Wilderness in the City: Winter Writing Tour: Mud Nests, Bee Dances and Hibernation


Mud Nests, Bee Dances and Hibernation: Wilderness in the City Winter Writing Tour 

Let’s Dance. Bees do it: The Honey Bee Dance is a form of communication: an actual language that’s a body dance. 

Bee dances, and there are many, provide distance and direction to other bees which are communicated with the intent of recruiting others workers in the task of gathering pollen and nectar. Rather than for the purpose of entertainment, Bee Dances relay information intended to communicate where food is.

The round Bee dance is used when the food source up to 100 ft. away. The forager bee turns in circles alternately to the left and to the right. This dance does not communicate any specific direction, just distance.

At greater distances, there’s the sickle dance, which is performed 150 to 450 ft. away. The forager bees repeat a “sickle” shaped movement.

At the furthest distances from the nest, more than 450 ft. a waggle dance is performed. The waggle dance is in the shape of a figure-eight.

Worker Bees attract others to the food source by communicating distance and location via a particular dance. Smell, taste and buzzing sounds can be involved in the dance of attracting other bees to a particular food source.

In the winter months bees hide out in a hive referred to as a Winter Cluster, which is usually lower to the ground. When temperatures drop below 50 degrees, bees stop flying. Interestingly worker bees rotate through the Winter Cluster from the outside to the inside so that no bee gets too cold. The outside edges of the cluster stay at about 46-48 degrees, while the inside could be as warm as 80 degrees. The colder it is, the more compacted the cluster becomes.

Honeybees who hibernate consume as much as 30 pounds of stored honey during the winter. The oxidation of the honey produces heat that is circulated by the wing-fanning of worker bees inside the Winter Cluster. On milder days bees will venture out to eliminate body waste, but never for very long, because if they get too cold their return would be less likely.

Bees have different ways of dealing with colder temperatures from hibernation to dying.



Think womb, think place: Mud Nests and the Environment

Nests are a protection for immobile and defenseless baby birds that arrive without a feather coat. An adult bird’s life is consumed with finding a location and the building essentials required for constructing a nest. Birds use their beaks and talons to gather nest material. While male birds gather, it’s the female bird who usually constructs the nest.

Mud is a great building material because it’s an adhesive. It’s used with other materials like feathers, leaves or twigs to cement everything together. Nests can be insulated and weather proofed with layers of these materials in the interior and exterior of a nest.

For instance the Barn Swallow builds cup-shaped mud nests. The variety of shapes and sizes and material used is astounding. Only about five percent of the bird population builds mud nests exclusively. There are mound nests to floating nests, tunnel nests to hanging nests, woven nests, and even multiple-nest avian cities made of found materials that could include man-made throw-aways like bits of insulation, newspaper, yarn and string.

For most birds nest building usually occurs between March and August. Winter is a non-breeding season for nest building. Nevertheless it’s a great time to find unoccupied nests left for the next breeding season, because all the leaves have fallen off of trees making the nests easier to find. Since birds often locate new nests close to old ones, you can go back to these areas in the spring to observe.

The preservation of nests and code of conduct of the Animal Humane Society NestWatch is to observe, and catalog, never disturb. The value and preservation of birds in nature includes: insect and rodent population control; distribution of seeds that leads to forest conservation; food sources for bird predators.

As one of the most populace life forms the incredible diversity of the bird population exemplifies the evolutionary adaptions species have had to make to adapt to a changing environment. This diversification and adaption to the environment demonstrates that conserving natural habitats is not only critical to the survival of the bird population, but everything in nature because of our interconnectedness. Providing sustenance and home requires sustainability.  



Hibernation: Surviving Winter: anyone into suspended animation?

It’s somewhat like human sleep, usually no nourishment or sustenance, but the difference between animals and humans is that the animal brain in hibernation is not in an easily reversible state. Animals and humans both experience changes such as reduced heart and breathing rates, but there’s a drastic drop in body temperature that allows animals to endure freezing temperatures in an immobile state. Although there are similarities between sleep and hibernation, the latter does not provide rest per say, but a respite from unlivable weather conditions.

So where do animals hibernate in a Broadleaf Forest like the Richard T. Anderson Conservation Area? How about under leaf litter or so-called duff on the ground, inside trees, nests and deep burrows in the ground. While animals build a den, humans seek out a comfy chair, couch or bed. But that’s where the similarities stop. Animals pack away the calories and or store them, burning fat through the process. Human sleep is a mental and physical state of rest, while hibernation is a physiological (chemical or physical) function that allows animals to control their living conditions and literally survive. Animals recycle waste and metabolize it into energy for weeks or an entire season.

Turtles, frogs, toads, salamanders, snakes, reptiles and amphibians, bats and woodchucks, and mammals all hibernate. A woodchuck’s temperature drops from 98° to 40°. Its heartbeat slows from 80 beats per minute to just 4!

Do all mammals hibernate in the winter?

Beavers and squirrels store food. Rabbits search for food under the snow. Shrews, mink, weasels, fox, owls and hawks hunt all winter.

White-tailed deer gather together to wait out the coldest times and hunt for food under the snow.

Many animals change what they eat in the winter. They may eat vegan style in the summer and turn to a carnivorous diet in the winter.

Do all reptiles and amphibians hibernate? In colder climates they do. Amphibians have three chambered hearts and can adapt to climate change, hot or cold weather, unlike mammals whose body temperature is consistent. Mammals have a four chambered hearts.

Lots to write about…

Nov 16th Saturday 10am to 12noon weather permitting

Elizabeth Fries Ellet Interpretive Trail at the Richard T. Anderson Conservation Area

See AllTrails link on the homepage for directions