Notorious Beekeepers: Warwick Kerr

You may not know Warwick Kerr by name, but he is the much maligned researcher whose work unfortunately brought us the media scare-fest, the “Killer” Honey bee.

First of all, Warwick Kerr is a Brazilian Entomologist and Geneticist whose work in studying honey bee genetics, particularly genetic sex selection goes back to the early 1950’s.

In fact, in the mid 1950’s he was contracted to try to help Brazilian farmer’s improve pollination seeing as western honey bees weren’t showing the same degree of successful adaptation to the tropical/sub-tropical environment in South America.  What did they opt to do?   Why they brought in a known successful sub-tropical adapted honey bee from Africa to inter-breed with the historically well managed western European honey bees.

Things were actually going well in the research until a day in 1957 when some of the African honey bee Queens being worked with escaped the confinement area and began to occupy and breed with European bees out in the un-managed open areas of Brazil.

African bees, due to their nature and adaptation to a tropical environment, breed rapidly and aggressively to take over other established colonies in a region.  This led to a new mix breed of honey bee we now know as the Africanized Honey bee.

I refer to Dr. Kerr as “notorious” because he has been treated rather poorly in the media and through history being in charge of the experiment gone awry.  The man has since continued to contribute a great amount of research and study to the study of bees and is somewhat a victim of the politicization of science.  He has published well over 600 various research articles on various related topics over the years since then.

Warwick Kerr, due to his bee genetics research and his historic blunder, if you will, of the introduction of the Africanized Honey Bee, is undoubtedly one of the most significant beekeepers of the 20th century.

Notable Apiarist, Roger Morse

When  first got serious about apiculture, Roger Morse became one of my first beekeeping “Notables”.  Mr Morse’s work has been truly influential in modern beekeeping.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

He was one of the first researchers to delve in-depth into the Varroa mites. Not only that, he had a good look at Small Hive Beetles as well.  Closely connected to Cornell University,  he has authored numerous research articles on any number of topics relating to beekeeping and was a contributor to that time of apicultural information, “ABC’s and XYZ’s of Beekeeping”, and the monthly beekeeping magazine, “Bee Culture”, among others.

He was influential to several of those we currently count on for new and important research.  People like Tom Seeley, author of “Honeybee Democracy”  for example.

The writing and presentation style of Roger Morse was persuasive to say the least.  At least to me.  I find his writing in particular to be familiar, friendly even.

One of his books in particular number among my favorites, “The New Complete Guide to Beekeeping”.

Cornell University press euligized Roger Morse and provided us with a far too brief but well done last look at his work.

What’s in a Genus name?

Yes, it’s still honey bee taxonomy week here at the Bee Smart beekeeping project.  Just a cool FYI  for those following along.

Did you know that in the taxonomy of the honey bee the name “Apis” is not the complete name?  That’s right, there’s more to it.

Technically speaking, though we only ever really refer to honey bees as Apis mellifera (Genus Apis, Species mellifera), the full Genus is “Apis Linnaeus”.  Carl Linnaeus is the distinguished gentleman in the picture accompanying this post.

There’s a very cool PDF on updated taxonomy of the honey bee called “The Taxonomy of Recent and Fossil Honey Bees” by  Michael S. Engel, on our Download page that you can download and read, courtesy of KU ScholarWorks

Currently used scientific name was given to honey bee by Linnaeus (also known as: Carl von Linné) in 1758

(Tofilski A. (2012) Honey bee. Available from

The Return of the Bee Smart Podcast featuring the Beehooligans, Episode 33

Yes my friends, it’s here.  This first step back is a humble little episode, hosted by yours truly.  There are plans to make this more…companionable as it picks up steam again.

You will be able to listen to the full episode here on the embedded player in this post and you can listen through the whole lineup of Bee Smart podcasts on the Podcast Page of this website.  (eventually they’ll all bee there, I am still adding them in one at a time).

This episode discusses the return of the podcast and the timely topic of Honey Bee Taxonomy.

Ooh, They’re talking about the taxonomy of africanized honey bees

This is honey bee taxonomy week.  As an interesting sideroad for All Hallow’s Eve I thought we’d visit the Smithsonian Institute taxonomy page on the “Killer Bees”.  (Click on the photo to visit their page and read the very interesting article.)

A.m. scutellata Queen and attendants

Africanized honeybees are descended from stocks that evolved in the tropics and, as such, are ill-equipped to withstand prolonged cold winters. They are believed to be limited to tropical and subtropical habitats.

Honey Bee Taxonomy

This week, our general topic will center on the taxonomy of honey bees.  what is taxonomy you ask?  No, it’s not having to pay a fine to the government for having bees.

Taxonomy is the scientific classification of living things in order to identify and organize where they fit in related to other creatures.

Why is taxonomy important to those involved in apicultural pursuits?  Beecause we are often very concerned about genealogical traits of colonies that will have the most success in the places we keep them.

Knowing where bees are originally from, the traits and genetic lines they descend from and how any and all of that relates to their success in various other locations is important to everything from pollination traits, defensive traits foraging and honey production traits and the types of pests and illnesses they have been adapted to as they evolved in the place they originate.  Queen rearing is very much affected by knowing what bees are and from whence they came.

Scientific research that is always ongoing makes great use of taxonomy to locate and identify new species and sub-species of bees all the time.

It’s always a good thing to learn and know about taxonomy where bees and beekeeping are involved.  Check out the new puzzles coming up this week that focus on honey bee taxonomy.  The Crossword puzzle will post on Wednesday and will have the downloadable PDF with a wordlist on it.  The answer sheet to the Crossword and the Wordsearch versions are already available for our supporters on our Patreon supporter webpage  

The next episode of the Bee Smart beekeeping podcast featuring those Beehooligans will also talk some about taxonomy and how it is useful for beekeepers of all levels of experience.

Of course, we’ll bee sure to get some posts up with even more useful information along this line as well as we get through the week.  The objective here is always to help folks Bee Smart.

The Bee Smart beekeeping project podcast beegins again

Yes, things are getting back on track on especially awesome.

The Beehooligans Podcast will start recording again by the end of the Month and get at least one episode out by then.. We are jumping from being a weekly podcast to every two weeks instead.  

Also, we’re focusing on assembling a live, local group of beekeeperly people to a round table discussion and one or two of our alternately located Beehooligans via web conferencing in on the chat.

And hey, if you happen to be in the Omaha, NE area on one of the days we record, we’d love to have you sit in with us.

They are honey bees, They are Legion.

One…is the loneliest number….

Unless, of course, you’re talking about bees.  Bees throw things on their side sometimes.  Take the honey bee colony for example.

There is “A” honey bee colony.  One.  Singular.  “It” is what we beekeepers are interacting with when we tend to a hive.  “A” colony is made up of many tens of thousands of individual bees that fall into one of three castes.  So now we have one colony, three castes and thousands of bees.  Yet and still, we are talking about the same thing.

Of the three castes within a colony (reproductive female, reproductive males, and non-reproductive females), none of them can sustain a colony on it’s own.  They are all three interdependent upon each other.  A colony cannot and will not survive long without all three castes represented.

Each individual bee carries out tasks determined in part part instinct, age, and interaction with other bees.  All of the tasks carried out by all of the bees are carried out not with their own individual interests in mind, but to fulfill the needs of the colony as a whole, single, unified entity.

This important to understand as we tend to our hives.  As I work with a hive, I am working with “A” honey bee colony, not just a bunch of bees in a box.  There is no indication that the bees possess a sense of individuality on a one-by-one basis.

I like to name my hives to reflect the singularity of the “many in one” colony.  Just for fun, I once had a hive named “Borg” and another named “Legion”.    It was all fun and games until Legion picked up some REALLY “hot” traits and made the trope a bit too close for comfort.

Actually, Legion is quite an accurate trope to describe the honey bee colony.  It brings to mind the concept of the “hive mind”  (gee, I wonder where that concept came from😮) in which, there is no individual identity of the members of the whole, they are one mind,  they share a singular identity.

So, as you go out and tend the hives, consider seeing them not a simply a box of a bunch of bees but as “A” Bee colony instead.  It may very well affect how you interact with them and how you go about your beekeeping.


This week’s theme is beekeeping equipment

You might have seen the Bee Smart puzzle yesterday was about beekeeping equipment.  Every week I pick a new topic not just for the puzzle, but for the website as well.  In my post for this week, I’ll continue on that topic to chat about  something to do with beekeeping equipment.

First of all, beekeeping equipment is a pretty comprehensive subject.  It contains everything from hive parts and safety head to beekeeping tools and the pest management things we implement in the hives.  Not to mention the materials we use to make and implement in those tools and items.

That last, the materials, is what I want to mention today.  From the fuel we use in our smokers to the liquid we put in beetle traps, there is such a variety that it can take days, even weeks to cover just those.

Some are toxic, others are not.  The features are myriad.  All are chosen by the individual beekeeper for their perceived or real results.  Like smoker fuel.  Some of the most informative, fun and still divisive at times is what materials we burn in a beekeeping smoker.

Pine needles, cow chips, burlap, dried grass, cigar smoke, mesquite.  There are possibly dozens more items and combinations of them that beekeepers use.  Perhaps there are just as many reasons.

My personal favorite is to make a little bundle of mostly dry pine needles wrapped in burlap.  My own reasoning is that I have always found pine needles to have the most calming effect on bees here in my neck of the woods (Omaha, NE).  I wrap them in burlap to help keep the smoker smoldering, especially in case I make my most common error and stuff too many pine needles in and choke off the burning before it can “take”.  My burlap wrapped pine needle bundles give me the best of both worlds.

I have beekeeper amigos in the American South/South-West who swear by cow chips or misquote, or both.  I know some fellas, and a couple women, who grew up with mentors who showed them how to just fire up an aromatic cigar and blow the cigar smoke effectively into the hive.

Smoker smoke should be a cool smoke, that is, not too hot at a distance of about 6 – 12 inches away from the smoker.  Smoke that is too hot agitates instead of pacifies bees.  Ideally, in my own experience anyway, smoke should be dense and thick.  Thin, wispy, smoke in my opinion is not usually as effective.  The more dense the smoke, the less that is required to be used.  When it comes to using smoke, less is more when craftfully applied.

The materials we burn in a smoker most assuredly should not have a toxic, paralyzing or “drugged” effect on the bees.  If you have bees dying, freezing in place, or acting abnormally, check that smoker fuel quick!

Beekeepers use our smokers to pacify bees (somewhat) and to “herd” them out of the way while inspecting or moving hive parts around.  We also use them to cover the alarm pheromones released when bees sting us or our gear to minimize the attention from a potentially growing number of bees tracking us.  Why have bees sting and die unnecessarily.  It only needlessly leads to greater consternation, more dead bees and higher levels colony distress.

Well folks, it’s time for me to wrap this up.  Feel free to post questions and comments in the comments area here or in the Bee Smart forums.  Yeah, I know it’s slow in there, but hey, start up a topic and that will help pick things up.

Bee real

Bee Accountable

As hobbyists and professionals in beekeeping, we have a great many options available to us in the decisions we need to make relating to the environment in which we keep our bees and the goals and objectives we have established for determining our success in beekeeping.

There are a great many things we can blame failure on when it comes to bees…  Lack of forage, weather, pests and predators, disease and injury.  The list can seem endless at times as we struggle in our efforts to keep bees healthy and alive, let alone thriving.

It is perhaps our biggest blind spot and our greatest failure when we are inattentive and lazy in our beekeeping.  There are many things that happen that can be pinned on ignorance.  We just didn’t know or realize.  This is always going to happen in beekeeping.  There is still so much we don’t know about bees despite the growing amount of research that has been done and continues to be done.

However, there are things we do know.  Things we choose to ignore for who knows what reason or excuse.  Choosing to be ignorant when we know the information is available but requires effort is one example.  Allowing ourselves to be distracted from our tasks and duties in beekeeping when we know they should be done is another.

Failure to anticipate potential problems because we didn’t plan properly ahead of time or at all.  This might be the one that gets us the most.  There are problems that arise in beekeeping that are preventable.  Lack of available food and water, inadequate hive ventilation, an excessive amount of space for too small a population.  Many times, perhaps most of the time we see these thing, they are preventable.  Had we been diligent and informed and making an active effort in our beekeeping duties they likey can have been prevented.

Accountability to our bees is important.  We owe it to ourselves and those colonies to put forth our best effort in trying to prevent all that we can prevent.  There are enough things beyond our control that we have to simply be responsive to in order to avoid disaster in beekeeping.  Poor planning, laziness, and unnecessary ignorance shouldn’t add to that already too large pile of trouble.

Bee honest with ourselves.  Bee accountable to our bees.

Bee Smart.