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Bees with an Attitude

Date: Tue, 22 Feb 1994 03:36:00 GMT
From: ANDY NACHBAUR
Subject: Bees with an attitute

> Aggressive behaviour in bees is not only influenced by genetics
>there is a good deal of the environment envolved. We all know that
>the weather has alot to do with making the bees aggressive, what
>I have to come to realize over the years is it’s often the floral
>source that the bees react to. For instance I use to dread

Hello Xxxxxx and gang,

All of the above and more too. I believe that there is more then just the eco-systems of the plants that make bees aggressive, but for sure some plants like the blue curls of late summer and fall in California do influence on how the bees behave.

The first thing I do when I want to look or work at bees is to light my smoker. My hat is the favorite ball cap so popular with many who work in the fields and now LA gang members. My doctor tells me as he lazers the cancers off my noise it would have been smarter to use a wide brim hat. My hard hat and veil is always in the truck ready if I need it. I seldom do here in central California. The beekeepers I have trained over the years have adopted my attitude towards clothing and made one variation, they mostly wear short sleeved T-shirts in the summer. I always wear long sleeve shirts, but do roll up the sleeves.

There are several reason why we have adopted such an insane behaviour when in the bees. I did it because I have developed an eye for things going on within the bee hive, the veil interferes with my vision. The second reason was because it was costing me a big bundle supplying veils to farm worker who would only use them once and throw them away. I found if the average farm worker would see a bunch of crazy beekeepers working around bees without a veil they would not want to ware one. It worked, I have not been asked to supply veils for years and the farm workers still keep their distance from the hives. When they had veils they were always helping themselves to the honey.

One advantage to not wearing a veil is that I am my own biological testing agent or target for aggressive behaviour in my bees. I will be the first one to know if they change. Several times I have been stung badly with coveralls, veil, gloves and smoker in hand. I define a bad stinging as one in which you believe that one more will be the one that kills you. Complete panic. It is an experience that one has to go through to understand about people who are sensitive to bee stings or just afraid. Because of close calls with family and short time employees I have great respect for aggressive bees and people who are sensitive.

I kept bees for 5 seasons in the thorn bush deserts of south western Arizona on the Mexican boarder. There I learned late in life about 100% aggressive behaviour of bees and how little control a beekeeper really has over it. I have talked and visited with beekeepers who also operate in this large area that extends from Arizona to Texas and south into Mexico. By the end of the first season I was sure I had looked into the face of the devil himself, and not one time was I able to open any hive without a good smoker and hat and veil on. Coveralls and gloves, plus duct tape were the rule. With a 3 man crew working in yards of 50 +- hives even with lots of smoke and protective clothing the bees would fog your veil. These bees showed every symptom of being Afrikaner bees. I questioned the old beekeepers and was not surprised to hear that they did not think it was anything out of the ordinary and in fact always kept the worst junk yard dog hives close to the entrance to the bee yards to discourage thefts.

The next year I started a requeening project, using Oliver Hill’s and Kohnen stock from northern California that I had known from years of use were as gentle as they come. I did more then 500 hives, bull puckey, the bees did not change at all, except the drones got yellower. They would still sting your pockets shut if not controlled. The third season I shipped a semi load (480 hives) of bees that I had been able to work all spring in California without a hat, veil or much smoke; even through the almonds that towards the end the bees do get aggressive. The first time I went back to these yards they were as aggressive as the local stock.

I did learn how to work these bees after five seasons with out special clothing, but never once in 5 years was I able to sneak into a yard alone and slip off a top, and ease out a frame for inspection like I have done most every day of the year here, without a good smoker. I also could keep up with the younger guys by starting them on the opposite side of the truck and getting to work on my side with out coveralls or veil. By the time they got dressed up I would be a forth down the row and relative safe until they got close to me, then I would have to stop and put on my own veil, if they had not hid it under the seat of the truck or out in the brush with a rattle snake in it.

I do not believe that these bees were aggressive because of any bad genes. I do not believe they were aggressive because of start and stop flows, as one year we never did finish extracting until Christmas and made a crop of 200+ lbs per hive double the normal, much of it off the Yellow Eye of northern Mexico that only comes once or twice in a life time. I believe that this bad behaviour of bees is normal for the great thorn bush deserts of the SW and much of northern Mexico and could easily be mis-identified as a genetic disorder. Lucky enough most of the bee yards are away from the well traveled black top roads and are not easy to find if you are not looking for them so NO problems have ever been reported from humans or stock being injured. I am sure that with little provocation these bees would eat the paint and hinges off a barn door to get at you. The one thing I did not do is return any of this
stock to California to see if it would continue to be aggressive, I don’t think it would, but will never know for sure.

ttul Andy-