When we evaluate honey bee colonies, we observe a number of traits to determine the quality of the queen bee. Among these traits are the behaviors of gentleness and calmness. At Peace Bee Farm, we observe each colony for its behavior just as we evaluate over-winter success, spring population build-up, brood pattern, and honey production. While many beekeepers will say that bees with bad behavior may make plenty honey or provide effective pollination service, it is much more pleasant for the beekeeper to work with gentle bees. Honey bee gentleness involves the colony’s defensiveness. Some colonies are simply more aggressive in their defense of their nest. These bees are alerted quicker, bring into action greater numbers of guard bees, travel farther from the hive, and stay alerted longer. The test of the colony’s gentleness is simply the way that the bees react when we open the hive and expose the brood nest. Much can be told of the colony’s defensiveness by the beekeeper’s waving of a hand a few inches above the top bars of exposed brood frames. Gentle bees will ignore your hand; more defensive bees quickly fly up and sting your hand. It is important to be aware that a colony’s defensiveness may change considerably through the day. A colony is usually more gentle during the daytime and more defensive in the late afternoon. Clear, warm weather makes for gentle bees; approaching rain brings out guard bees to defend the brood nest. The beekeeper should not evaluate colony behavior if environmental factors are affecting the bees. If skunks are attacking the hive at night, the colony will be quite irritable.
The calmness of the bees on the frames is another heritable behavior trait that we observe. Some bees stand still on the frame, while other bees wander nervously about the frame. Finding the queen among thousands of nervous, rapidly moving bees is most difficult. In today’s picture a queen stands out among calm and gentle bees.