Honey Bees Got 99 Problems, Don’t Be Another One

They can actually make problems worse.  I know they mean well, those folks who begin conversations about honey bees requiring proper management care and attention by describing bees as woeful, abused victims of beekeepers.

Everyone has heard the stories about if honey bees, being left alone, would live in cozy trees, mind thrown beeswax and live in perfect harmony with the world.  Then the beekeepers showed up…

Honey bee colonies, entirely of their own volition, will move into just about any place that meets their minimum requirements for environmental and defensive purposes.  Dry, high, and warm.

Honey bee colonies will choose to build their nests in trees, caves, roofs, barns, grain bins, under decks and grills, in the eaves of a house, under the limb of a tree.  I have relocated honey bee nests from all of those places and more.  No beekeeper put them in those places.

Honey bees are incredible, terrifically wondrous creatures.  They can also be incredibly dumb.  Suicidally dumb in fact.

They will build nests in places that are almost certainly unsustainable for them.  It happens more than you’d think.  In fact, beekeepers hives are often a far greater nest site than most of the places we take them out of.

Beekeepers can often be the biggest problem honey bees have to contend with.  We have a tendency to not leave them alone.  We want to “help” them by applying treatments but fail to first understand not only proper application of said treatments but the circumstances, conditions and assessment procedures that should always precede any such treat to ensure they are necessary, required, or appropriate.

Beekeepers frequently fall into one of two common honey harvest problem groups for honey bees.  The first is harvesting too much.  The other being not harvesting enough.  Put bluntly, honey bees are one of handful of creatures that will produce more than they need.  Honey bees will make honey as long as there are nectar sources and space available.  By “space available”  I mean even to the point that they use all the space otherwise needed for the queen to lay eggs.

Honey bees will create a situation called being “honey bound” meaning they cannot grow the colony in space due to lack of hive boxes and lack of drawn comb that hasn’t already been filled with honey.  Colonies have killed themselves off or created an “abandon ship” situation by over producing honey.

Beekeepers that don’t harvest honey accordingly put bee colonies at risk as much as those who harvest too much.

Honey bees create enough actual problems for themselves as well as dealing with slew of environmental, predator and pathogenic problems they have already.  The last thing honey bees need is misinformed, overdramatic, hyperbole to distract beekeepers from becoming best informed, experienced and prepared to properly manage hives.


Help Us Rescue Bees This Year

I’ve taken the Bee Smart beekeeping project into an active project role by basing our activities and education at the new teaching apiary at Scatter Joy Acres in the Florence neighborhood of Omaha.

Scatter Joy Acres is already all about animal rescue with dozens of farm animals and even a camel being brought home there.  Why not join forces and make it a home for rescued bees as well?

And so we have.  When you contact me at the Bee Smart beekeeping project here to come and capture swarms that have landed on your property or to do a live removal of bee nests from inside a building or the ground, we’re talking about honey bees and bumblebees here, myself and the Beehooligans will come out and get them at as low a cost as possible to you.  Perhaps at no cost to you at all.

Instead of unnecessarily killing bees that have moved into the wrong place, those bees can be rescued and used to teach people about bees and beekeeping at the teaching apiary.

If you know of bees that need to be rescued this coming year, please call me at 402-370-8018 to schedule a live bee rescue and relocation to the new teaching apiary at Scatter Joy Acres.

Bee Smart Crossword #7-Notable Beekeeper Researchers

Here we again.  We have a short list of some notable people involved over the years in honey bee research.

You can work the puzzle online here or you can print out the PDF below which also includes a wordlist for those unfamiliar with apicultural terms.

Bee Smart Crossword #7_ Notable Beekeeping Researchers

As always, you can get the answer sheet for the puzzle over at the Bee Smart Patreon page.  We would love to have your support to keep our efforts moving forward.

The Bee Smart Topic for the week of 11-06-2017

Hey there folks.  We are still trying to maintain a certain focus on the things we post on here at the Bee Smart beekeeping project on a weekly basis.

This week, we’re going to pay a bit more attention to bees and pesticides.  Both the Crossword and Wordsearch puzzles are based on this topic and Big Bear will be doing a video doing a mini “class” on the subject as well.

Hop on over to the website forums and share your ideas and experiences having to do with bees and pesticides in your little piece of the world.  We’d love to see you there.

Bee Smart Crosswords #4 – The Pests of Honey Bees

Word list:


You can download the PDF and print out the puzzle and the answer sheet by clicking on the links…

Crossword 4 PDF

Crossword 4 Answer sheet

The Bee Smart Online Crossword Puzzle #1: Basic Anatomy


If online puzzles aren’t your thing, you can download a PDF version by clicking on this link.  The PDF even includes a wordlist for a little extra help.

Crossword Hobbyist – Basic Bee Biology

The answer sheet is also available as a download for our patrons over at our Bee Smart Patreon site.

Meet a Miner Bee-Andrena astragali

There are more than 4,500 species of bees in the world commonly referred to as “Miner” bees.  This one in particular, the Andrena astragali, is a specialist that likes to forage on a plant called the “Death Cama” AKA Toxicoscordion.

Toxicoscordion venenosum (Death Camas) - Flickr - brewbooks
By brewbooks from near Seattle, USA (Toxicoscordion venenosum (Death Camas)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Death Cama is known for being poisonous as it contains a type of neurotoxin that is harmful to just about everything in every part of it, even the nectar.  Everything except Andrena astragali that is.


Kamikaze Bees

Pretty much all bees have stingers on them or “stings” in general.  Also, pretty much all bees sting to defend themselves and their nests.  This is pretty well established.

However, what most people don’t realize is that not all bees lose the sting once they have used it to sting something else.  As a matter of fact, pretty much only Honey bees, Apis mellifera, lose their sting due to having it literally ripped from their body along with the venom sac after having stung something else.

A honey bee stinging
Through different studies, we’re pretty much convinced that honey bees actually know they are going to die when they sting.  They know it and they do it anyway.  In Japanese, “Kamikaze” means, “Divine Winds”  referring usually to hurricanes an such.  I’ve heard it they looked on Kamikaze airplane fighter pilots as being a special attack wreaking terrible destruction.  This, I think, is a pretty interesting description of what damage can be done to an opponent when you are willing to go to such dramatic feats to not just defeat the enemy but utterly eliminate them.  Think of the devastation a hurricane can do.

A honey bee, knowing it gives it’s life in it’s sting to defend nest and self is essentially going all out, literally giving it’s everything to overcome the perceived enemy at any cost.  I think the concept of a swarm of bees taking to the air in order to not just defend the colony from attack but to make that enemy entirely go away is true to the concept of Kamikaze.  Just about everything that has taken to raiding a honey bee hive, from wild bears to human beekeepers and everything in between,  has learned to regret that decision as it runs as far away as fast as it can.

Not all bees lose their stings, oh no, pretty much all the rest can keep going back to give a gift that keeps on giving until the threat removes itself.  Bumblebees are known as exceedingly docile and calm out in the flowers.  There’s a time though when those bumblebees can attack ferociously if you are interfering with their nest.  Not only will they come out to sting in defense, they retain the sting and just coming in again and again and again, etc…

Related image
A bumblebee dealing out a sting.

Honey bees don’t always lose their sting though.  It depends on what they are stinging.  If they sting another honey bee for example or something of similar size and makeup, they will mostly keep the sing instead of having it pulled out and dying.  In larger, thicker skinned creatures though, the tiny barbs that are on the sting will catch and not only stick in to be yanked out of the bee, they continue the attack after the bee has detached.

Oh yes, the honey bee stinger is actually a more complicated thing than a simple barbed needle.  In fact, it is two needles working together in a piston-like motion so that once inserted into the body of a victim, they continue to dig themselves in even deeper giving more direct access to the venom in the connected venom sac that came off with the sting.  A good reason to never pinch the sting to remove it is because by doing so, often more venom is injected by squeezing the ven0m sac along with the sting.  Scrape that sting out with a knife, plastic card, even a fingernail instead.

File:Stechende Biene 12a.jpg
Getting down to the business end of the stinger.
That isn’t the end to the mischief the honey bee has wrought in stinging though.  Oh no!  It’s not done done with us yet.  Not only does it’s stinger get physically, forcibly removed from it’s body, leaving it in our body.  Not only does the sting continue to dig deeper into the skin to deliver its venom more effectively.  While she has indeed gone off to die, the little worker bee who has wounded us so, she has also left a chemical marker scent upon us.  A pheromone that acts as a beacon to other honey bee workers flying to the defense.  We are now not only wounded, we are now tagged so that the other bees have a persistent pheromonal version of GPS straight to us.  That’s right, running will avail us little safety, we are marked and they will come to finish the job.  Sounds ominous doesn’t it?  It’s a good thing they aren’t overly persistent.

Most of the time, if we can get anywhere from 20 to 100 yards away (depending on the breed of bee) they will consider having done their job sufficiently and removed the immediate threat and call the forces back home.  Whew!  This is actually true of pretty much all stinging bees.  They really don’t intend to utterly eliminate us, just remove the immediate threat.  Once the perpetrator clears out of the immediate area, most bees are fine with calling a cease fire and returning to battle stations.

In fact, there are times, again depending on the breed of honey bee, where instead of stinging immediately, they give us a warning instead.  A simple little bump, a head butt if you will.  Simply just to let us know, ” Hey pal, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll high-tail it out of here cuz playtime’s over.  Don’t make me have to tell you again.”  yes, I am anthropomorphizing but it’s more fun that way.

So now you know a little more about the stinging activity of bees.  It’s a good thing to know.  Just remember, bees don’t “attack”  they aren’t going out looking for a fight.  That would be the wasps and hornets.  No, bees just want to do their thing and be left alone.

Think of it as bees are all about, “Don’t start none, won’t bee none.”

Honey Bee Hollow, A sweet little ditty by Big Bear

 I remember the late spring and early summer days of clear blue skies with their wispy white clouds hanging, seeming still.

The light, warm breezes, carrying the scents of nature and pleasant days. Work and worries forgotten in the afternoon wonders of Nature.

Sitting on the old wood bench my Daddy made all those years ago. Rubbed smooth by all the sitting and talking we did since I was old enough to go along with him out here in the honey bee hollow.

That’s what my Daddy always called it, his honey bee hollow, back between the shed and the rolling fields that stretched as far as the eye could see.

It’s a magic place, where the honey bees live, back in honey bee hollow. Smells of honey and sunlight in the air and bees flying, busily going to and fro, curiously knowing from whence they came and where they go.

My Daddy started his hives back there when he was young and the honey bees swept his heart away. Mama always said she knew even then, the bees were his ‘other girls’ and there was no point in standing in the way.

I sit here now, just like I did back then, on this old wood bench watching the bees, buzzing softly, going about their terribly important business as though nothing else exists in the world but flowers and honeycomb.

I spent countless days working in honey bee hollow with my Daddy. He taught me just about anything a person could know about honeybees by those hives and sitting on that bench back in honey bee hollow.

In his late years, my Daddy couldn’t work the bees like we used to. It still gave him so much pleasure to come out and sit on the old wood bench though and listen to the bees, watching them coming and going.

It was out back in honey bee hollow here that my Daddy sat on the wood bench for the last time. He wanted to stay, he said, just a little bit longer. I told him he can stay as just as long as he wanted and I went on up to the shed to get some tools. When I came back, my Daddy was gone.

I walked up behind him, calling to him quietly, not wanting to startle him awake. Then, I saw the peace on his face and I knew my Daddy would be in honey bee hollow forever and ever.

Now I come to honey bee hollow and sit on this old wood bench and I listen close to the bees and the breeze. Sometimes, I can still hear my Daddy’s voice, telling me just about all there is to know about honey bees.