Monday, July 5, 2010

Feral Honeybees

I seem to be in a minority of one when it comes to my position on ferals. I am still at odds with all of the posters on the NBN forum at this thread.
Personally, I think if you take the view that all bees are 'wild' and beekeeping itself is not natural for them, and if you keep bees that have been produced by mans' design rather than what mother nature has allowed to evolve in their local climate and flora, then it becomes clear to me which is better to propagate from. Taking a feral colony with it's queen and hence it's genetics is for me a desireable tactic to breed from and allow to repopulate other feral niches. Most ferals are runaway swarms from beekeepers anyway, managed bees originating from who knows where. These bees may have been previoulsy treated with acaricides, anti-biotics etc. In other words bees propped up by pharmacauticals and genetically weak! Are these the bees we should be using or true feral stock that have been known to exist for a number of years untreated and obviously suited to the local environment. If we increase from these true ferals and allow them to swarm and take up these feral niches, we are not commiting a 'wildlife crime' as one poster put it but rather a service to honeybees in the long run. I honestly think that some people can not see past the issue of 'disturbing nature'. Nature has already been greatly disturbed by the fact that we are keeping the bees partly for our own ends. If we accept the fact that this is the reality of the situation then my proposed using of feral genetics to bolster the feral genetics as well as my own stocks is not only desirable but indeed worthy. Rant over!


  1. Good "rant" indeed, Norm!

    The more niches we create with locally adapted feral bees, the better off the whole biosphere is. The 'disturbing nature' crowd may mean well, but they live in a false vision of a static, never-changing environment. Honeybees have now come into the environment world-wide, just as primates did, just as elephants are beginning to do (they have them in Tennessee), etc. ... and just as other organisms will, man-promoted or not.

    Our task is not to preserve some mythical status quo, but to do what we can to enhance the positive effects of our actions while limiting the negative ones in a system where we will never have complete control.

    Attempting to keep things static is to attempt to thwart several evolutionary strategies without benefit of the wisdom we should have in approaching the way all of us creatures leave footprints upon the planet.

    Promoting healthy local pollinators in a world ravaged by GM crops and pesticides can only be a good thing, despite where they came from once upon a time. When my fellow environmentalists in the 'disturbing nature' camp get it about this issue and start complaining about the serious larger issues they tend to remain silent about, we can then begin to smooth over many rifts. (i.e. don't complain about my feral colonies while you are filling your gas tanks with BP oil and dining on GM soy frankenfoods.)

    My question for you is what can of worms gets opened when we start trying to differentiate between recently treated but now feral colonies and ... um ... "true" ferals?

    Oops, I seem to have drifted into a rant myself!

    Tom Warren

  2. Norm, Greg and I are with you. I've heard all kinds of reasons to not take swarms, the primary one being worry about disease. As I see it, only strong colonies are able to build up the numbers to swarm, so there's no reason not to take them and incorporate their genetics.

    Bees that are adapted to the local climate are the only ones that will really do well, so I see it as folly to ignore them.

  3. Thank you Tom, Gordo & Greg for your supportive comments. Gordo for some reason blogspot will not allow me to publish your comment! Anyway, suffice to say I am glad that others can see the bigger picture too.

  4. I am in total agreement with you here Norm. It would be impossible to be a natural beekeeper because this would mean not keeping bees at all but leaving them to nature.
    I like my bees. My goal is to incorporate "wild" genitics to improve survival rate. At this point, I will probably do this in any way that I can, especially since I seem to keep throwing bees back into the wild.
    The guys calling me a criminal are probably going to resort to treating their hives like the commercial beeks when they start loosing hives. At that point, they will probably start whining and arguing on beesourse instead of the natural forum.

  5. Hey Norm,

    You might remember me from a forum (All Hail Norm!)

    I am very much in the same frame of mind as you are here.

    The biggest issue I have with folks is that they seem to think that simply because bees are feral (and in my neck of the woods where all honey bees are feral as they were brought over from Europe)that they are not "natural" or exhibit natural behaviors.

    It's as if by being managed, bees only behave in ways that beekeepers 'train' them to behave or something.

    Natural behavior is natural behavior, especially by creatures such as honey bees where instinct is their primary 'thought' process.

    By using methods and techniques that facilitate and take the most advantage of bees natural instincts and behaviors, I believe we can be "better" beekeepers.

    But maybe that's just me.

  6. I agree that we can't be dogmatic. I also like the idea of using feral colonies to improve breeding lines. I recently rescued a colony that had been feral for 5 years as the owners of the building wanted to brick up the broken window behind which they had made their nest and it was a lovely colony. Strong, only one sting and that probably because I crushed a bee tying comb into a frame when I had taken my gloves off. - The training sessions I went to didn't cover tying knots with leather gloves soaked in honey!

  7. Yep feral bees for me too!

    I like to collect swarms and keep them and compare them with my stock of bees. My stock is probably around 30% from feral now.

    Some are very good honey makers and some not so good. I continue to keep them all if I can.