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I’ve read any number of posts with theories about how and why bees can get mean, whether through heat or hunger, overcrowding or bad genetics. I wanted to ask y’all the opposite question, how or why might bees become less aggressive?

I’ve seen my fair share of mean bees. All the bees I manage are from feral stock, and here in SoCal, that inevitably means an admixture of African genetics. I don’t treat, which for me is the reason to put up with the occasional hive I have to kill. I once even had an apiary where the bad genetics took over, and that was unpleasant.

Anyhow, the back yard apiary in question is in the city, so almost certainly not a genetic island. None of the hives there have died from disease in a long time, and none were introduced this year. If a hive loses a queen and empties out, I will change out the boxes and find them occupied again in a few months. It’s a beautiful time of year here, and good to be a bee: plenty of nectar, pollen and sunshine. The worst they have to contend with are the birds that have learned what a good place the yard is to find bees to eat. They perch by the hives.

I was doing a hive inspection this weekend, going through all the honey supers looking to see which I would be taking next month. I smoked them all good, and took my time, as I usually do. About three quarters of the way through, I realized I was working a bunch of bees who could have cared less that I was there. I could have done the entire inspection, every hive, without gloves or veil. Not a single bee even looked at me, at least, none I saw.

Now as I say, I’ve been working with feral stock for long enough to be acutely aware of the greater spectrum of aggressiveness that Africanized bees exhibit. To anyone who says to me, these are not your grandfather’s bees, I would be the first to agree. I’d tell them that I’ve taken the lids off boxes of bees that marched out in unison with their sole intent to kill me. (Rare but terrifying!)

Anyone care to speculate how come, in this particular apiary, the bees have become so gentle?
 

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I’m one that believes that genetics aside, when bees have less stress they are more gentle. Stress comes from nutrition, threat from predation, being queenright, having a flow, having a good beekeeper and so on. What you may be finding is the less stress you feel the less stress they exhibit. You, in a way are connected.

They are creatures of vibration and smell. Fear and anxiety have a vibration. Horses and flight animals sense it. There is a wider sensory world out there when we are willing to look.
 

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........
Anyone care to speculate how come, in this particular apiary, the bees have become so gentle?
I'd rather be surprised with such a question.
The bees are "cross-pollinated" animals with the crazy level of polyandry.
Every particular mated queen is, essentially, a new and unique combination of the traits (with any of the traits raging from 0% to 100% of being expressed).

Add to this totally chaotic and out of control bee genetic material migration done by the people.

Why even be surprised?
 

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I work my bees without gloves, wearing a short sleeved shirt much of the spring.
In the fall....long sleeves and gloves.
Mine are always MUCH less aggressive during a nectar flow.
 

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The spring fruit bloom is on and I worked thru twenty some colonies and collected a swarm all in a tee shirt and baseball cap yesterday. When all the workers are busy collecting, colonies are all pretty calm. Granted, I do not tolerate hot colonies so my bees are fairly mild.
 

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I think they feel your vibe. They are calm if you are calm. If you do yoga or meditation prior to inspections your bees will never be aggressive. If you go into the bee yard humming a Neil diamond tune the bees will buzz to that rhythm.
All the above is complete BS. If the bees are buzy with a nectar flow they will tolerate a beekeeper disturbing the hive to a MUCH larger degree than if there is a dearth.
Bees are bugs. Trying to complicate the behavior of a bug makes no sense IMO.
 

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A month ago we had a very early season heat. It was hot and nothing had started blooming yet. Bees were bumping even at 100 feet, even around the corner of the house. Yesterday I could have inspected those same hives naked, they were as mellow as can be.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
For sure spring weather makes bees less aggressive than the dog days would, and I agree with pretty much everything written here. But that just doesn't seem to be enough to me to explain away the fact that genetically, these guys ought to be wired to be way more suspicious of me than they are. There was some talk back before hurricane Maria hit PR that a newly adapted, nicer bee (gAHB) had evolved from the africanized bees that had completely destroyed PR's bee industry. And of course, that requires strong selective pressures towards gentleness - which don't exist in the back yard in question.

Anyway, I am not complaining. It's nice to have bees that are both gentle and naturally mite resistant.
 
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