Ask a fellow beekeeper about how to manage an aggressive hive and invariably you’ll be advised to ‘re-queen’. Most of the time it works, but I suspect that more often than not re-queening isn’t necessary.
In theory a queen from a well-mannered colony will produce docile workers three weeks after introduction to the aggressive hive. By six weeks the new docile workers will be in the majority and the colony should be noticeably calmer. It’s all down to good genetics.
Except there’s a problem. Oftentimes the colony becomes calmer within days of re-queening. “Ah!” they tell me, “That’s because the new queen is pumping out pheromones that help the bees chillax.”
So which is it then? Better genetics leading to well-behaved progeny or a queen wafting the apian equivalent of zopliclone around the hive?
Both?? They’re making this up, and here’s why.
Sometimes my bees are tetchy. It might be the weather, lack of forage, wasp attacks, disease burden, clumsy beekeeping, over-enthusiastic use of the smoker or even (heaven forbid) BO! In fact I suspect there are dozens of reasons why their mood varies from day to day.
Beekeepers are the same. I’ve worked with some beekeepers that have the meanest critters in Christendom, who are totally unperturbed by the boiling fury, while I go running off to the hills. Conversely, I’ve been asked to help newbies ‘with an aggressive hive’ only to find they own the most refined and well-mannered bees imaginable.
And there’s the rub. It’s difficult for us to quantify ‘aggression’ and nigh on impossible to control all the variables that may affect the bees’ mood. Hardly surprising then that there’s scant scientific evidence showing re-queening works.
So, unless you are in the business of breeding placid bees, I suspect that most times when your bees get belligerent they need sympathetic management rather than the terror of regicide and regime change. Better to wait a see, I would advise, rather than rush to re-queening.
Unless I have a queen for sale!