Saturday, September 24, 2022
HomeBeeKeepingUnhealthy behaviour - The Apiarist

Unhealthy behaviour – The Apiarist

Synopsis : Unhealthy behaviour by bees – aggression, following and stability on the comb – could also be transient or everlasting. To recognise it it’s worthwhile to maintain data and have hives to match. Thankfully, these traits are straightforward to right by requeening the colony.


That’s a fairly generic title and it might cowl a mess of sins.

Slapdash illness administration, inadequate winter feeding, poor apiary hygiene, siting bait hives close to one other beekeeper’s apiaries … even bee rustling.

Nonetheless, I all the time attempt to write a few matter from direct sensible expertise.

If I did ever exhibit any of these examples of unhealthy behaviour:

So, as a substitute of discussing unhealthy behaviour by beekeepers, I’ll write about badly behaved bees.

Good bees

Most beekeepers have an thought of what ‘good bees’ are like. It’s a time period that encapsulates the assorted traits {that a} beekeeper values.

These traits might embody mood, stability on the comb, productiveness (by way of both/each bees or honey), frugality, color and any variety of different phrases that outline both the looks or behaviour of particular person bees or, collectively, that of the colony.

In fact, all these phrases are relative.

Good bees and a pleasant queen

My definition of aggressive bees could effectively differ from what one other beekeeper would think about (un)acceptable.

The comparatively calm and secure bees in most of my hives might be outlined as ’operating about far and wide’ by somebody who’s bees stick, nearly motionless, to the comb.

This relativity is nowhere extra obvious than when visiting the apiary of one other beekeeper. I’m all the time a little bit cautious of somebody donning a beesuit 100 metres from the hives whereas concurrently claiming their bees are ’very pleasant’.

These variations don’t matter for those who maintain your bees in an remoted location the place different folks – in significantly civilians (i.e. members of most people) – gained’t be impacted in case your ’pleasant bees’ are literally ’murderous psychopaths’.

Nonetheless, they do matter in case your bees are in an city backyard, or a shared allotment.

In addition they matter when making comparisons between colonies to find out which to separate (so creating a brand new queen) and which – maybe urgently – want requeening.

Transient or everlasting?

For the aim of the next dialogue let’s think about that the ‘unhealthy behaviour’ is aggression.

Right here’s a screenshot from a YouTube video (from CapLock Apiaries) which exhibits some actually disagreeable bees. The ultimate phrases (on this a part of the video) by the beekeeper on the fitting is ”This queen has to die!”.

‘This queen has to die’ … beekeeping doesn’t need to be like this

The brood bins have been caught collectively, presumably as a result of the colony is much less usually inspected and every part will get gummed up with propolis. The primary remark was

I’m new to bees and thought I discovered a scorching wild hive right now. Went to youtube to search out some comparability. The hive I noticed was completely docile compared to these guys, and the primary wild hive I extracted are absolute angels!

Which emphasises the relative nature of behaviour.

I dislike aggressive bees so don’t have any movies of my very own displaying this form of behaviour .

Nonetheless, that doesn’t imply that my bees by no means present aggression … 😉

Climate, forage, dealing with, queenless … all can affect mood

Aggression – or defensiveness – could be a everlasting function of a colony or can seem transiently. In my opinion, the previous is unacceptable underneath any circumstances .

Nonetheless, in response to environmental situations or dealing with, a colony could turn into defensive. Once more, the quantity of ‘aggro’ varies. Some bees could buzz a little bit extra excitedly, others can go fully postal. If you’re cautious to solely choose out of your higher behaved shares for splits and queen rearing you possibly can normally keep away from even transient unpleasantness.

Environmental elements that may affect the behaviour of a colony embody the climate, the supply of forage and the gentleness and care exhibited by the beekeeper throughout inspections.

Queenless colonies might also be extra aggressive, however all of the feedback within the publish this week relate to queenright colonies.

Scores on the doorways

There are two straightforward to realize options that enable a beekeeper to make sense of the variation in any of those traits. These are:

  • maintaining good hive data to permit undesirable behaviour, or a gradual decline in behaviour, to be recognized, and
  • managing multiple colony so comparisons could be readily made

I rating mood, operating (stability on the comb) and following, however I do know some who file a a lot better vary of traits.

Every are recorded on a 1 – 5 scale (worst to greatest, permitting half factors as a ‘excellent 5’ is unattainable because the bees can all the time be higher, whereas a 4.5 is a extremely good colony).

The bees in hive #34 run far and wide. They’re being requeened.

I additionally make a remark of the climate. A colony could persistently rating 4’s or higher till you examine them in a thunderstorm, however that’s OK as a result of whenever you look again you’ll see that the situations have been woeful.

Evaluate and distinction

With only one colony you haven’t any reference to know whether or not all colonies within the space are struggling as a result of there’s a dearth of nectar, or if this colony alone is a incorrect ‘un.

With two colonies issues get simpler.

More and more – for causes I’ll focus on in a future publish – I believe three might be the minimal optimum quantity.

The extra you’ve got the simpler it’s to establish the outliers … the distinctive (whether or not good 🙂 or unhealthy 🙁 ). That must be certified by stating the extra you’ve got in a single location because the native atmosphere could differ considerably between apiaries.

The beauty of hive data is that they supply an extended retrospective view. You’ll be able to overlook the hammering you obtained from a colony final week if there are an extended record of 4’s over the past 3 months.

In addition they help you observe developments in behaviour.

Rising outdated disgracefully

I’ve just lately observed that a few my colonies are markedly much less effectively behaved now we’re reaching mid-season than they have been all through 2021 or the start of this yr. I believe at the least one has (really had, because it was requeened final week) a 2020 queen.

Because the queen ages the behaviour of the colony has regularly modified.

I crudely classify my colonies into thirds – good, unhealthy or detached. Something ‘unhealthy’ is requeened as quickly as I’ve an acceptable queen obtainable (or the larvae to rear one).

These ‘declining’ colonies have been by no means worse than detached final yr however, as they’ve expanded this spring, at the moment are firmly within the ‘unhealthy’ class. I presume that is consequence of the mixture of the affect of the queen’s pheromones and the scale of the colony .

No matter … I believe all it actually demonstrates is that persistently taking even cursory hive data is helpful.

The colonies I’m referring to above haven’t turn into extra aggressive (although this may occur). The attribute I’ve seen change probably the most is the stability of the bees on the comb.

It’s value noting right here that colony measurement can basically influence behaviour. A well-tempered nuc can turn into an enormous, sturdy and unsightly colony. In distinction, the nucs I put together from ‘detached’ colonies throughout swarm management and requeening don’t seem to typically enhance a lot in temperament.

If I’m conducting swarm management on the third ‘unhealthy’ tirtile the queen is despatched so I by no means get to expertise the efficiency of the ensuing nucleus colony 😉


I’ve mentioned aggression above and coated it in extra common phrases beforehand. There are a number of research of the genetics of aggression, normally by GWAS (Genome Vast Affiliation Research) of Africanised bees which could be considerably extra bolshy than something I’ve encountered within the UK . The colony proven within the video cited above is Africanised.

A latest examine analysed particular person aggressive bees and in contrast them with pollen-laden foragers from the identical colony. Nonetheless, they did not establish any genetic loci related to aggression.

In distinction, by ‘averaging’ the genetics of lots of of aggressive or passive (forager) bees, the scientists recognized a area of the genome that – if originating from European honey bees – was extra more likely to end in mild bees. Conversely, if this area is Africanised, the colony was extra more likely to be aggressive .

Hive genetics, not particular person genetics

It is a actually attention-grabbing end result because it signifies that, even when particular person bees are Africanised and doubtlessly aggressive, if the vast majority of the colony is European-like (and so mild) the person Africanised bees are unlikely to be aggressive.

Aggression is due to this fact a consequence of hive genetics, moderately than particular person genetics.


Aggression in psychotic UK colonies (which, by definition, aren’t Africanised) could have a distinct genetic rationalization, although among the genes concerned could also be comparable. Since aggression can present itself in a number of totally different varieties – leaping up from the frames, buzzing round your head, response to sudden motion, concentrating on darkish colors and many others. – I think there could also be a number of genes concerned within the sensing or risk response.


Some aggressive bees – significantly people who buzz agitatedly round your head throughout an inspection – even have the profoundly disagreeable trait of following you out of the apiary … down the observe … again to the automotive … and even into the home.

The automotive is packed, you’ve taken you beesuit off … and PING!

The very worst of those lull you right into a false sense of safety by flying off, solely to return in a lightning-fast kamikaze strike as quickly as you take away your veil.

Ouch, that damage.

I think about ‘following’ a worse trait than overt aggression on the hive.

I’m suited and booted’ on the hive. Prepared for something … ’Come on for those who assume you’re laborious sufficient’.

Not less than, I’m if I’ve remembered to zip my veil up correctly 😉

However quarter-hour later, after I must be considering a cuppa, I don’t need to be pestered by bees dive bombing my head.

On the lookout for bother

Followers don’t essentially simply observe.

They will provoke long-range and unprovoked assaults on people simply strolling close to the hive.

I believe that is an instance of unhealthy behaviour that shouldn’t be tolerated.

For those who assume it’s unhealthy as a beekeeper, simply think about how disagreeable it’s for passers by.

Typically it’s tough to establish which of a number of hives is displaying this trait in an apiary. To substantiate it, change the order of hive inspections, leaving the seemingly suspect to final. If the followers don’t seem till the ultimate inspection you’ve got your reply.

In the event that they’re current earlier than that you simply both guessed incorrect or – Eek! – have multiple hive behaving badly.

I’ve seen many aggressive colonies that confirmed little or no tendency to observe. Conversely, I don’t keep in mind seeing followers that weren’t from an aggressive colony. I presume because of this the genes concerned are distinct however linked.

Whether or not totally different or not … they’re undesirable. Any colonies of mine displaying overt aggression or following are requeened. Maybe 5% of my colonies every season are requeened because of this.


Keep in mind again to your early days of beekeeping whenever you needed to ’discover the queen’ and have been confronted with this …

Discover the queen

I estimate there are about 1200-1300 bees on the face of that body . There are the identical quantity on the opposite aspect.

The entire bees are shifting.

In fact, this makes it a lot simpler to search out the queen as she strikes in another way to the employees on the body. I’m in all probability not alone in generally struggling to ‘discover the queen’ on {a photograph} of a body after I hardly ever have bother finding her on a body in my arms .

Nonetheless, the extra the employees transfer, the harder it will get.

Spot the queen

See for those who can spot the queen on this body of comparatively sedate bees:

And what about this body of extra cellular bees? It’s value noting there are solely about half the overall variety of bees on this second body.

OK, I cheated. Solely the primary body has a queen on it. She’s within the center close to the underside of the body, shifting left to proper .

The highest body is fairly normal by way of ‘operating’ (shorthand for the soundness of bees on the body) in my hives. The underside video is nothing just like the worst I’ve seen, however (if persistently like this) it’s actually a cause to attain the colony down and requeen them from a extra secure line.


Bees operating round on the body actually make finding the queen extra tough.

Nonetheless, as I’ve written elsewhere, you don’t want to search out the queen until it’s worthwhile to do one thing together with her. The presence of eggs is normally enough to let you know the colony is queenright (assuming there aren’t any large, fats queen cells or a queen corpse on the open mesh flooring 🙁 ).

The explanation I dislike bees that aren’t secure on the comb is as a result of they make inspections harder. They forestall you clearly seeing eggs and larvae so you need to shake the bees off the body, thereby overloading the subsequent body you take a look at with agitated bees.

Moreover, the bees will need to have someplace to run to … which normally means they run onto the body lugs, after which your arms and – within the worst instances – up your forearms.

There was a body lug there just a few seconds in the past

As well as, they run over one another, forming heavier and heavier ‘gloops’ of bees that ultimately turn into too heavy, lose their grip and fall … onto the highest bars of the frames you’ve got but to examine, onto the bottom, or into the highest of your boots.

A ‘gloop’ forming

Operating seems to be a function which isn’t influenced a lot by environmental situations, maybe apart from a cold and gusty wind .

Higher bees

There are two good issues about aggression, following and operating:

  • these behaviours are straightforward to establish; you can simply inform if the colony is too scorching for consolation, or in case your neighbour complains repeatedly about getting chased by bees, otherwise you’re plagued with ‘gloopy’ bees that make inspections a ache. Keep in mind, there’s no normal to match them to, no ‘reference colony’. All that issues is how they’re seen by anybody that interacts with them. In the event that they’re too defensive, in the event that they hassle you away from the hive or are too cellular, then rating them down in your hive data. If they continue to be the identical for the following two to a few weeks, or don’t enhance when the climate/forage picks up, then make plans to do one thing about it.
  • all these undesirable traits could be simply corrected by changing the queen. 4 to 6 weeks after requeening the traits of the colony will replicate these of the brand new queen. In fact, this solely works for those who supply a superb high quality queen – both by rearing your individual or buying one , or by making certain that the colony raises its personal queen from larvae sourced from a top quality colony. When you’re at it do your self and your neighbouring beekeepers a favour and fork out any drone brood within the misbehaving colony.

It truly is as straightforward as that.

Incremental however regular enchancment

Over just a few years the standard of your bees will enhance.

In fact, with open mating you’ll sometimes get rogue colonies. Nonetheless, because the common high quality improves, you’ll have a better alternative of colonies from which to supply larvae.

Over time you’ll must recalibrate your scoring system. In 5 years a 3/5 can be a a lot improved colony over a 3/5 now.

Whenever you subsequent (reluctantly) open a bolshy colony, battle to search out the queen due to the wriggling mass of bees on the frames and are then stung repeatedly as you are taking your veil off by the automotive, consider it as an alternative.

You have got now recognised the issue and also you already know the answer 😉

Be aware

I’ve chosen aggression, following and operating as three straightforward to identify traits that may be, simply as simply, fastened. There are different examples of unhealthy behaviour that might be unfixable. There’s a dearth of nectar in my west coast apiary till the lime flowers and robbing is an issue . Though robbing is a variable attribute (amongst totally different strains of bees) I doubt it might be excluded fully by requeening. Choice can be time consuming, being dependent upon environmental situations. Nonetheless, the ‘repair’ is once more comparatively easy … maintain very sturdy colonies, feed late within the night (if wanted) and bodily shield colonies with lowered entrances and/or robbing screens. Robbing is an instance of unhealthy behaviour by bees the place the answer is sort of completely the accountability of the beekeeper.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments