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The biggest threat to bees today . . .

. . . is the beekeeper

We like to think we know better than the bees about what is good for them, play scientist, and put all manner of elixirs and whatnot in the hives. We tend to root through the brood nests more often than needed because we feel the urge to do “something” for the bees, and maybe so we can claim victory when a colony manages to survive a season of our clumsy interventions. And, as often as not, we just do plain stupid things without thinking about it—that’s where I come into this story.

When Rusty invited me to do a guest post, I said “sure!” without giving it too much thought. Then I started poking around this site to try and get an idea for a topic and quickly realized that I had been bamboozled. WTF! Rusty has already written about pretty much every topic thinkable, what was left to expound upon?

Luckily (?!) I sometimes do stupid things around the bee yard. Maybe this is an area that Rusty is less familiar with, and that I can provide some insight into for you, the esteemed reader of Honey Bee Suite.

Please refer to the photo below to see what awaited me at a yard where we had installed packaged bees the previous evening.

Why are these bees clustered outside on a cold night?

We thought we had gone to reasonable lengths to prepare the hives so the bees could stay warm, dry, and well-fed in this typical spring weather for southern B.C. (it has snowed briefly three times and rained daily since we hived them a week ago)–we even made quilt boxes.

So then why, oh why, did the bees in hive 106 decide to spend the night clustered outside when the temperature was 35.6°F, instead of enjoying a few shots of sugar syrup and getting all cuddly with each other inside their new home?

The answer, of course, as evidenced in the second photo, is the beekeeper.

The reason? A queen cage holding a dead queen.

The bees are simply trying to stay close to their queen—their cold, dead queen who was deposited on their doorstep by an unthinking beekeeper. I can only imagine what kind of message they thought we were trying to send; it’s no wonder they couldn’t sleep inside after that kind of welcome.

The extra stupid part is that I knew better, but I didn’t listen to that little voice in my head, and my back-up system (the little voice outside my head named Chelsea) did not question my error. We have poured packages for beekeepers that like to have the cages with dead queens left at the hive doorstep so they can easily see which ones to re-queen when they come back. At those times I have wondered if it was a good idea since the bees might be attracted by the dead queen pheromones, but the beekeepers asked us to do it on multiple occasions so I figured it must have been working for them. But why in the world did I do it this time?

Anyways, I scooped the cluster back into the hive, hoped they had enough life in them to rebound, and gave them a new queen later. At this point the news is good on all fronts: 1) The bees are still alive as of five days later, 2) I confirmed that bees can be drawn out of the hive by a dead queen (What did I tell you about beekeepers “playing scientist?”), and 3) I finally have a topic for a blog post.

Take home message? Umm . . . don’t do what I do . . . or maybe . . . think first, and try not do something stupid to your bees? Every possible beekeeping error has likely already been made countless times, so there’s no need to be shy about telling others about yours (that’s what the comment section is for, right?). And if you ever want to hear about more of my mistakes, then feel free to visit Chelsea and me over at The Honey Beat.

Jeff
The Honey Beat

Editor’s Note: I’m an avid reader of The Honey Beat. Because Jeff and Chelsea are employed by commercial beekeepers, they have gained a unique perspective on beekeeping as well as a world of experience in a very short time. I always learn something new when I read their blog. Then too, I’ve been impressed by the quality of the writing at The Honey Beat, so I was elated when Jeff agreed to write a guest post. The result is a fascinating story; it proves that if anything can go wrong in beekeeping, it will  . . . and it does. Be sure to check out other stories on their blog.

Rusty

Comments

Cindi Golden-Moore

Awwwww, bless them! Thanks for sharing the trials and tribs, Jeff. Can’t wait to check out your blog. “WTF Rusty!” LOL. “Wait till Friday!”??? 🙂

Deborah

Great article!!

Heidi

Awesome site and information.

Jeff

Thanks you guys (that includes you Rusty)! I’m going to go finish blushing now.

Emily

I enjoyed your post…thanks for making this mistake so you could share it with us! I’m glad it’s worked out ok in the end.

Learning about the sense of smell bees have continues to amaze me. Apparently they treat well-mated queens and poorly mated differently, paying well-mated queens more attention, so a queen’s pheromone levels must increase if she has received more sperm. I wonder whether your dead package queen was particularly well mated.

Jeff

Maybe? I was thinking that the queen may have died very recently, and that her queenly scent (hmmm . . . idea for a new deodorant?) still had the power of attraction.

And just to add a note of interest: Yesterday I was talking with one of the beekeepers who liked the queen cages left at the front of the hive, and I told him the story. He said that he has never seen that happen before with any of his hives. I wonder if he will do something different now that he knows that it could happen?

Emily

Yes, perhaps she had only just died.

If the cages are just left at the front for ease of identifying the goners, perhaps the cages could be left further away from the bees, on top of the hive roof or at the back. Although that might cause them to cluster on the roof next time!

Let me know if you launch that new deodorant scent!

Rusty

What if you put them in a ziplock bag? Of course, if the hives are numbered, couldn’t you just write down the number? Isn’t that why they’re numbered?

Jeff

Don’t worry, I certainly won’t be leaving the cage outside the hive again. The other beekeeper usually uses various colours of push-pins (for posters) to mark the hives, so I would guess that he will remember to start bringing some when pouring packages.