Riviera Reporter
Riviera Reporter

Bees and how to deal with them

The future of honey bees is something the Reporter has touched upon from time to time. They not only provide us with honey but, more importantly, they pollinate our gardens and crops. Without them, we're in big trouble. Mandy Dowd tells more about how to deal with bees while protecting this vital link in nature's chain.

Bees 1582_smallHoney Bees naturally swarm and migrate to a new settlement every spring, and they may move in behind the shutters or under the eaves of your villa. Or, just hang around en masse from a branch in your garden while scouting out a new home. Don't exterminate - bees are an endangered species, and are protected by French Law. 

Spring is an important time for bees. They are not generally aggressive, less so than their cousins in the wasp family.  If they are dangling from a branch resembling a strange bunch of grapes, or if they are forming a mass on a wall, this is what is known as a swarm.  As a part of their natural reproductive cycle, they have gorged on honey for their journey, and are in a very passive state.  They generally won't move until a scout bee finds them a new home.  

Bees 1575_smallA hive behind shuttersIf they have found their new home behind your shutters or in your dwelling somewhere, you will see one or more rows of wax comb, which is their nest.  The wax is drawn in a somewhat oval form, and may be white if it is new, or yellow if the nest has stored honey and pollen and brood for a while.  Rest assured that their primary interest at the peak of spring is to build the nest, gather pollen and nectar and nurture their young.  Simply do not open the window or interfere in a manner that will threaten their hive, and they will not interfere with your lives while you are waiting for someone like me to remove them.

How do you know that they are honey bees and not wasps or some other bee?

Apis mellifera, the honey bee, comes in a subtle variety of colors and sizes, but the various subspecies essentially resemble each other:  about 1 cm in length, tending to swarm in spring in great numbers (unlike wasps and solitary bees),

Despite rumours about vicious African Bees, they are mostly docile members of the Apidae family If you have a musical ear, you will hear that they sustain a fairly even C# with the hum of their wings (flies, bumblebees and most wasps, register lower). Unlike bumblebees, their abdomens are not furry, and unlike wasps, their abdomens to not end in a threatening point. 

Bees 1588_smallCoaxing the bees into the boxThe bee most common in europe, Apis mellifera mellifera,  known as the black bee, is a delicate bee, 1 cm in length or smaller, has a dark brown or black abdomen, and a soft tawny thorax, lightly fuzzy, but not the bright boastful yellow of wasps and bumblebees.  Do not confuse her with the bright blue-black carpenter bee that is an impressively solitary bee common in this area and reported to bee a fierce stinger.  Another common subspecies, Apis mellifera ligustica, "the Italian", has an abdomen that is a more pronounced golden yellow with the classic stripes.   The italians are calm bees, and are the subspecies most often recommended for beginning bee keepers because of their mild manner. 

Beekeepers have introduced other sub species into the area, and because subspecies can interbreed, often one encounters bees that are a mix, where some are yellower than others.  

Bees 02723_smallIf however you have a full swarm of, say, twenty to forty thousand bees gathering on your window ledge, I don't suppose you'll be looking that closely so the first clue is the size of the swarm:  Are there lots of them? Are they huddled together in a large ball on their nest, or are they disappearing into an oval nest? Bees don't build an exterior structure; your shutters are their castle wall.  If you see an external oval structure, you are most likely looking at a wasp nest. Bumble bees, the classic striped black and yellow bee with a white rump does not travel in masses.

Some species of wasps may build cellular nests similar to bees, but these nests are much smaller, constructed of a white papery substance, not wax.  

If you are not sure, call me.

Remember, honey bees are our friends and they are truly endangered by multiple contributing factors including the loss farmlands and particularly in this area, the disappearance of floral cultivation for the perfumeries.  Also pesticides, OMG, cells phones and other electromagnetic influences all collaborate against their survival.  Yet scientists have determined that if Apis mellifera becomes extinct, the human race will have about four years left to live for want of fruits and vegetables.  The bee is utterly essential to our food chain, way above and beyond the pleasure of honey.  

Notify me and often I can come fetch the bees as soon as possible for no charge, usually the same day or within 24 hours. I also gather up abandoned garden hives, occupied or empty. 

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Mandy Dowd

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