Are Defensive Bees Healthier?

Warning!  This is a totally unscientific proposition!

I’m wondering whether defensive bees are healthier than gentler strains.

This is based on my own (limited) experience.

I have two hives:  One very established Buckfast hive and one new Italian hive.

The Buckfast bees are defensive.  No question about it.  I treat them with respect.

But they are incredibly healthy.  I’ve had the same hive for four years, and it is bigger and stronger than ever.  I’ve never seen any evidence of disease.

On the other hand, my Italian bees are sweethearts.  I don’t even bother to smoke them for inspections. But they seem frail somehow.

I’ve seen larvae dumped on their landing board, and the colony isn’t building up as quickly as I’d hoped.  I’ve seen evidence of Varroa mites.

I’m considering taking a frame of Buckfast brood and putting it in the Italian hive.  Maybe the Italian hive will become more defensive.  But maybe that’s what it needs to survive.

I’d be interested to hear what others think about this!!

23 thoughts on “Are Defensive Bees Healthier?

  1. This is interesting. You’ve isolated nature (because for nurture, they’re being raised in the same environment). By putting the more defensive frame in with the Italian bees, are you thinking they’ll learn defensive traits from the other bees? Or breed with them and become more defensive? Or the other bees will protect the Italian bees? Or…?

    • Right now I’m just hoping to increase the number of worker bees in the hive. But because the baby bees will be Buckies, I’m assuming they will be more defensive. But also healthier.
      I told you it was unscientific. I’m worried about my Italians…

  2. bigsmileu1 says:

    I know nothing about bees; however, I love hearing your bee talk. I know your Italian hive is new and you are feeling protective. I am wondering just how long it usually takes for a new hive to establish itself?

  3. Emily Heath says:

    If the Buckfasts are preventing drifter and robber bees getting in, that might contribute to their health, as bees from other colonies will be less likely to get in and carry disease across. Having said that, of course drones from your Italians will be welcomed in.

    What evidence of the mites have you seen, are you seeing mites on the adult bees or signs of deformed wing virus? Your Buckfasts might actually be at more risk from varroa if they have a bigger colony, sadly the more brood the varroa has to breed in the faster the little buggers multiply.

    • I’ve seen what appear to be mites on the larvae they’ve booted out of the hive. :-(

      • Emily Heath says:

        Oh dear… my guess would be they’re not booting the larvae out because of the varroa, as when the female mite goes into a larval cell to lay eggs she buries under the brood food where the bees can’t see her. Perhaps the colony was low on stores and disposing of unneeded drones? Or maybe the bees had detected some brood disease.

        Icing sugar dusting and drone brood uncapping are good to do at this time of year (though I’m secretly too soft for the drone brood uncapping).

      • I think you’re right that it’s drone-booting. I haven’t seen any sign of disease. All the larvae look good, and there’s no sign of any loathsome disease.
        I can’t bring myself to uncap drone brood either. :-(
        I’m going to dust and keep feeding and stop worrying so much. :-)

  4. oceannah says:

    Interesting hypothesis. I’ve only kept Italians. I currently am hiveless thanks to CCD. I have used with relative success (ie: much reduced) a tea tree oil balm that was very simple to make for mites. I haven’t made it in a bit but it was essentially non petroleum jelly mixed w/ tt essential oil. Put it in a thin streak across the entrance to the hive and as the sisters walk over it they pick it up then through grooming get it all over… just a thought. Other than watching to see if the Italian hive becomes more ‘defensive’ (a rather subjective parameter) is there a way to actually follow the Buckfast brood, like tagging somehow?
    *anna

    • I will give your tea tree oil method a try!
      The Buckies are brown and the Italians are golden, so it should be fairly easy to tell them apart.

      • oceannah says:

        Oh me, all this bee talk makes me miss the sister’s even more. Maybe next year we’ll re-colonize the hive boxes and tray again. *sigh* It’s not even the honey, which is nice, tis true, I love being around them. I do see honeybees working here, so there are some (maybe refugees from out ccd hives?) around.
        Glad to know there is an easy telltale way to keep the hypothesis in motion.
        *anna

      • I think it’s time you dried your tears and set up a new hive. I had to do that after my fatal robbing incident. Nothing makes it better except new Girls.

  5. I think it depends on what you mean by defensive–are they hyper vigilant which as Emily says can be a good thing or downright aggressive, chasing you wherever you are etc? You certainly do not want to promote aggressiveness. And, I would be reluctant to just drop a coupla frames of foreigners into another hive.

    I like the tea tree oil option as well!

    • My Buckies are more vigilant than defensive by Emily’s definition. They’ve only been aggressive once, and that was right after I harvested honey in the spring. It was also hot and humid.
      I’m not going to do anything rash right now with respect to adding Buckies to the Italian hive. However, it’s nice to know that I have a surfeit of extra bees if the Italian colony gets really low.

  6. Rusty says:

    Italians are known for being gentle, very susceptible to disease and parasites, and slow to build up in spring (The Beekeeper’s Handbook). On the other hand, they produce lots of honey. These are all genetic traits and they fit your description.

    Buckfast bees are also known for being gentle and calm. However, since they are hybrids, they will lose their inbred traits with outcrossing. So if you haven’t re-queened with a new Buckfast queen every year or two, they are not Buckfasts anymore unless your original queen has survived all four years, which is possible but not very likely.

    • I didn’t know they were slow to build up. That makes me feel better. Fyi, the larvae they’re dumping look plump and white, so I’m hoping it’s hygienic behavior.
      Yep, I don’t think I have Buckies any more. But they’re healthy as horses, produce lots of honey and don’t sting unless you mess with them.

  7. willowbatel says:

    The first colony of bees I had was much less aggressive than the purebred carniolans I’ve had for over a year. The first colony I had was a carniolan mutt, and had mites and the disease I can’t remember the name of right now… its disentry (sp?) but more extreme. My pure carniolans are a lot more aggressive but have no diseases and seem to be sturdier (they fly in colder and rainier weather) as well. I think that technically the traits of aggression and health aren’t related, but they kind of are, lol. Which is rather unfortunate.

  8. [...] Are Defensive Bees Healthier? (romancingthebee.com) [...]

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