Feb 1, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge Staff WriterWhen a bee is coming toward you, the natural tendency is to panic. However, bees will die if they sting someone and they only attack as a defense mechanism.
Justina Russell, University of Wyoming Wind River Reservation Extension educator, was all abuzz at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days as she lectured on the basics of beekeeping Wednesday at the county fairgrounds in Riverton.
"For most beekeepers, they rarely get stung because the bees learn to trust their caretakers and are not threatened by them," Russell said Wednesday morning.
Wyoming is not the best climate for beekeeping because the state is not abundant in either moisture or flowers, but it is still possible, and Russell gave an introductory course on becoming a beekeeper.
In the 1700s, European naturalists began to study bees and by the mid-1800s, Lorenzo Langstroth developed a moveable comb hive. Beekeeping is found on every continent but Antarctica, Russell said.
Many beginner beekeepers purchase premade foundations that are typically made from wood and can be purchased for $300 to $350.
Russell said there are three different methods of defense when dealing with bees. Beekeepers can wear protective clothing, such as a hat and veil, full "bee suit," gloves and boots. Or, they can acquire a smoker that calms bees by stimulating a feeding response (bees are less likely to sting when full of honey). And a basic knowledge of bee behavior is an effective tool as well.
"Bees have a wonderful sense of smell," Russell said. "When they sting they will emit a pheromone to other bees that an intruder is around, and you must always make calm, easy movements because bees can sense vibrations and will feel defensive if they feel vibration."
When a bee decides to tell others in the hive that it has found food, the bee will do a dance resembling a figure-eight motion.
"Slow dancing means food is far away, while fast dancing means it is close by," Russell said.
As the lectured continued, Russell delved into basic facts about bees including details on the queen bee and the drones, or male bees that occupy the hive.
"The queen bee's sole duty is to populate the colony and is capable of laying half a million eggs in a lifetime," Russell said. "She is fed large amounts of protein-rich royal jelly from her worker bees that literally spend their time working to death."
A person in the crowd asked, "What about the boy bees?"
Russell said drones are the largest bees in the hive, but their sole purpose is to mate with the queen who never works, does not possess a stinger, and never forages for nectar or pollen.
"It is kind of funny, but the boy bees have absolutely no purpose in a hive other than to provide services for the queen bee," Russell said.
When deciding on the best area for a hive, Russell encourages locating a place that would be facing east or south, would have easy access to flowers, and would be near sunlight and a water source.
"Bees love sunshine and really need a place where pollution and pesticides will not kill them," Russell said.
Although there are no regulations in either Lander or Riverton on keeping bees in the city, Russell reminded everyone to make sure the hives would be clear of mosquito spraying that happens frequently in the city during the summer.
"If the hive is near pesticides, it might kill the bees and really would not be a good place to have them," Russell said.
City officials say the insecticide used in summer fogging does not harm bees.
A small bee colony can be purchased for $100 to $150 and will come complete with worker bees, a drone and a queen bee that is shipped separately.
Russell said bees are fascinating insects, and they are often misrepresented because of the harm they are thought to cause.
"If you ever find yourself in a situation you think you might be attacked by a bee, remember to stay calm and don't panic," Russell said.
Russell's lecture was part of many educational programs for farmers, ranchers, homeowners and anyone else interested in agriculture continuing Wednesday and Thursday at the Fremont County Fairgrounds. The full schedule of events is available online at bit.ly/AEvMRA.