Keeping gentle and healthy bees in Southern California

Feral Bees vs Honeybees of Known Genetics: My take

Africanized Honeybees arrived in Southern California in 1998, and have been a major part of the local feral bee population ever since. (Feral bees are the “wild” bees who make hives in trees, attics, walls etc here in the LA basin.)

My introduction to beekeeping involved capturing swarms of Africanized Feral bees, rehousing them in boxes, and caring for them. These hardy bees have extra-strong immune systems, and can fight off varroa mites with great success. They also have greater immunity to the viruses vectored by varroa. Thus they have a fairly large fan club. However, our local feral bees are not always so nice to work with.

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Because of their African genetics, many are testy and unpredictable, and some are downright mean. I spent my first three years from 2009-2012 keeping only feral bees and I learned that keeping these bees in backyard settings is a gamble. I was the responsible party for several hives which “turned mean”, and I had to move them out so I could replace the queen with a gentler one, or destroy them.

Then in 2012 I purchased some gentle European honeybees. This opened up a whole new world and caused me to re-examine all of my bee stock.

European honeybees, purchased from reliable breeders, are not as hardy to varroa mites and generally need treatments to kill the mites, just like dogs and cats need help to be relieved of fleas. Mite treatments are accepted all over the world, as necessary to keep apiary-kept bees alive and virus-free. The main focus of bee research today is to find ways to increase the immunity of theses bees.

Breeder-raised bees are not prone to stinging. The breeder raises them from populations of bees that have evolved that way over thousands of years. When the beekeeper opens the hive (“hive inspections”), these bees focus not on the human, but rather on each other and the combs. They remain on the combs during and after the inspections. They do not follow or pursue the beekeeper, or anyone else.

In other places, where there are no Africanized honeybees, the choices may be different. Here in Southern California, when keeping bees in backyards and near lots of people, buying bees of known genetics is the only responsible choice for me.

 

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