The Buzz from the Hive – Origin Story

In spring 2016, Prof Jane Stout contacted my colleague Susie Bioletti about establishing a research apiary at Trinity as part of the new Campus Pollinator Plan. With the assistance of “Estates and Facilities” and the donation of space by TCD’s Department of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering, the way was clear by summer. Following a rest over Winter, the hive is now gearing up for the 2017 season and, over the next year, our monthly blog, “The Buzz from the Hive”, will follow the progress of the colony.

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Watching your honeybees entering and leaving the hive on a sunny lunch time has to be one of the beekeeper’s favourite pastimes.

The sight of foraging honeybees returning to the hive is one that never loses its appeal for beekeepers. That’s why when Susie requested assistance to install a colony of bees on the rooftop of the Parsons Building, I jumped at the opportunity. The prospect of doing hive inspections at lunchtime, only a stone’s throw from both our offices, was irresistible. Once safety protocols were duly satisfied, the nuc — a starter home for bees, arrived in the boot of Susie’s car. Once safely ensconced in the apiary, we were free to begin swapping our favourite beekeeping anecdotes — Susie and I work in very different areas of College (neither of which are connected to pollinator research) but we both share a common interest in bees, underscoring their universal appeal.

Soon, the colony was ready to be transferred into a new full-size hive, painted Trinity blue of course. A subsequent check identified that the young queen is present and laying, and stores are in ample supply for a burgeoning colony. A good start by all accounts and the planted environment of Trinity’s campus should provide for all the needs of the hive.

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Before long, our colony had outgrown its nuclear (starter home) and was ready to move into its new premises – all decked out in Trinity Blue!

Bees are a fascinating insect, not least due to their remarkable communication systems. Their primitive looking meanderings belie a complex social network that can also be seen in their cousins, the ants. Information is transmitted by many modes, including chemical messages in the form of pheromones. Blends of organic compounds are secreted by the glands of bees and serve to regulate the activities of the colony, which can be regarded as a super-organism. The various castes of bees influence different aspects of hive life including reproduction, building and defence. This ancient method of communication is something akin to a live news stream, complete with feedback loops, and provides an efficient means for a hive of sometimes more than 50,000 bees to co-exist with a singular purpose.

Keep an eye out next month for more news from the hive!

Marcus Phelan is the Senior Technical Officer for Trinity’s Hazardous Materials Facility and Susie Bioletti is the Head of Preservation and Conservation at the Library. Together, they are our campus beekeepers and will be writing a regular segment for Campus Buzz on “The Buzz from the Hive”.

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