2nd Zoom meeting, 27th June 2020
‘There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Tempered Bee’
As with the 1st virtual meeting, Richard Simpson organised and Nick Silver hosted the event. The following Report includes the PowerPoint slides that John Badley used to give the presentation plus the notes used with each slide. In addition, we have included further notes that newer beekeepers may find helpful. Lastly, Keith Bone and Richard Simpson have kindly included their observations on bad tempered bees that were discussed during Question Time.
3. Temper – There is no such thing as bad-tempered bees! Just defensive behaviour.
‘Bad temper’ is not a very helpful description so the following scheme has been devised:
Ease of handling – Three columns on the record card: Running, Following, Stinging
4. Running – makes handling the colony difficult. Not ideal behaviour. Change the queen to improve your stock.
Following – a good colony will not follow more than a few metres. A poor colony may follow for 100m or more. These colonies should be improved by re-queening and should not be kept in areas with surrounding houses.
Followers will also ‘Meet and Greet’ the beekeeper, the beekeepers’ spouse (bad news!), neighbours, passers-by, horses, etc. Need to be improved.
Stinging – not acceptable in urban areas. Many reasons for stinging behaviour. Mention genetic trait, rough handling by beekeeper, beekeeper’s clothing with sting pheromone, leather gloves and leather smoker bellows with sting pheromone, weather, etc.
Make sure it is the temper of the bees. Keep records and compare with other colonies to eliminate temporary factors such as weather.
5. Clean kit – sting pheromone and sweaty beekeeper smells guaranteed to rile bees!
Gentle handling – watch how bee inspector handles the colony
Minimal smoke – some fuels disliked by bees so check e.g. cardboard with synthetic glue.
Minimal disturbance – do you need to do a full inspection or would a quick check do?
Use of cover cloth – an easy way to keep control of a colony. Roll it back as your inspection progresses, then swap it round so that the greater part of the frames is covered, or use two with just the active slot exposed. IF USED, KEEP IT CLEAN.
Use of wedges – to make separation of hive parts with less disturbance if you need to reposition your hive tool.
6. Additional reasons for change of circumstances:
- Vibration/noise on shared stand
- Rocking of hive – needs to be steady
- Queenless colony, as in swarm control split or post swarming
- Protective of honey stores against wasps
7. As the genetic stock was satisfactory it is usually quite acceptable to raise a new queen from them.
8. If they have always been bad then this is most likely a genetic trait and they are unlikely to improve on its own.
The only way to deal with this is to replace the queen with a new queen with better genetic qualities.
It may take 6 – 9 weeks or more for all the old genetically bad-tempered bees to die off, but a better queen may moderate behaviour sooner.
Isolate to avoid problems with neighbours.
Cull drone brood. Don’t want the aggressive attribute passed on to surrounding colonies through mating with virgin queens from currently good-tempered stock.
9. Bee vision – includes infrared – heat. The hottest place they can see will be their primary target.
Smell receptors – on the antennae – often for specific odour chemicals. Very sensitive to sting pheromones.
Protective gear – what’s needed – what’s available – discuss
Always wear two layers of clothing when dealing with defensive bees
Ensure no gaps in protection. Use tape on ankles and wrists if necessary
Leather gloves not recommended – difficult to clean. There are lots of different types of rubber or vinyl glove which give more than adequate protection when dealing with difficult bee, and they are cleanable.
ALL kit should be clean.
Other things that upset bees:
- Some products used by dental practices will cause bees to buzz round the veil.
- Lawn mowers/strimmers. Probably a combination of vibration and cut grass smell.
- Digging in the garden. Again, probably vibration and earthy smell.
- Throwing bone meal fertiliser onto the ground near bees has been known to provoke a sting response.
- Too many beekeepers crowding round a hive demo may cause trouble. Try to stay out of their flight path.
- Incorrect bee space caused by hive parts that are not to specification. Causing difficulty with hive manipulation and disruption of bees.
Notes from Keith Bone on his observations of bad-tempered bees:
I have noticed over the past two years that there has been a strong correlation between unusual warm weather and bad temper within colonies. Last year we had a warm spell in February and again in March which resulted in the colonies building up very quickly and early in the season. Come April this resulted in there being a lot of bees in each hive at a time when forage was still fairly scarce.
Consequently, I feel there were a lot of bees who were idle and, either as part of the hierarchy or they took it upon themselves, they became guard bees. Not only guarding the hive but all the territory around it too. We had to wear bee suits in the garden up until about mid-June when the following bees seemed to die off. After that all colonies acted calmly and normal so it wasn’t in their genes.
All this is very reminiscent of keeping bees on oil seed rape. There is so much forage available early in the season that queens lay brood like mad to keep up with the flow that by the time this brood is hatching the flow is over and there is nothing for the bees to do. Inevitably the bees are grumpy and turn to guard duty to protect their recently acquired honey stores and the whole apiary. All this for about 4 – 6 weeks after the flow stops when these intimidating bees die off.
Observation from Richard Simpson:
Bees can suffer from several stressors, not least being overcrowded or struggling with nest temperature. Direct sun with a thin-walled wooden bee hive and metal roof can be one such stressor.
The way they handle excess heat is to cool the colony by bringing in and evaporating water, but also circulating air and hanging outside the box rather than inside.
One colony supplied earlier in the year was docile when in afternoon shade. If it is the same colony that has now gone “bad-tempered”, consider whether a position in full sun is causing stress now that temperature and population have risen, or whether the queen has been changed.
If considering raising a replacement queen yourself (another talk for another day), bear in mind that a queen raised today will be mating (all being well) in mid-July, just as the drones are being expelled. Successful mating will be difficult if the drone population is falling or non-existent. Time is now of the essence.
Thanks to all who participated.