Amgueddfa Blog: Natural Sciences

A Museum Beekeeper's Diary 2015

Benjamin Evans, 3 June 2015

Back in August 2014 the National Museum Cardiff received its two newly bred colonies of honeybees.  Due to the timing of the bee keepers training and the specific needs for colonies to be bred on Deep National frames the bees arrived much later in the season than we were anticipating.  The two new “nucs” (nuclei of bees) were rehomed in new hives situated on the roof of the Museum where there is adequate space for the beekeepers to work safely and have adequate shelter from the worst of the weather. From the outset we realized that production of honey wasn’t likely to be an option in the first year with the bees putting all their efforts into building their numbers and storing adequate reserves to see them through the Welsh winter months. During September and October the bees worked hard gathering nectar and storing honey for the months ahead however even from the outset it was immediately clear that one hive was far more productive that the other. The bees in our better hive probably tripled in numbers, whereas the bees in the other hive were sulking! In late September both the hives were treated for parasitic Varroa mites and we were all astonished that so many mites were present in two relatively new colonies. Along with the Varroa treatment the bees were fed. We placed frame feeders inside the hives and fed invert syrup (a sugar syrup where the sucrose sugar has already been split into glucose and fructose thus allowing the bees to expend less energy metabolizing it). The feeding seemed to be going well until in early October approximately 600+ bees from the weaker of the two hives drowned in the feeder. This occurrence is unusual but not completely unheard of, however our sulking colony was further weakened by this unfortunate incident. Fearing for the weaker of the two colonies we readied the hives for the winter and closed them up until the spring.

The winter itself wasn’t a particularly cold one and by mid February colleagues were reporting that they had seen bees in the gardens around the museum. Reports from maintenance staff using the roof suggested that both colonies had survived and on the warmer days, were out foraging in the parks surrounding the museum. Robin and I made our first very provisional inspection on a warm sunny day in mid March. We opened the hives and took a look at the numbers of bees inside. Since the air temperature really wasn’t all that high we opted not to remove frames of bees and potentially chill any unhatched brood so instead we just observed and noted the level of activity and numbers of bees in the hives without disturbing them. The difference between the two hives was shocking! The stronger hive had 6 or 7 full frames of bees while the other had only 1 full frame! Despite the less strong hive having plentiful reserves of honey we made an immediate decision to start feeding the colony in an attempt to strengthen and hopefully resurrect it.

 In the last week of March (26th) our beekeeping mentor, Pete from Natures Little Helpers, came to do our first proper inspection.  We went through the strong hive finding the queen looking healthy and laying eggs just as she should be. The numbers of bees in this hive was already growing and the hive was filling up quickly. The weaker hive was very different, Pete initially suspected that the queen might not be present but a quick inspection of the brood area of the hive suggested that eggs were being laid and that a mated queen was present. The hunt for the queen commenced and since we didn’t have lots of bees to look through we eventually found her. She was a new queen, different to that when we got the colony and had never been marked. Our other queen carries a lovely green spot on her back making her quite obvious, however finding this unmarked queen was quite a task. What we noticed immediately was that some of the cells contained not one egg as you’d normally expect but two or three. Pete explained that this sometimes happens when there are not enough worker bees in the colony to prepare brood cells ready for the queen. These multiple laid cells were not going to be viable and ultimately no bees would result from that those eggs. In order to help this weaker colony we decided to try and reinforce the worker bee numbers by moving some frames of unhatched and juvenile bees from our rapidly growing strong hive into the weeker hive. It seems incredible that this is possible but apparently the new bees will become accustomed to the new scent of their adopted queen and switch their allegiance. We carefully, making sure not to move the queen, moved one good full frame of unhatched brood from the centre of our strong hive into the centre of the weaker hive. We then installed a homemade contact feeder  (made from a jar with a perforated top), which in the absence of syrup we filled with honey.

Our weekly inspections then began on good warm days when the wind wasn’t too strong! Keep posted for further updates from our Museum's Beekeepers.

Chick on the nest

Katie Mortimer-Jones, 3 June 2015

A peregrine chick has been spotted in the nest on the clock tower of City Hall Cardiff. It appears that there is only one chick this year but after last year's breeding failure this is great news.

Why not follow how the chick gets on by watching our Peregrine cam on National Museum Cardiff or follow up dates via the @CardiffCurator Twitter page.

Spring Bulbs for Schools: Results 2005-2015

Penny Tomkins, 1 June 2015

The Spring Bulbs for Schools project allows 1000s of school scientists to work with Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales to investigate and understand climate change. School scientists have been keeping weather records and noting when their flowers open since October 2005, as part of a long-term study looking at the effects of temperature on spring bulbs.

Certificates have now been sent out to all of the 4,596 pupils that completed the project this year. See Professor Plant's report to view the finsings so far.

  • Make graphs & frequency charts or calculate the mean.
  • See if the flowers opened late in schools that recorded cold weather.
  • See how temperature, sunshine and rainfall affect the average flowering dates.
  • Look for trends between different locations.

I would like to thank all of the Super Scientists that participated this year!

Applications are now open for Spring Bulbs 2015-16.

Professor Plant


Murder and Mystery at the Museum

Anna Holmes, 26 May 2015

The first ever Murder Mystery evening at National Museum Cardiff took place on 19th May 2015 and was linked to the ‘Museums at Night’ festival, which ran from 13-16th May and will run again 30th-31st October. The evening was organised by staff from the Department of Natural Sciences and was attended by over 90 adults.

Visitors were invited to attend a grand gala evening to witness the unveiling of the largest and most beautiful diamond in the world, being shown in Wales for the first time. However, the evening began with a missing diamond, a dead body and six potential suspects. The Museum was now in lock down for three hours with the killer trapped inside! After the Crime Scene Investigators had collected evidence from the murder scene and suspects, scientific tests were set-up throughout the Natural History galleries and visitors were requested to help with testing the evidence. They also had the opportunity to interrogate the six suspects and to try and determine ‘Whodunnit?’ before the killer struck again! Fortunately the event ended in the successful capture of the murderer and the diamond returned, with all visitors fortunately  unharmed.

This was a fantastic opportunity for visitors to explore the atmospheric galleries and main hall and see our galleries in a completely different atmosphere. We have received requests to run this event and other mysteries in the future, so check out the museum's What's on pages to see future events.

Up on the roof with the bees!

Annette Townsend, 26 May 2015

Last week I got the chance to go up on the roof of National Museum Cardiff to see the two Natural Sciences beehives. Since the bees arrived last year, Ben Evans and his team of trained staff from across the Cathays Park site have been responsible for the weekly maintenance of the hives. On this occasion Ben was able to sign me in as a visitor and we collected the box of beekeeping equipment and made our way up and out onto the roof. Next we put on our beekeeping gear; a half suit with an integral hat and face net and some thick gauntlet gloves. Ben lit up the smoker and waved it near the entrance of the hives to calm the bees. He then took the top off the hive and carefully pulled out the individual layers so that we could have a clear look inside. Each layer was covered in hundreds of bees and underneath we could see the beautiful hexagonal formations where the bees store their food and larvae. We also checked through each layer to locate the queen. She is marked with a green spot on her back so she can be clearly identified. The two hives are very different, in one the bees are quite subdued so Ben is feeding them with a sugary syrup to help them along.  In the other hive the bees seem very active and are starting to produce honey. I actually got to taste the honey and it was gorgeous! Ben plans to produce a beekeepers diary, so keep an eye out for further updates about the bees on our blog pages and our Twitter Feeds (@NatHistConseve or @CardiffCurator). Let’s hope they produce more honey so we can eventually sell it in the museum shop!