claim a tighter broodnest and extra bee glue (propolis) filling cracks between the boxes means a rough winter is ahead. I don’t know. A congested broodnest is likely because of a late-season nectar flow while excess propolis means the gummy parts of pines and poplars that secrete resin have been extra active – and the bees have been extra busy hauling the stuff home. Do they sense a tough winter? I’m not sure what clues bees see that we don’t. But my mind is open on this one.

There is also the legend that honey bees nest higher up in trees when they anticipate a winter with lots of snow. This one is extremely unlikely because wild bees swarm in the spring, many months before winter snows are expected. And here in western Canada, hives buried under a meter of snow actually survive better with the extra insulation than hives sitting out bare and exposed on the windy prairie.

By the way, the Calgary groundhog (or Richardson’s Ground Squirrel, in our case) faced a dark shadow all day. According to the myth, we will have only six more weeks of winter. That places spring near March 20th. No big surprise. That’s what the calendar says, too.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Bee Biology, Climate, Culture, or lack thereof and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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