Eastern Hognose

Nov 18, 2020

Eastern hognose snakes (Heterodon platirhinos) occur throughout every Southeastern state except southeastern Louisiana. They live in a variety of habitats, including abandoned agricultural fields, open pine forests and rocky forested hillsides. They usually are associated with loose soil and if living in a forest they will usually stay near the edge where they can venture into more open areas. Hognose snakes characteristically burrow into sandy soils using their flat upturn nose as a shovel to push into the soil. For more information, refer to ‘Snakes of the Southeast’ by Whit Gibbons and Mike Dorcas.

Eastern Hognose snakes usually have a blotched pattern with color combinations that can vary greatly within a local population or even within the same clutch. The colors on back and side can include shades of red, orange, yellow, gray, olive, brown or black. Some individuals become solid black or gray above as adults, and this color pattern is prevalent in some areas of the Southeast. The adults in our area are predominantly solid gray.

Baby hognose snakes, even the ones that will turn black or gray as adults, always have a blotched pattern.

The diet of the hognose snake is mainly made of toads with an occasional frog or salamander. Toads inflate their bodies as a defense mechanism, but hognose snakes use their enlarged posterior teeth to deflate the toads and make them easier to swallow. The skin toxins of the toads are neutralized by enzymes of the snake’s digestive system.

Activity usually begins early in the spring and ends late in the fall. Adults may bask in the sun on warm days of winter. They are active above ground during day time and as a consequence have many predators like other snakes, birds of prey, and carnivorous mammals.

Hognose snakes have a distinctive set of response to threats. These responses are so dramatic that they could be considered part of the general description of the species. When initially threatened, the snake lifts the front of its body, spreads its neck like a cobra. Some may even hiss, open the mouth and move the head in a striking motion without actually trying to bite, the tail may coil rapidly from one way to the other. As a consequence, the vernacular names in the SouthEast are ‘spreading adders’ or ‘puff adders’.

If this initial display is not sufficient to discourage the attacker, the snake will feign to go into convulsions and roll on its back as if dead, often disgorging a recent meal as part of the display. The mouth is held open and the tongue hangs out. Capillaries in the mouth may rupture producing a large amount of blood to complete the effect. The snake will keep on rolling on its back if it is righted.

Although terrestrials, the dependence of hognose on toads makes the protection of small wetlands critical for their species.

“Where does my honey come from?” explained to children.

Nov 08, 2020

Honey bees convert the nectar of flowers into honey. The bees consume their honey as energy food. The honey is stored for winter when there are no more flowers around. The beekeeper loves his bees and wants them to be healthy, so he collects just a little bit of honey for the kids and he makes sure to leave plenty for the bees so all can enjoy winter.

Honey bees live in a hive. The hive in the picture below is old and bees have lived in it for almost 10 years. The two large boxes at the bottom are called ‘Deep’ and this is where the bees live, raise the young bees and also store some honey and pollen. The two smaller boxes at the top are called ‘Super’ and will  be exclusively used by the bees to store honey. The beekeeper will harvest one Super per year and leave the other boxes untouched.

The first operation, when you decide to collect some honey, is to remove the roof. This roof is very heavy so that the rain does not drip in the hive, but also the roof helps the bees to stay warm in winter and cool in summer.

Then, the beekeeper removes the frames in which the honey is stored and places them in an empty Super.

You can see below what a frame of honey looks like: a large number of cells next to each other in which the honey is stored. The cells are covered by the bees with a fine film of wax to preserve the honey from moisture and dust.

Once the Super is full with the collected frames, it is covered with a blanket so the bees do not fly in. The box is brought to the workshop where the honey is extracted

In the workshop, the beekeeper has to peel off the film of wax over the cells of honey. He does so with a heated knife, in which the blade mainly melts the wax.

The wax film is left to drip the excess honey off and the clean rendered wax will be melted into candles for Christmas.

As the frames are peeled they are placed in a centrifuge, which extracts the honey. The frames rotate in the drum at high speed and the honey oozes out the cells into the collector. The short video shows the honey flowing out the collector while the centrifuge slows down to a stop.

The honey is left to rest over night to let the air bubbles burst to the surface. It is ready to be bottled the next day.

The jars of honey are now ready for the kids.

Warre bait hives

Nov 01, 2020

I am often asked how I transfer the swarms I catch in bait hives into their final Warre. The trick is to build a bait hive with modular elements fitting onto a standard Warre box.

My bait box for warre has a volume of 1 -1/2 warre boxes. One box is too snug and the bees do not favor it, two boxes do not show better results than one box and a half. My experience is that the bees build in the first year one and a half warre box. They may build more, but in general they will not finish completely the second box during the first season and it is very exceptional they build in a third box, which happens in general during the second season. One box and a half is lighter than two boxes to secure in a tree, and further more the mode of attachment of the modules works better with Swiss leaves.

The bottom module is made of two Swiss leaves each equivalent to 1/4 of a box. I like to have it in slices because if I have not picked the hive in time, it may be the bees built deeper than one box and the portioning of the bottom half in two parts allows to better monitor the volume to come onto the bars of the receiving hive. If the bees have built one box and one quarter deep for example, I just remove the bottom Swiss leaf attached to the bottom. The idea is to have the bees start and build into the second box of the receiving hive as quick as possible so they settle in their final hive.

The main Warre element is a standard Warre box to which I secure the bars with nails. It is important to make sure the bars will not move as the hive is secured in a tree. A one inch hole is drilled on the lower part of the box,  high enough though so that the disk does not get on the way when the box is settled on the receiving hive.

The roof, preferably made of a thick board, will be removed and replaced by the quilt box of the receiving hive. I place a fabric brushed with melted wax between the bars and the roof, which makes the removal of the roof even less disturbing for the bees. I also like to place a mosquito net between the fabric and the quilt box so the the bees do not munch through.

Below a few of these bait hives in front of a Warre hive built by Rebel bees in Quebec, which to me are the best commercial Warre hives available in North America.