Testing a hive for defensiveness
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  1. #1
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    Default Testing a hive for defensiveness

    I have three hives, at least one of which houses a somewhat aggressive colony. (I have been stung, on more than one occassion, without provocation while in my garden 10-12 feet from the hives. And no, I had not been eating bananas!) I want to know from which colony the culprit came.
    I've read about using blue suede as a way to test the bees; first reported, I believe, by Stort in 1974.
    I just tried using both a light and a dark blue 2" square of suede with no reaction at all.
    Have any of you tested your colony for aggressive defensiveness? What method worked for you?

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    If the hives are close together, the only reliable way is to lightly smoke and work each hive. That should give you a good idea. J

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    As a breeder, I'd go to the trouble of moving them each a mile or more apart at night, give them 2 days to a week, then work them.

    Colonies parked close together - up to several yards apart - may not tell a clear picture, although it should. Sometimes a hot colony is defensive across the boundaries that another colony considers it's own.

    Africanized honeybees (Apis Mellifera Scutellata X Apis Mellifera Ligurica) have been know to defend territory a quarter mile to a half mile distant. I have not heard of A. M. Ligurica, A.M. Carnica, A. M. Mellifera, A.M. Iberica, nor other subspecies / races being hive defensive at those distances. If an A. M. Scutellata-crossed colony has usurped one of your mild-mannered Ligurica colonies, they could well be the ones bouncing off your veil while you have a neighboring colony open.
    Last edited by kilocharlie; 07-16-2019 at 08:38 PM.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    Moving the hives apart is a good idea, but won't work for me. My apiary is in by backyard and there is no place to practically move them. I am a hobbyist and have a total of three hives.

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    You could screen-plug all three hives and test them individually, but you'll have to note the fist hive open only, close the hive up, wait an hour or so, then open the second colony and work it, close it up, wait an hour or so, the open the third colony. But again you will have some of the bees out from the other colonies when you open up the second and third colonies, so you have to repeat the process in different order on other days, and discount the data gathered on the third colony in particular.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    Quote Originally Posted by Filboid View Post
    Have any of you tested your colony for aggressive defensiveness? What method worked for you?
    Closing-up a handful of hives during the night and opening them one at a time in the morning - more-or-less as Kilocharlie has just described - is a method I've used in the past for identifying which hive had developed either over-defensiveness or following. My hives have screened bottoms, so that sealing-up the entrances has become a non-issue. I've only ever opened the suspect hives one at a time, and around half an hour apart. (I've never bothered re-sealing them once some bees are out)
    As soon as the problem shows itself, then the last hive opened goes 'to the top of the list' for confirmation the next day, when the process is repeated. Once identified, it then 'goes to the bottom of the list' (i.e. the very last hive opened) to check that there aren't more than one hive showing the same signs. I've usually narrowed the list of suspects down to a handful during inspections anyway, and so it soon becomes clear which colony is actually responsible. The whole process might involve 3 or 4 early mornings, but I consider this to be a good investment of time.
    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    Open the hive and run your hand a couple of inches over the top of the hive. If a lot of bees hit your hand, they are defensive. If they are pouring out of the hive and you can't see out of your veil, they are VERY defensive.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 42y 40h 39yTF

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Bush View Post
    Open the hive and run your hand a couple of inches over the top of the hive. If a lot of bees hit your hand, they are defensive. If they are pouring out of the hive and you can't see out of your veil, they are VERY defensive.
    How many bees hitting your hand do you consider as a lot?

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    my buddy has the easiest and fastest method, he walks up behind the first hive while instructing you to stand in front of it, then he kick's it, no reaction, on to the second hive, same sequence, eventually YOU find the offending hive for him.
    mike syracuse ny
    Whatever you subsidize you get more of. Ronald Reagan

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    Quote Originally Posted by little_john View Post
    or following.
    LJ
    Agreed, they usually follow you before they get aggressive. Starts with only one or two bees. I will give the usual make sure they are not being bothered advice.

    Great u-tube posted on the local beekeepers group of a skunk doing just that; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zveDu-bIoWU
    It is not true that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.
    They can learn them, they just can't do them.

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    Wildbranch, sounds like your buddy has a death wish. MB's advice is similar to my way of checking. Open the hive without smoke and make sure the inner cover makes a loud cracking noise as you do. If the girls are sitting on the top of the bars looking at you, they are not defensive. If a tornado of bees erupts from the hive and your veil is being pelted by bees, they are defensive. If they follow you several hundred feet while pelting you, they are hot. I envy those guys working their bees in shorts and a tee shirt.
    Thankfully, the bees are smarter than I am. They are doing well, in spite of my efforts to help them.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    Quote Originally Posted by JWPalmer View Post
    Wildbranch, sounds like your buddy has a death wish.
    he doesn't have a death wish, he's the one behind the hive kicking it
    mike syracuse ny
    Whatever you subsidize you get more of. Ronald Reagan

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    Quote Originally Posted by JWPalmer View Post
    ....Open the hive without smoke....If the girls are sitting on the top of the bars looking at you, they are not defensive. If a tornado of bees erupts from the hive and your veil is being pelted by bees, they are defensive.
    This part I never understand.
    WHY without smoke?
    Is it because you mean to work them without smoke?
    OK, yes, I get it - working without smoke is a nice thing to have and indication of super-mild bees, but this is not a requirement.
    But this is a setup for unreasonable expectations.

    I got some bees I must use smoke, or else....
    But they respond and they are NOT unreasonably defensive.
    They are very reasonable bees, just alert and attentive and need some respect (not some sleepy softies).

    Then we cultivate new beeks who assume smoke is not needed (too many of those pop-culture videos about softie bees).
    Then we have fake issues about "hot bees", etc, etc.
    Then perfectly good bees get culled or re-queened, etc (often, mite-resistant bees at that).

    Bees must be responsive to smoke and this is how you work them.

    Now, if you open them WITH smoke and they are NOT responsive and still attack - then, indeed, "Scottie, we have a problem".
    Then you deal with the issues.

    I think this "Italian bee idea" is bad for beekeeping and the bees (too many good bees are getting destroyed; the mite-resistance often associated with some defensiveness is being destroyed too).
    Last edited by GregV; 09-11-2019 at 08:48 AM.
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    Simply erupting is not a problem for me, following through with the warning is. Two seconds standing motionless after eruption and then workable is fine with me.

    Chasers spread the word to other hives, just a bad influence. Chasers are the ones that will hit you twenty feet away.
    You might narrow it down by coming in from the backside of each hive.

    My bees are not your bees. If you really can't find the guilty hive move them apart one by one.
    It is not true that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.
    They can learn them, they just can't do them.

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    GChoosing your test day is very important. Inclement weather approaching...even a day away, a cloudy day, a time of dearth, the ambient temperature related to how many field workers are in as opposed to out working , can give you a false aggressive reading. Perhaps one of the hives has become queenless. There are many things besides genetics which will make a hive a little more aggressive. I agree with Greg....not smoking a hive and cracking the lid will make most any hive defensive as your instantly causing a release of alarm pheromones which aren’t Masked. We have seen Salty’s point many times in our yards. One hive acting badly will incite others due to alarm pheromones and sometimes two particular hives just don’t get along......for whatever reason.
    Last edited by Joel; 09-11-2019 at 11:25 AM.

  17. #16
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    Quote Originally Posted by Joel View Post
    I agree with Greg....not smoking a hive and cracking the lid will make most any hive defensive as your instantly causing a release of alarm pheromones which aren't masked. We have seen Salty’s point many times in our yards. One hive acting badly will incite others due to alarm pheromones and sometimes two particular hives just don’t get along......for whatever reason.
    That is precisely the reason I suggested not to use smoke and to make loud noises when opening the hive. If they are not defensive at that point, the bees are pretty calm and smoking them will make them even more so.
    Greg, I rarely use smoke on my bees. But, I would not dream of working them witbout a jacket,.veil, and gloves either. Only one or two hives are hard to manage, bouncing off the veil and crawling up my arms, but I can only work six or seven of the non-agressive hives before enough alarm pheromone has been released to make the remaining hives difficult to work. I do use smoke when a major rearrangement is needed, usually.
    Thankfully, the bees are smarter than I am. They are doing well, in spite of my efforts to help them.

  18. #17
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    The University of Guelph has a video on YouTube about managing for gentle behavior. It gives you measurements about how to test a hive. For me personally I have 5 hives. Four are easy and one reacts quicker. You’d better have your A game on when working with that hive. However with proper use of smoke they remain as calm as the others. I also use a quiet box and hive drapes. Also stopped using a frame rest. Not giving them a reason to be agitated is the best defense.

  19. #18
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    Default Re: Testing a hive for defensiveness

    Quote Originally Posted by JWPalmer View Post
    That is precisely the reason I suggested not to use smoke and to make loud noises when opening the hive. If they are not defensive at that point, the bees are pretty calm and smoking them will make them even more so.
    Greg, I rarely use smoke on my bees. But, I would not dream of working them witbout a jacket,.veil, and gloves either. Only one or two hives are hard to manage, bouncing off the veil and crawling up my arms, but I can only work six or seven of the non-agressive hives before enough alarm pheromone has been released to make the remaining hives difficult to work. I do use smoke when a major rearrangement is needed, usually.
    Lucky for your JW.

    However, this does send wrong message to lots of new and not so new beeks - somehow some people are even assume that smoke is bad, bad, bad and not, not, not natural... on and on it goes.
    Well, we are talking of safety for you and those around you here (AND the bad publicity).
    You have to work safely.
    Yes - you have your jacket on.

    What about that passer by just walking behind the tree?

    That being said, I agree - IF the hive is so mild that it allows intrusion without smoke - that is very much manageable and defensive grade level near zero.
    Your method of testing will identify hives with defensive grade at about zero % to 20%.

    However, opening the hives with smoke and managing it at safe level also means - the hive is NOT unreasonably defensive.
    This his how you identify the defensive grades at about mid-range and above (i.e. - manageable with smoke).

    There is huge difference between reasonable and unreasonable defensiveness.
    That is how the thing should be qualified.
    It is a scale from zero to 100, not black and white.
    Last edited by GregV; 09-12-2019 at 10:16 AM.
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

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