There’s a scene in Ghost Busters where Bill Murray describes the doom awaiting the world when the captured ghosts are released: “…human sacrifice, cats and dogs living together…” It’s hard to image any fate worse for civilization, eh?
Such fear surely disturbed countless generations of superstitious humans when the gods unexpectedly hid the mid-day sun. Rumours abound of people dying of despair, birds falling silent, and bees racing home during a total eclipse of the sun. And yes, cats and dogs living together. Fortunately, after a few moments of lunacy, the sun shines radiantly once again.
I figured that today’s bee blog post would be eclipsed by bigger events, but I wanted to write a few words anyway. I’d love it if a beekeeping reader or two in the USA would let us all know how their bees perform during today’s eclipse. I’ll be watching bees along with you and I’ll let you know how they behave up here in Calgary. I’m not in totality’s path, but we are expecting 81% of the sun to disappear (momentarily, then we expect it to return). That’s certainly not going to be the full doomsday deal, but we should nevertheless experience some darkening around noon here.
My mother once said that she was working in one of our family apiaries when the July, 1963, eclipse passed to the north. There was 85% obstruction – the tone of the 30 hives in the bee yard changed from delight to panic. Foragers headed home. My mother said that the bees became mean and disturbed so she and my father had to quit field work for the day. I’m anxious to see if we have anything nearly as dramatic here today. I’ll write about the eclipse as a post script to this blog if the sun returns in the afternoon. Hopefully, a few of you will also give us a mini-report of the happenings in your own apiary. Especially notice if bees land heavy and/or with pollen, or if they mostly return skinny with pristine pollen knees. I’m curious to know if bees return empty – or finish foraging, then fly home.
In this crazy world of cat and dog cohabitation, a solar eclipse (now that we know what causes it) is actually a touch of normalcy in our otherwise unbalanced world. Enjoy the event. By the way, if you bought solar-viewing glasses (we didn’t), don’t throw them away! I’ve heard that they will be perfect for viewing a nuclear blast, too.
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OK! We survived the 81% eclipse! We had a bright clear day and a nice broad deck with a great view of the sun, so we had front-row seats. My teenager set up my 35-year-old old army binoculars to direct sunbeams toward a sheet of paper. It worked really well!
We didn’t enjoy totality, but we had an experience. The temperature dropped at least ten degrees. The sky was an eerie twilight, but without the glow of a setting sun. It actually wasn’t nearly as dark as I expected. Take away 80% of the sun and you should be in the dark, right? Nope. Here’s what 81% solar obstruction looked like in Calgary.
The absolute weirdest thing was the effect of the sun’s eclipsed light working its way through the needles of the tall spruce tree in our back yard. Instead of tiny points projected on the deck, we had dozens of amazing crescents. Here is my backyard wheelchair ramp, partly shaded, but all decked out in solar crescents.
My brother, in North Carolina, drove an hour south to experience totality. I loved his descriptions. The sudden darkness, the mesmerizing rays projecting around the edges of the moon, the bats taking flight. (Really!)
Finally, what about those bees? Well, they were a no-show! Our morning here in Calgary was rather chilly. Our bees weren’t flying when the eclipse started so we didn’t get to see what they’d do when it got dark. But if you had active bees, please add a line or two in the comments below and let us know how they behaved.
What a wonderful idea! We were only to get about 80% totality at best and were bedeviled by clouds but we dragged our bee bench to a safe distance facing the hives and settled down for observations.
We did not discern any change in bee mood but the number of returning foragers increased with increasing darkness as the number of departing decreased. Eventually there was an overwhelming number of arrivals with just a very few departures. By peak there were no more arrivals but one or two determined foragers still left the hive. Perhaps because it was not completely dark.
Generally it seemed as if our bees in the field very calmly treated the eclipse onset as an early nightfall and returned with whatever they had collected. At no time did we spot any pollen being brought back and there seemed a mix of heavily laden and light bees, as far as our old eyes can judge.
Then as the eclipse waned the bees simply ramped back up with an increasing number of foragers returning to the field.
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What a lovely description! We really appreciate this. Perhaps your bees weren’t irritable because you stayed a safe distance away – or, more likely, you have some gentle stock! You certainly did some solid observation! Here in Calgary, we were also at 80% at the peak so it was (as you describe) a bit like an early twilight. But it was rather eerie because it was a noon sun on a clear day for us.
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Do you follow this entomology blog? They did a post about the effect of the eclipse in California on insects inc bees – http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=24952
I saw an eclipse in the UK as a child but wasn’t thinking to check the effect on the insects!
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Thanks! I haven’t been following that blog (“Bug Squad“), but I will now. Thanks for the suggestion.
The blog, originating in California, reports a little about honey bee reactions during the eclipse. In California, the eclipse started at about 9 am. Foraging doesn’t usually peak until a bit later in the day, so maybe they didn’t get as much of an effect on bees when the sky turned dark – the writer reports little impact on bees at that location. Here are a couple of relevant paragraphs, but readers may want to follow your link and see the whole story: