Southwest survivors: how defensive is still manageable?

Hi folks,

Needing some advice (or at least reassurance) from some more experienced keepers.

Finally got my first 2 hives going (from local splits) which are doing well.  One is easy to open and inspect with no trouble yet; but the other is a little "hot" tempered, and I'm wondering if I just need to buck-up as a new keeper and learn to deal with the elevated defensiveness, or if I ought to requeen.  These are all "survivors" from many generations, so they are expected to be partly Africanized and less gentle, but I'm hoping some more of you can give me your thoughts about acceptable temperament. 

As I said: one colony is manageable, but the other is pretty frisky.  They let me get fairly close to the entrance without bombarding me (I haven't been attacked yet as a result of simply approaching), but it's a different story when I try to inspect.  I get perhaps a dozen agitated defenders buzzing around my veil and landing on my arms pretty vigorously.  I can see them stinging my gloves; and i did get stung one time through the bee suit, in a place where it fits tight.  I do have a little bit of experience with bees, but as a new hive keeper, the defensiveness is a bit unnerving, and I keep my cool and use smoke without sudden movements... but these belligerent bees will follow me quite a distance after I've left the hive, perhaps up to 15 yards, and just won't leave me.  They keep buzzing around my head and torso. 

Is this normal behavior for our partly Africanized "survivors" in the southwest, or does it sound like I might have a ticking time bomb on my hands?  The defensive colony is getting pretty crowded in their 5-frame and I need to get them into a 10 as soon as I can summon the mettle... Maybe the crowding is making them grumpy too?


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Comment by Paul McCarty on July 11, 2013 at 5:20pm

Stinging the gloves and the suit is a non-starter for me. That queen would be gone.

Comment by Kevin Schwebel on July 11, 2013 at 1:22pm

I'd have to agree with Jessie, being a semi-urban beekeeper.  Even if I can deal with the aggression, it's not worth the risk to neighbors, passers-by, or my wife's sanity.  She's not at all comfortable with angry bees.  

I had some like you describe last year. They would head-bang me and follow me all the way back to the house, but seldom stung...even when I was working without gloves. I grew some queens and requeened them anyway. I think they were that way because I'd let them get crowded. (4 deep. They swarmed once.) I was building up vs.  out because I didn't want hives all over the property, but in retrospect it's a bad idea. 

Nature fixed my issue last fall, so with the new  girls I'm going to keep them in small colonies this time. So far so good.

Comment by Paul McCarty on July 8, 2013 at 8:56pm

Put it this way - I do lot's of cut-outs and ALMOST NEVER get stung, especially in the gloves.Usually it is because I squish them. If you are just beginning - get a new queen before they get too strong and you can't find her.

Comment by Jessie Brown on July 7, 2013 at 7:50pm

Hi Manda. Another factor in keeping defensive bees is if you live in an urban or country environment. I live in an urban setting and my rule of thumb is 3 strikes, you are out. There are many factors that can lead to a grumpy hive such as weather, a nighttime visitor by a predator, nectar dearth, etc that might make a calm hive aggressive. If I go out to a hive and get many bees buzzing and stinging through my veil, followed a large distance by defensive bees or stung unexpectedly many times on 3 separate instances, I usually requeen. Not only do I have to consider my own nerves, but the safety of neighbors in close contact to my yard. If you live in the country, you might decide to keep more aggressive bees. Some people actually like fiery bees because they are better at defending themselves from predators, etc.! 

Comment by Paul McCarty on July 5, 2013 at 3:50pm

So, let me ask this question out of curiosity - where did you get these bees and from what elevation? There are a great many influences on our Feral NM bees and sometimes the bees you think are African really aren't, but are just as defensive (and sometimes more so).

That being said, the African influence is just a fact of life for us Southern NM beekeepers. One must adapt their methods to make it work. If you can breed out the bad hybrid traits, the feral bees are quite hardy and mite resistant, but it can be a lot of work. I have found it easier to get a known line of queens from within the state, and open mate them for survivor traits where the African is less predominant - normally at higher elevation.

Comment by Paul McCarty on July 5, 2013 at 3:40pm

It is very possible they are overcrowded as well.

Comment by Paul McCarty on July 5, 2013 at 3:40pm

I deal with the type of bee you are talking about all the time. Those sound a bit too ill tampered for my taste - especially for a 5 frame hive. I would expect that from a hive with 3 deeps, but that is a bit much, even for survivor bees, for a 5 frame hive. Most of the feral survivors in my area are not very defensive, just sort of runny. They can be defensive on a bad day, but normally not.

I have only been stung in the gloves twice, and once on the suit in the last several years, and I have dealt with some rough little girls.

What part of the state are you in?


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