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  1. #1
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    Nov 2009
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    Default The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    After reading countless forum posts on a variety of forums, reading many articles and watching many videos, I am struck by two characters that I'll call "The Bee Whisperer" and "The Benevolent Bee". Here are a few of their characteristics:

    • The Bee Whisperer is someone who moves with the bees as if in a gentle dance or mutual understanding.
    • The Bee Whisperer does not wear any protective gear, as he or she feels that there is no need to fear these gentle creatures, and protective gear only gets in the way of an honest and pure relationship with the bees.
    • The Bee Whisperer uses no smoke, as it only upsets them with noxious gas - and who would want to do that to a friend?
    • The Bee Whisperer, when stung, welcomes the sting as a reminder to be more gentle in his or her ways with the bees. Plus, it helps with his or her arthritis. It's good to get stung.

    • The Benevolent Bee is friendly.
    • The Benevolent Bee has human-like emotions.
    • The Benevolent Bee "knows" and "likes" The Bee Whisperer that tends to its hive and appreciates his or her efforts.
    • The Benevolent Bee will only sting you if you don't know what you're doing as a beekeeper, or if you mean the bee harm.
    • The Benevolent Bee's venom is good for you - which is why we have apitherapy. It's good to get stung.


    Now, of course, these characters that I'm describing are somewhat unreal, but I believe that they are very real and present in our collective thinking, discussions and actions.

    For The Bee Whisperer, there are few people who actually fit all of these descriptions together. But oddly, I think that there is a strange pressure - especially among newbees today - to be more like this Bee Whisperer. Many people share at least one or two of the traits, and maybe they're good traits to have... I know I find myself wishing sometimes that I had more of The Bee Whisperer's qualities...

    I also think there is a pressure to see the bee as something "beyond" insect; something "good" and "pure". And to be honest, I share a lot of those feelings which I think are - to a certain extent - constructive and beneficial to have.

    But I have mixed emotions sometimes and wonder about the presence of these characters and the negative effects they have or can have.

    On the one hand, I'm all for "Natural" beekeeping in general, regardless of the misnomer. The idea that we should work as much with the bee as against her is solid by me. I'm happy to avoid chemicals and too much man-made interference if possible. And I also feel that it is important to educate the broader public about the truest nature of the bee - that she in not a Yellowjacket. She is not a bumble bee. She is not generally aggressive, and not to be feared irrationally.

    On the other hand, I worry that The Bee Whisperer and The Benevolent Bee inadvertently encourage a lack of respect for the bee. And I think that can be dangerous.

    I remember a thread here last year where a relatively new urban beekeeper was up in arms because his neighbors complained about his bees, and the community voted to ban them. But he had like, 10 hives in an urban yard. In the end, his over indulgence in his passion and his belief in the Benevolent Bee ended up scaring people to the point of increased restriction. Now no one there can enjoy the bees in their yard there.

    Here in Halifax, a local bee group has gotten in the news promoting urban beekeeping. And the pictures show this young woman handling the bees while wearing a little cotton sun dress -- no veil, bare legs and bare arms; the curious onlookers unprotected as well. The Bee Whisperer showing that there is nothing to fear from these gentle, Benevolent Bees.

    But the fear that people have is rooted in something real. Bees can kill a human being. They can put your kids in the hospital. They can kill a dog tied up too close to them. These are facts.

    Allergies seem to be on the rise, and no one really knows why. People who have never had a reaction can suddenly have one. News stories tell of another beekeeper who is shockingly killed by his own bees. I know that these events are not statistically common, but they do happen.

    So my questions are these:

    Is The Bee Whisperer pressuring us to be less respectful of the bee? Is the effort to portray her as gentle and benevolent at times causing us to become too carefree? Can the effort to make the broader public more accepting, and the movement toward urban beekeeping and more bees in highly populated areas backfire, and cause more harm if someone is hurt and as more swarms come to rest in busy public spaces? And lastly, do The Bee Whisperer and Benevolent Bee characters pressure new, inexperienced beekeepers to act irresponsibly with bees - not taking proper precautions before they are knowledgeable enough to deal when things go wrong?

    What are your thoughts?


    Adam

  2. #2
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    Alachua County, FL, USA
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    I think the "bee whisperer" includes admirable goals. I am called a "bee whisperer" by some where I teach at USF. Bees and animals do not have true qualities as the "benevolent bee" suggests. I do believe bees react in defense when they are threatened by a beehaver that does not seek to bee a "bee whisperer" I did alter my behaviors a little last year for teaching. My students from the first year do not wear veils because I set the example the first year. I wear a veil for class ever since. If I am just out enjoying or working the bees outside class I am back to shorts and veil-less. I probably need to work on smoking the bees regularly as I do not unless I make a plan to for the class. I did drop a frame earlier this year, but both the bees and I were so surprised we did not react.
    americasbeekeeper.com
    beekeeper@americasbeekeeper.com

  3. #3
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    I tried "bee whispering" and was rewarded not with Zen-like bliss, but with a sting to my lips! (Bees have little tiny ears and you have to get really close for them to hear you).

    No more whispering for me. Bring on the smoke.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Quote Originally Posted by AmericasBeekeeper View Post

    I did alter my behaviors a little last year for teaching. My students from the first year do not wear veils because I set the example the first year. I wear a veil for class ever since.
    Gary, you touched on a good point, I think it's important to set the right example for who ever may be watching us. I always make a point to wear a veil while catching swarms in public because I don't want some fool kid (like I was) getting the wrong idea.

    Don

  5. #5
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Don and Gary,

    That's the key here I think.

    The expert has to think about all the experience (good and bad) that got him or her to the point of being qualified to teach others about handling bees. I think that's where the stereotypes are born - where an expert or perceived expert is being watched by impressionable, and newly interested beginners. This is where the establishment of the right beginner practices is key. Once that beginner builds the experience to be an expert, then they can safely judge when they can ditch the precautions.

    But too often the 'expert' in question is actually a relatively inexperienced person of a few seasons (or less) who has created some YouTube videos, or a blog, or even started offering courses. And they begin to propagate practices that don't give the bee her proper respect. And practices that don't protect a beginner from themselves.

    But then there's the perspective that "getting burned" is the best way to learn... and a lot of people follow that too...

    Adam

  6. #6
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    My brother has a friend who worked for a big beekeeper in Nebraska some years back, and he handles bees without any protection. Gets stung some, though.

    I hate being stung, since I tend to swell up quite a bit, but I will do a quick look inside the hive or observe my bees at work with no protection IF they are ignoring me when I approach the hive. Only got stung once, and that was when I swatted a bee that was flying around my face thinking it was a buffalo gnat. Big mistake, not repeated.

    My brother got stung a few times in the face once when helping me with my hive -- they hit him for some reason, not my nephew or me.

    So now when I open up the hive I dress up in the veil and gloves and light the smoker. May not use much or any smoke, and the gloves are overkill, but I'm not all that excited about getting nailed.

    My bees, so far, seem to accept me pulling their hive apart with no problems. The first couple of months they would "examine" me working in the garden, about 40 feet from the hive. I'd get a bee or two that would just not leave me alone, zig-zagging in front of me (always, not behind or to the side) until I let it land one me. A few seconds of "sniffing" and off the bee would go. Since then, they ignore me.

    Who knows, maybe they did "memorize" me and pass the information on that I'm OK, but I'm not going to take a chance on getting stung all over if they decide to be nasty. I have found that they are really cranky when it's just about to rain, so I leave them alone then.

    I do believe that gentle handling goes a long way with gentle bees in keeping them calm. I'd not go so far as to say they are benevolent -- all you have to do is pinch one to get stung, and that will likely get the rest of them riled up!

    Peter

  7. #7
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    Feb 2011
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    Garfield, Arkansas, USA
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    We often sit in the yard under shade trees within 10-15 feet of the hives in our front yard with our grandchildren and the bees rarely even act like we exist beyond sniffing around our glasses of tea from time to time BUT there are times it's best not to linger.

    My uncle rarely wore anything but overalls and a long sleeved shirt and used a smoker on all the hives he had - but He did put on a veil when we worked the few hives of little black bees. I did that myself until I was in my late 20's when I, in the space of one summer, learned the hard way things can change fast.

    I've worked bees with people who didn't wear veils, gloves, bee suits etc who made fun of me when I would be all decked out. My response was / is if you've ever had bees crawl up your nose and pop you (I have and good luck scraping the stinger out), in your ear (I found it's another hard to reach place) or sting you in the corner of the eye, you'll probably change your mind too.

    I taught my kids and grandchildren how to use all the gear and the reasons why it is used and insist we are all geared up before we open any of my hives -even their "laid back" ones in the front yard - because as the youngest says (over and over and over again -you get the idea) "ya never know".

    Now, if, after they get older they decide to go against what they've learned and take the chance by not doing as they've been taught, well, that's what people do isn't it? The bees will teach them.

    Bees are a lot of hard work if you want to keep enough of them alive and can be informative, instructive and can be fun to mess with. We have a lot of kids come over from our church to observe how we work bees and anyone is welcome to come and help / observe our bees - but - when we are going to open hives they can suit up, wear a veil, or go home because, one thing bees are not is "warm and cuddly" or benevolent, I don't care how "nice" you are to them.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Interesting post. Here's a link to an example of how urban beekeeping can go bad. http://www.beesource.com/forums/show...nvade-festival

    I may post more later when I have more time. You raise some interesting points, particularly in your last paragraph.

  9. #9
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    Jul 2011
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    Chapin,South Carolina, USA
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Hmmmmm???? Me thinks this is too "Disney like"... I think when a beekeeper becomes comfortable around his or her bees, the bees become comfortable around the keeper... if you act irresponsible around bees they will gladly set you straight!

  10. #10
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    Nov 2010
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    Postville, Iowa, USA
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Being spiritual about bees or anything else is a fine thing, but it needs to be leavened with a healthy dose of common sense.

    Some people who have horses invent a similar type of mythos. They want to see the horse as a mystical healer and spiritual guide -- a magical creature who will not step on their toes or buck them off, unless the human somehow has failed the horse.

    I get the feeling the "benevolent bee" mystique largely comes from urbanites who are desperately seeking a connection with nature, a connection they hope the bees will magically provide. They can't have a pony in the back yard, but they can keep bees.

    A veil, smoker, etc. just gets in the way of the magic, so they are also buying into the myth that bare handed, lightly dressed, veil-less beekeepers will be blessed with more bee mojo.

    I hope a more sensible and safer attitude about bees comes about. Until then, yes, Adam, I think the "benevolent bee" movement will harm some of those foolish enough to swallow the hype and also to the unwitting public (for example, see AstroBee's story).

    I grew up in a small town in Iowa, did farm chores for my grandfather, worked in the fields, and have been around critters, large and small, all my life. I think I can have spiritual insights from interacting with my bees, but I'll do it with my smoker lit and veil on.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Personally, I don't see the effect of these stereotypes as being an urban-centered issue, but I do see a higher potential for troubling repercussions in the urban setting, simply because there are more people there who really dislike the idea of insects bothering them.

    To me, these 'characters' play a role in the development of beekeepers all over the place, but particularly with newbees, as they don't have enough experience to really know for themselves. They are doing a lot based on what they guess the 'master' would do, and they are still in the process of deciding which master to emulate. It isn't until they've spent enough time working the bees that they really begin to develop their own 'feel' for the bees, and a way of working that's really their own.

    It comes down to respecting the true nature of the bee -- but the problem is coming to terms with just what that "true nature" is. At what point are you being careless and irresponsible with the bees? At what point are you being too cautious?

    Adam

  12. #12
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    Apr 2011
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    Oak Ridge, NC, USA
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    There is not a dog that won't bite, a horse that won't kick, or a bee that won't sting in any given situation.

  13. #13
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    Postville, Iowa, USA
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    "...I don't see the effect of these stereotypes as being an urban-centered issue..."

    Well, okay, I concede I did generalize a bit, but I really do think the folks who are more likely to buy into this mystique are the ones who have not grown up with the realities of agriculture reasonably close by. I'd say that covers a lot of folks in cities and larger towns and not so many who live in small towns and rural areas.

    I've had city people (Brooklynites transplanted to Iowa, to be specific) come out to our place, plop their toddler on my gentlest mare's back ... and walk away! These parents had absolutely no idea that the horse could quietly step sideways, and off that toddler would slide, headfirst, four feet to the ground. I guess they figured the mare had an on/off switch or a brake pedal somewhere.

    But then these folks grew up in city apartments without pets, except maybe for a goldfish, so how would they have a clue about the realities of nature? It would be those folks who would decide to keep bees and blindly assume they will never sting.

    "...At what point are you being careless and irresponsible with the bees? At what point are you being too cautious?..."

    Like so many things in life, it really all depends. What is careless for a newbie might be perfectly acceptable practice for an old hand. But I would be concerned if I saw that old hand teaching the shortcuts to folks who don't have the basic skills down. Get the basics down first ... then learn the fancy stuff. The "benevolent bee" myth is appealing and so misleading, IMO, in that it promises enlightenment without effort.
    Last edited by DeeAnna; 07-27-2011 at 11:32 PM. Reason: added second part

  14. #14
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Quote Originally Posted by AstroBee View Post
    Interesting post. Here's a link to an example of how urban beekeeping can go bad. http://www.beesource.com/forums/show...nvade-festival
    Did they ban you from subsequent festivals?

  15. #15
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    Mar 2013
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    Default Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Guilty as charged Adam;

    I believe you are absolutely correct. Knowledge, common sense, and respect for the dangers that are a reality, are the attributes that are needed to be a real Bee Whisperer. The initial picture you painted was also accurate. That was me in the beginning, and once in a while I still find myself taking chances, but these days there is at least a level of knowledge regarding the importance of caution and appropriate public impression.

    I recall an incident where I once collected two swarms from a ball park, in front of numerous families and children, wearing only a T-shirt, no hood, no gloves, and scooping the bees with my bare hands. I gave the impression that this was as easy and safe as playing with angle worms. How stupid I feel today when I think of all those that I mislead that day. The impression I left in the minds of others could someday put them in harms way.

    Although I still take pride in the name “Bee Whisperer;” the professionalism for this field, the respect for others, the reality regarding what a sting can do, and the awareness and admiration of the bee’s potential aggressiveness, have matured my approach to the field of Apiculture. Yes, I still love the idea of fostering an intimate spiritual relationship with creatures and nature, but being aware is being alive. Thank you for an awesome post.
    No one famous.

  16. #16
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    Thumbs Up Re: The Bee Whisperer and the Benevolent Bee

    Idealists and pragmatists have clashed in world view for a long, long time. Beekeepers run the gamut in philosophy of life, with every conceivable personality combination imaginable. I have more than one personality. In some personalities, I wear personal protective equipment and in some I don't. Depends on my mood(s).
    LeeB
    I try to learn from my mistakes, and from yours when you give me a heads up :)

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