May 17, 2010

Since the beginning of beekeeping class I've heard and read a lot about guard bees. You know, the little troopers that sit at the entrance to the hive ready to defend their sisters and brood with their life. Apparently, guard bees will confront the beekeeper or anything/anyone else if they get too close.

The day after hiving my bees I've looked for these so-called "guards." Maybe on occasion I'd see one bee at the entrance but when I'd approach the hive she would do little if anything. I had one come and check me out once but I held the outer hive cover in front of me and she went away. We've been approaching the hive, sometimes within inches, checking on bee behavior for weeks now and not a single bee seemed to mind. I had to wonder, was the hive I provided for my bees actually being guarded by anyone? Was this normal for there to be no "guard" bees? Maybe there was a guard but she remains unnoticed until absolutely needed? Do they stay hidden away with just their eyes peaking out until they are needed? I had a lot of questions about this until today.

This morning I took out the handy dandy binoculars to spy on my little girls and I noticed a cluster of bees at the entrance. Nothing unusual really except that within the cluster there appeared to be a handful of bees that were neither coming or going. They were just hanging out. I waited a few hours and checked again and sure enough, several bees at the entrance and they seemed to be checking out other bees that were coming and going but they themselves were just "hanging out." I noticed a little bit of this yesterday with one bee. She hung outside in front of the entrance and it looked like she was sniffing everyones butt as they came and went. Now today we have several butt sniffers.

I'm guessing that these are the "guard bees" I've heard so much about. I haven't tested it out yet since testing would require me approaching the hive to see if anyone comes out to shoo me away. Since I just stressed the girls out by blowing smoke on them and poking inside their home only a few days ago I'm holding off another inspection or "test" for a few more days. But I have a strong feeling that those five frames of brood have started to emerge and the girls are a little bit more defensive of their hive than they were before.

Maybe I'm wrong but I'll find out for sure in a few more days.
Sam Smith said...

The hive size will dictate how aggressive they are with the beek, the guard bees main job is to protect from robbers, other bees stealing honey. I have seen robing frenzy's before nasty, you find a lot of bees fighting each other, stinging ect. That butt sniffing thing is accurate, they can tell if its a sister bee this way. There are even guard bees that patrol the bee yards and defend against big animals like us, usually later in the season though. I have read you can tame your bees by just being around them a lot, when I use a smoker I end up smoking myself more just to hide my scent.