The governor of Michigan just declared a State of Emergency for our state due to record-breaking low temperatures. As I write this post, it’s currently -6 degrees F with a wind-chill of -30. So worrying if our hive is overheated is really not a concern right now…quite the opposite. However, coming this spring, I will be interested in the personality of our hive or how “hot” it is.
Once upon a time, a strain of honey bees from the continent of Africa was known to swarm in dangerous numbers and would kill humans and livestock. These bees were referred to as “Killer Bees”. These bees still exist in Africa. A descendant of these bees also lives in southern parts of the United States. The bees were accidentally released into the wild in the 1950s. (For more information on this visit my post “Killer Bees” Explained) These escape bees have since mingled with domesticated strains and lost some of that swarming/attack instinct.
Beekeepers realized that the “Killer” strains had some benefits such as increased honey production and higher resistance to mites. Supporters of the “Killer Bee” benefits disliked the connotation that the name “Killer Bee” suggested, so for a while, and in some cases still…the bees are referred to as “Africanized”.
It seems now that even this title is starting to become taboo as the movement to protect and support bees becomes more widely promoted and it is preferred that we refer to our hives with a level of “heat”. How “hot” your hive is really asking how “sassy” is your hive?
So now that we have the titles out of the way…how do you determine if you have a hot hive?
It’s important for new beekeepers to understand the difference between a hot hive and normal bee behavior. Even docile, domesticated bees will protect their home to an extent, especially if you don’t use protective measures like a smoker when opening the hive.
The hotness of the hive is closely correlated with the amount of Africanized genes in the colony. There are other reasons why a hive might be uppity, but if your hive is consistent with its aggressiveness, it’s most likely due to the African genes.
So how does say… an Italian hive get “hot”?
Your bee genetics are not unchanging. Each time your queen leaves the hive to mate with wild drones she is introducing new genetics to the colony. Subsequent offspring will carry on the genetic traits of the new drone.
It is believed that most of the wild bee population now carries a percentage of the Africanized genes due to widespread breeding.
So in other words, you don’t really know what attitude your hive will have in the future.
If you’re a new beekeeper, or someone who keeps bees in a more urban setting, your tolerance for bee “heat” might be less than someone who’s been beekeeping for years or who lives in a more rural area. Someone who is comfortable around bees might happily take on a hotter hive if it means higher resistance to mites and increased honey production. You might also have children who are interested in beekeeping, in this case, you want a friendly hive.
But how do you determine aggressive behavior as opposed to regular bee instinct?
|Normal Bee Behavior||Aggressive Bee Behavior|
|Ignoring people close by the hive, or calmly flying over to inspect.
Showing slight agitation if you are in the pathway of the entrance. This might be shown by bumping or a speedy buzzing flight.
Agitation with small engines or loud vibration near the hive
Flying slowly around or staying put when the hive is opened and a smoker is used correctly
Stinging or aggression when the hive is opened without a smoker
After the hive is closed up, not following you or following for a few yards then giving up.
|Showing defensiveness at further distances from the hive some say 50 feet or more.
Sending guard bees at close proximity to the hive
Stinging just for approaching
Fast flying, buzzing and quick circular flights when the hive is opened
Circulating your head, clustering at the face
Trying to sting through your bee veil
Following for up to a mile away from the hive
Staying agitated for days after a hive inspection
If you’re unhappy with the aggression level that your hive is displaying there is a way to change the genetics by re-queening your hive.
I will go over how to do this in my next post.