There’s little question that Africanized honey bee (AHB) behavior will give beekeepers cause to rethink some of their management practices. Evidence from several areas in the tropics indicates that Africanized honey bees are often more manageable in the dark. This certainly is a turnabout, because experiences manipulating colonies of European honey bees at night are usually extremely unpleasant. It’s difficult to defend yourself against an unseen honey bee that crawls and stings.
The risk of getting stung by crawling Africanized bees at night, however, appears to be preferable to facing the defensiveness of the bees during the daytime. Honey harvesting at night is a common practice in South Africa.1 The beekeeper is able to see using red lights which the bees perceive as dark. A recent article, however, reports a simple, safe and inexpensive way to harvest honey in daylight, even at the warmest time of day, when the bees are most active.2 The method uses beehives on platforms that can be easily moved, rather than being hung from trees as is traditional. First the bees are smoked, then the hive is moved at right angles from the flight path. This diverts the field bees which return to the old site where an empty hive has been placed for them to cluster and keeps them from “bothering” the beekeeper.
All this makes sense because fewer bees are left in the hive and they are younger bees that are less likely to sting. The comb is then collected as quickly as possible, put in a covered receptacle with a lid and the hive returned to its old location. The author points out that daylight harvesting of honey is advantageous all around. By being able to see, the beekeepers can harvest more efficiently and control the brood nest better, as well as detect diseases and predators.
In all the falderol about the Africanized honey bee, beekeepers must not lose sight of two facts: (1) it is a honey bee and (2) the beekeeper must adapt to this bee’s behavior. The first statement is not a flip remark. Sometimes this simple fact is lost in heated discussions. The Africanized honey bee is also an insect, albeit a social one that has all characteristics and behavior of other honey bees. It is the degree of difference or variation in the Africanized bee’s behavior that continues to be the focus of many discussions and accounts. The most objectionable and noticeable behavior, stinging, appears to be extreme. The bees at different times can be extremely gentle, however, they may also explode in an angry cloud at the slightest provocation. From this comes the second point. The bees will probably not be the ones adapting to a different management style, the beekeepers will have to develop their own sixth sense to combat the bee’s unpredictable behavior.
A recent letter summarizes one individual’s experience with African honey bees (AHB) in southern Mexico:3 “I feel that the American beekeepers are not yet prepared for the arrival of the AHB. The beekeepers here who weren’t prepared are the ones who are going out of business. In answer to your questions: 1. We have 50 colonies operating for honey and pollen; beekeeping is a sideline for me; 2. I plan to have large smokers built locally. We used to manage hives without gloves, veil or other protection. We now use one piece bee suits with zip on veil and elbow gloves. I had to alter the suits to give complete ankle protection as well; and 3. We keep colonies 100 meters from the nearest house, road or livestock. After being worked, the bee stays aggressive for the rest of the day. Apiaries near roads have been burned, poisoned or otherwise destroyed because of stings received by passersby. People here don’t take kindly to having themselves or their animals stung. I can just imagine the lawsuits and problems when the AHB reaches the U.S. As you no doubt know, the AHB is not being genetically diluted or hybridized, as was formerly hoped.”
Other issues such as destruction of colonies by vandals, swarm control (the key to producing any honey with AHB), requeening, migrating (which he doesn’t recommend) and robbing (rare for some reason) are also discussed. The writer concludes that if the aggressive (defensive) behavior of the bee could be controlled, then the problems produced by the AHB could be much better managed.
Another author makes this point: “While some planners are considering only ways to exclude and control the African honey bees, others should be giving considerable thought to all the ways we can make it easier to live with them while we select for gentle productive strains.”4 Of special significance is the case for using European style bee houses, especially in urban areas. They would: (1) keep colonies out of sight; (2) make it easier to manipulate bees under all weather conditions; and (3) provide a calming effect on colonies by keeping them in permanent shade. Bee houses for the AHB were written about as early as 1960.5 They also offer a convenient working height for colonies and provide guard bees no direct access to the beekeeper.
1 Personal Communication with Dr. H.G. Hall, Department of Entomology/Nematology, University of Florida.
2 S.O. Adjare, Ghana University of Science and Technology, Newsletter for Beekeepers in Tropical and Subtropical Countries, reported in Newsletter for the League of International Food Education, June/July 1985.
3 Written by W. Armour, reported in From the UC Apiaries, California Cooperative Extension Service newsletter, Summer, 1990.
4 Dr. Elbert Jaycox, Newsletter on Beekeeping, December, 1989.
5 , F.G. Smith, Beekeeping in the Tropics,