Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Defensive Bee Behavior

Beekeepers describe honey bees as having a defensive nature. They are not described as being aggressive. Bee behavior is such that guards will effectively defend their hive from intruders. Guard bees check all incoming bees and turn away those from foreign colonies. The guards spread alarm pheromone to alert other worker bees anytime the hive is invaded by insects or mammals. The combined effect of numbers of stinging workers effectively defends the bee hive with its queen, brood, and food stores of honey and pollen. Even though honey bees may rush out of the hive to drive away an intruder by inflicting numerous stings, honey bees do not aggressively hunt or attack people or animals. Honey bees are quite docile while they are away from their hive foraging. Today’s small, black honey bees foraging for nectar and pollen completely ignore children playing around the decorative plant’s flowers. The honey bees of East Africa have a reputation for being among the most defensive bees in the world. However, many of the colonies are not highly defensive.

As part of my work in training Ethiopian beekeepers, I tried to encourage the farmers to work the bee hives gently in the daytime hours as opposed to their common practice of destructively harvesting the hives’ honey and beeswax at night after driving away the bees. Some beekeepers have good experiences and enjoy working their bees, and others seem to be reluctant to handling living bees. Only by examining bee hives in daylight can the beekeepers effectively observe the combs for brood diseases and other hive health issues. Our examination in Amhara of Ethiopia’s three types of bee hives finds that each is well designed to allow the guard bees to effectively protect the colony. Each hive has a small opening for an entrance, giving the guard bees the advantage of defending a small area. Ethiopia’s greatest bee hive pests are ants. Other invaders include wasps, hornets, birds, and small mammals including the honey badger.

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