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Grumpy Bees? 4 Reasons Why It May Be Your Fault
Today we’ll continue to explore the world of testy and cranky bees. In our previous posts, we’ve covered nine external causes for cranky bees. Today we’re going to look at four reasons that are a little closer to home ... things you as a beekeeper could be doing that impact your bees, and as a result, may cause them to demonstrate behavior that is a bit less than ideal.
The Bee Species You Choose Plays a Role in Aggression
You choose the type of honeybee to cultivate in your hives. There are different species of honeybees. Some are more docile than others. Some are more defensive and aggressive. We here at Blythewood Bee Company believe that Carniolan bees are the perfect choice for beekeepers. That’s why when you buy a NUC (nucleus colony of live bees) from us, you’ll receive Carniolan bees.
If your colony decides to replace the queen through supersedure, however, the new queen will not have the same genetics as her mother. Since she will become the mother of all the new bees born to the colony, those bees will have her characteristics. She is, after all, responsible for half of the genetic material the new worker bees will have. If she is more aggressive, they will be more aggressive. If your current queen is marked, you’ll know when she has been replaced when you do your next hive inspection.
Actions During Hive Inspections Can Trigger Defensiveness
Depending on how and when you perform your hive inspections, you can cause your bees to be mild-mannered and go with the flow or grumpy and testy. Although it can be difficult for new beekeepers, it’s important to remain calm. You’ll want to avoid quick, jerky movements and refrain from bumping hive components together. These actions can cause the bees to become agitated and begin to attack. Always wear protective equipment ... just in case.
Check out our blog posts, The Do Not’s of Hive Inspections for a long list of things you’ll want to consider when doing hive inspections and another about what you can do to prepare for hive inspections. If you’re new to beekeeping, take time to watch a few videos of hive inspections so you know what to look for and what to expect. Once you have a few inspections under your belt, it’ll get easier to relax and develop a routine that works for you.
Using the Bee Smoker Defuses Aggression
When doing an inspection, it’s important you don’t ignore agitated bees. You should use smoke at first signs of agitation and when you notice that they’re paying more attention to you than they should, i.e., they’re lining up on top of the frame, carefully watching you and considering what to do next.
When using a smoker, however, you must do so correctly, or you can literally add more fuel to the bee’s attack fire. The first thing is to choose the proper fuel which will produce the right kind of smoke. Cool white smoke works best, distracting the bees from your activities and helping to mask alarm pheromones. Using hot, black smoke, on the other hand, initiates an aggressive response from the bees. Not using a smoker can lead to an aggressive response as well.
Cleanliness is Important to Prevent Aggressive Behavior
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” It’s important in beekeeping too. Protective gear — hats, veils, suits and gloves — that haven’t been cleaned in a while can be covered with alarm pheromones from previous stings. The bees don’t know if the pheromones they smell are from an attack that was last week, last month or last second. They smell it and an aggression response is triggered, instinctively. It makes sense, therefore, to wash your bee suit occasionally to prevent this instinctive response, especially if you know that attack pheromones have been released during a previous hive inspection. (Check out our post, 7 Best Practices for Beekeeping Tool and Equipment Maintenance, for more information.)
Bees are sensitive to odors, so it’s not only alarm pheromones that cause problems. Strong smells, even humanly pleasant smells such as cologne or unpleasant smells such as “well-seasoned” sweat, can lead to an aggressive response in bees.
Join us next time when we’ll look at ways to deal with aggressive bees, whatever the reason for their grumpiness.