Moving Native Bees
A guest post written by Dean Haley
To move stingless bees successfully, you have to understand a little about their habits and behaviors.
Stingless bees have a homing instinct the same as honey bees do. This lets them fly off and gather pollen and nectar and return to the colony.
You may know about the honey bees waggle dance, where a bee relates the location of a food source in relation to the position of the Sun. Honey bees can navigate by the Sun, and reverse the journey on the way home. While this is remarkable behavior, our stingless bees don’t do it this way. Instead, stingless bees rely on a mixture of sight and smell.
Stingless bees perform orientation flights, which involves them hovering and flying backwards from their home. The first couple of flights a young bee makes may be very short. Just little loops in the air and back to home again. They then fly a bit further and a bit further all the while remembering what home looks like. Experiments have been made where paint is used to mark bees, and they are released at various distances from home. Most bees find home when released 500 metres away, but few make it home when released 600 metres away. So the theory is they can visually recognize the entire territory for a distance of about 500 metres from home.
Moving Native Bees Long Distances
Moving bees more than 500 meters presents no problems. The bees come outside, can’t recognize the place and therefore perform a new orientation flight. New bee owners sometimes stand directly in front of their hive with a worried look on the face when letting the bees out in a new place. This is exactly the wrong place to stand, as this is where the bees need to be flying backwards and remembering.
Moving Native Bees short Distances (less than 5 metres)
The easiest method to move very short distances is by moving the box about 50cm each day. The bees go out of a morning and return to the place they remembered the box to be. You will see a large number of bees hovering in mid air and flying in little circles. You will be amazed that they don’t go to the new position just 50cm away. But they eventually do recognize the entrance to the box, and the smell of home helps too. By this method you can slowly move your bees to a new position.
Moving Native Bees Intermediate Distances
Sometimes I want to move my bees from the front of my house to the back yard, or like I did last week where I took two hives to a friend to pollinate his mandarin tree at his house 250 metres from my own. I use a method where I place the bees in a dark room for 6 days and nights and I put a piece of gauze over the entrance hole so they can breathe. I got this old trick from honey bee keepers where the general rule of thumb is 3 days. I tried 3 days at first but lost some bees. I then discovered some scientific research with honey bees which say that they lose their memories pretty much after 6 days, and almost completely in 9 to 12 days. I don’t know for sure how long the memory lasts for a stingless bee, but I’ve switched over to 6 days with complete success ever since. I find this method so convenient, I can choose to put my bees on the sunny side of my house in Winter, and the shady side of the house in Summer.