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Watch Bees at Work at Lindsay Museum

Wildlife museum in conjunction with Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association establishes Plexiglas hive to watch honeybees do their thing.

Watch Bees at Work at Lindsay Museum Watch Bees at Work at Lindsay Museum Watch Bees at Work at Lindsay Museum

Bees never sleep.

All night long the demonstration hive is buzzing. And in the daytime, there are a lot of Lindsay Wildlife Museum human visitors buzzing around the exhibit.

"On the first day the bees moved in (Aug. 14), a young girl spent the better part of her afternoon watching and talking to the bees as her grandmother patiently sat nearby," said Michele Setter, director of wildlife encounters at Lindsay.

The custom-built Plexiglas hive is the newest exhibit — in the exhibit hall near the reptile center — at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum. Later in the fall, the museum will have more formal programming to teach the public about the community life of the hive.

For now, the public might be able to corner a beekeeper volunteer looking after the special hive, such as Mike Stephanos of Walnut Creek, vice president of community education for the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association (about 400 members, one of the largest such associations in the country). There's also an exhibit sign on the wall with some basic information about bees.

The Plexiglas exhibit is only one frame thick (as opposed to a standard beekeepers hive that might be 10 frames thick) so that the public can observe the queen laying eggs and the field bees coming in with bulging sacs of nectar on their legs. The one-frame-thick hive at Lindsay has 5,000 to 7,000 bees, while a standard, thicker hive can run from 20,000 to 80,000 bees, Stephanos said.

'Almost all ovary'

The biggest bee, the queen ("she's almost all ovary," said Stephanos) is dotted with a white splotch of paint to make her easy to spot. The queen moves from cell to cell of the hive, laying up to 1,500 to 3,000 eggs a week in peak season. There's a 21-day gestation period and the worker bees live six to eight weeks (queens live for three to five years). The older bees teach the newborns how to clean the hive, feed other bees and remove waste from the hive. And the humans at Lindsay Wildlife Museum can watch all this through Plexiglas.

The three-foot-high frame, encased in two layers of Plexiglas, was custom-built by TAP Plastics. It is connected to the outside through a Plexi tube that runs through a hole drilled in the Lindsay wall. The field bees fly off to the gardens in the Larkey neighborhood surrounding the museum and bring back nectar and pollen to the hive. The Plexiglas frame sits on a wooden pedestal with a cabinet, so that the hive rises to the eye level of a 12-year-old.

The club raised about $3,000 to create the exhibit, according to a feature in the Contra Costa Times.

These are European honeybees. They coexist nicely with native bees — California is home to 1,600 species of bees, Setter said.

The bees pollinate whatever is blooming. Right now, that's lavender, star thistle, milkweed, fennel, morning glory and vetch, Stephanos said.

"The heroes of the hive are worker bees," said Stephanos

The museum and the beekeepers association are both interested in public education, and thus came about this collaboration. The Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association also helps members of the public complaining about bees swarming in their backyards. Association volunteers will arrange to come and relocate the bees. "There's a misconception that the swarm is aggressive," said Stephanos. "It's just the hive relocating."

Stephanos has been beekeeping for 16 years. He went from four to eight to 50 to more than 200 hives. His hives span the Bay Area from Berkeley to the base of Mount Diablo, from Benicia to Livermore.

"Beekeeping is the new yoga," said Stephanos. "Everybody wants to do it."

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