Bee Culture: The Causes of Bad Temper in Bees

The principle sub-species of European honeybees all have the reputation for gentleness and ease of handling, possibly because they have been selectively bred for these characteristics for generations in the countries of their origin.

The Italian bee, which is the foreign bee most commonly met with in these islands, is usually found to be so, but many beekeepers who have introduced Italian bees into areas where the native strain still predominates have found that the bees from the second and third generations of the introduced queens have headed colonies that have aggressive tendencies, such as stinginess and a tendency to pursue people once a hive has been disturbed.

It is now generally recognized that the cross breeding between the different sub-species is the cause of this change in character. The effect is further compounded by the multiple mating of queens which results in colonies comprising of a mixture of cross bred bees.

The Carnolian bee, Apis Mellifera Carnica, is famous for its docility, but Professor Ruttner has made particular comment on the ferocity of a cross between the Carnolian bee and the Dark European honeybee, Apis Mellifera Mellifera, our native bee. The problem of bad temper will only be totally eliminated by establishing a single sub-species over the whole country. The next best alternative , however, is to establish areas where the same sub-species are used.

What Can You Do ?

If you are the owner of bad tempered bees it is not necessary to be a bee breeder to improve your bee: it is not even necessary to practise queen rearing.

If possible join ( or start ) a local bee breeding group. If you are somewhat isolated you can achieve noticeable improvement by culling queens which give rise to bad tempered colonies, and the queens which are light in colour ( the latter indicates Italian influence, which in an area with a preponderance of native bees signifies cross-breeding) and replacing them by dark queens from good tempered stocks. If all your stocks are bad tempered then you should obtain at least one good dark fertile queen from a reputable breeder, or a successful breeding group, and introduce it to one of your colonies. Remember to introduce your queen first to a weak nucleus of young bees, and then to build this up to a moderately strong stock, before uniting it with a dequeened bad tempered colony. The reason for this is that a strong colony will sometimes accept a new queen temporarily, and then supercede her as soon as she has started laying, or even the following Spring if she was introduced late in the year. A queen needs to be surrounded by a strong bodyguard of her own progeny in order to be safe.

Once you have established one good tempered stock you can proceed to improve the remainder as previously described.

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