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From dictionary.com
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feral

1) existing in a natural state, as animals or plants; not domesticated or cultivated; wild.
2) having reverted to the wild state, as from domestication: a pack of feral dogs roaming the woods.
3) of or characteristic of wild animals; ferocious; brutal.
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When we talk about feral bees, typically reference the second variant there, escaped from domestic housing.
 

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If they don't come when I whistle and call "here girl" then they are feral. Where they live or how often I disturb their living quarters isn't really a factor.
 

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I think MB gives the most realistic definition of feral bees. Now the question is, how do you tell if bees are feral?

Many folks claim to have trapped "feral" bees. I always have my doubts about those claims.
 

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Aylett, VA 10-frame double deep Langstroth
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When I set my swarm traps, I assume any bees caught are feral, unless the queen is marked.:pinch:
 

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> how do you tell if bees are feral?

They are noticeably, significantly and obviously smaller. Sometimes they have been observed living in that spot for years or even decades.
There are many "bee trees" in my area. While it is relatively easy to establish that bees have lived in these "bee trees" for years, it is virtually a guess at whether the SAME bees, or their direct lineage, occupy those trees year after year.

I have no doubt that feral bees exist. I think they are relatively prolific in my area. I trap in remote areas around my county every year and most of my "stock" is now made up of queens headed by the offspring of those trapped swarms. I would like to believe that my bees came from "feral" stock, but I have never been confident in that statement.

As to size, would a feral swarm have bees roughly the same size as a beekeeper that did not use foundation?
 

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Without a marked queen in a hive, there’s really no way to know where that hive came from. I prefer the term “wild hive” for the ones I find in walls and trees. All my bees are descended from cutouts and swarm traps. I’ve caught swarms and done cutouts with marked queens in them. I still keep them. I like strong stock that has proven itself in my area. Wild hives *usually* provide that.
 
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