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Non aggressive queen traits and wasps


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i've been tossing up whether to post this in breeding bees or pests and disease - no doubt someone will move it if required.

 

Perhaps too much time on my own working bees yesterday, but started wondering about breeding bees selectively for lack of aggression, then expecting them to defend their hive against wasps. No one wants to work aggressive bees uneccessarily, but we do then expect (hope) they will aggressively defend against wasps.

 

Made me wonder whether non-aggressive bees which were entirely appropriate in the past, may not be the best option with increasing wasp distribution and associated problems.

 

Thoughts?

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I haven't seen any research but then, to be fair, I haven't looked either. More just musings from me.

 

If my ability to search thread topics is anything to go by (prior to posting this thread for instance) perhaps best not to rely on me to hunt out this particular piece of research globally...

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I have one hive at home that is noticeably more defensive than the others - ping, ping, ping! Several hives, same apiary, similar strength, same entrances. We haven't got wasps here yet but when we do I'll pay particular attention to how this hive copes compared with the others.

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My hives face a significant wasp problem, and for much of the year I use robber screens a bit like the one Kiwimana advertises. I now put them on soon after the main flow has stopped, partly because I want to discourage (varroa riddled) robber honey bees, and take them off as things warm up in the spring. I have hives with landing platforms, and these make the bees more vulnerable. I also think if I leave it too late in the year the bees are slower to learn to navigate the entrance, because the cool evenings chill them, and then they are easily picked off by the wasps.

 

Wasps go for sick or weak colonies, low in numbers with respect to what they have to defend, and they take advantage of their superior flight speed in cool evenings to pick off chilling bees. I don’t think you need a highly defensive colony, I think you need a well populated colony. I don’t have trouble with wasps for as long as they can pick off easier prey, when the easy food becomes scarce in the late autumn then wasps are prepared to take risks going for my bees. I don’t deny wasps are a problem, but beginners often have a particular trouble because they keep their colonies too weak, afraid they’ll swarm.

 

I remember watching a film about Japanese hornets and their honey bees. European bees were always eventually overwhelmed, but the A.m japonica had learnt, rather than defending the entrance, to entice the hornet inside and then ball it quickly with hundreds of bees. It was especially effective if they killed the scouts. The aggression of European bees let them down, as they all rushed out and got slaughtered by the hornets. The more defensive they were the worse it got.

 

The highly defensive A.m scutelata colonies deploy defenders mostly against mammalian predators. The key to their reaction, like all bees, is recruitment; that is, the threshold for producing alarm pheromones are low, and the threshold for responding are low. We mess with the response by filling the air with smoke. I think evolution works to make sure the response is in a range proportional to the threat. The ‘settings’ for the thresholds are quite important. Honey bees die defending their colony, so if the alarm setting is low and they recruit too many defenders (how about the whole colony!) they all die and depopulate the colony. That’s not a good result if the threat wasn’t very great. When we select for less defensive bees what we are doing is choosing colonies with a high alarm threshold, and/or a high response threshold.

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The "defensive" we are aware of is usually related to mammals (us) and all that pinging.

 

In one apiary I had a number of hives I called affectionately "The Wasp Killers" as there were piles of dead wasps out the front, and the bees were nice to be around - but good, strong hives.

 

But, so saying, we have all lost a strong hive to wasps unexpectedly.

 

Curious.

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...can you please explain why you cannot leave the screens on year round?

They interfere with the bees dumping rubbish, and definitely slow the entry-way down, so I like them off when the hives are really active. A couple of years back I nearly lost a hive over winter, I hadn't checked it and loads of 'stuff' got trapped by the screen, blocked the entrance, and was in the process of suffocating the hive. Depending on design. Mine are full-width open at the top (not all are), and the hives are always one third open. I stopped using full width entrances years ago, unless I fall back on an old floor occasionally. I don't like full width. These screens need to be monitored, when designed they were never intended to be long-term fixtures.

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A great link thank you, I didn't know that the guard bees recruit "solider" bees to do the majority of pursuing and stinging. I learn something new everyday on this site.

 

So in summary; you use a robber screen to protect the colony in it's Spring build up, in it's Autumn preparations for Winter, and presumably any other time where the positives of it's use outweigh the negatives?

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you use a robber screen to...

Yup, that's what I do, because of the situation in my bush block. I don't expect anyone else to do the same, robber screens were designed to protect nucs from large colonies.

 

I was thinking about just putting a screened entrance on rather than messing around with traps.

Traps are a waste of time, although it might make you feel good. You might choose a screen or one of the 'wasp defender' floors. They should be worth a shot I think, it's a clever idea.

And keep strong colonies in autumn.

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Sadly I'm not convinced strong colonies are the complete answer - but absolutely helps.

 

2 years ago I got hammered at a couple of sites. My fault, colonies not strong enough, perhaps not enough food, perhaps not on top of varroa, perhaps too big an entrance. Didn't realise how bad those sites were for wasps. Maybe 50% losses :cry: Take it on the chin and move on.

 

Decided to go to war last season. Strong colonies, new queens, on top of varroa, plenty of food stores, single bee entrance and seek and destroy wasp nests wherever possible (like you say, trapping is a waste of time).

 

Fixed the issue at all but one site - still about 40% loss there. Very frustrating with such good hives at that location. Ready to go for the nuclear option at that site, but being pragmatic, decided just easier to shift them out for Autumn/early winter next time around.

 

I repeatedly see comments that if colonies are strong enough in Autumn all will be well. In my experience, you should be prepared to move them elsewhere if necessary.

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Select only for vigor and its associated traits like overwintering ability and defensiveness.

These are cornerstone qualities.

Through diversity you will get a range of productivity levels.

Live with this diversity and understand that you cannot have it all your own way, remembering that highly productive lines of dead bees dont produce honey.

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you can breed really quite productive bees that are wasp tolerant. If you don't breed from your own survivors then you should at least get your Queens from someone who also has a wasp problem. Many years ago we got 300 Queens from the far north and they were beautiful. Wasps killed virtually all of them. Today I have Queens that are just as nice but a lot more wasp tolerant. I use wasp blocks with about 1 cm gap at either end of the entrance to allow through ventilation. I poison nests when I can find them (28 at one apiary last year) but sometimes it is impossible as they are down cliffs etc. I breed from the survivors.

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