I have been recovering from a broken leg/infection trauma for 1.5 years now but the good thing is that I have had time to ‘study’ my bees. I had two failed attempts, largely my own fault (I had read and studied a lot but experience seems to be a better teacher) but I discovered that my hive became occupied by a new swarm in March this year. It was a very week colony, some 2000 bees to begin with, and I elected to leave them to it. As the year has gone by we have, like everyone else, been suffering from very dry and hot conditions, and I did put a feeder about 50m away just to give them a boost. Anyway, now the brood box is about 6 frames full with two frames partly drawn out and two others that were from a previous attempt, not being worked. I must have spent over 1000hrs studying the bees at close quarters (I have 3 chairs situated about 5m from the hive, in various locations depending on the wind and time of day). The bees are very tolerant of me and they even let me touch their feelers at the entrance - like a greeting. We are, of course, inundated with Vespa Asiática and these things are particularly active in July/August. Behind the hive are pines which are covered in ivy and that, in turn, is very popular with bumble bees, flies of various sorts, wasps, yellow jackets etc. The bees seem almost to follow a human pattern of activity. 0700 in the morning there is the usual back and forth with a lot of pollen coming in. The guard bees stay in the entrance with their heads pointing outwards, suspicious of any activity (I suspect they are wary of the hornets). The hornets, of course, are very active at this time of the morning, hovering underneath the landing board and facing the incoming traffic. They have a 100% success rate with snatching flying bees, and it takes less than 10 seconds every time. A small hornet will snatch a bee and head off at a low altitude for a limited distance before it needs to rest on a tree branch. The larger hornets can make the journey to their nest (wherever that is) in one hop. I also have a success rate of about 95% with swatting these malevolent things. They seem too fixated on the bees to notice that I am there. When I hit them I can feel the impact on the swatter (it is made of a plastic lid about 25cm in diameter and drilled with holes and attached to a bamboo pole. These things take a huge amount of killing - the ínitial swat stuns it and it falls to the ground. I then stamp on it 4 or 5 times before it is totally beyond revival. Most of the time the hornet is not fully dead and I occasionally pick it up with the swatter and place it on the landing board. Depending on the time of day (hot, lots of activity) the bees will ball it and throw it off the landing board. I then chuck it away. Other times the bees take the hornet inside the hive and chuck it out about half an hour later. I also bought myself a BB revolver (1885 Remington copy). I kid you not, I have killed many hornets with this weapon - the hornets capture flies and bees and other creatures in the ivy, specially when the sun is out, and then I shoot them when they rest on the flowering ivy. When I turn up I notice that the hornet activity thins out dramatically, or they do their hunting higher up in the pines. Throughout all of this I keep going up to the hive and talk with the bees, touching them on the landing board. They are really gentle with me. I then go in for lunch and come back to find the activity much the same, with a slight increase in hornet activity. I kill a few more, with shooting accounting for around 35/40% of the kills. In one week I have killed 225 hornets, mostly after I have been away for a couple of hours. The other interesting thing is that my ladies seem to go on a big forage around lunch time, only to return at 1700 each evening. Sure, there is the regular activity until that time but then suddenly a few thousand arrive all at the same time, and are ‘in bed’ within 20 minutes. All this time the usual guard bees are sat in the entrance as if awaiting their return. There is still 3 hours of sunlight left but they have done their job. When they return there are very few, comparatively, with pollen; that activity happens mainly in the morning. I then run my finger on the landing board and say good night. They come out, touch my finger, and go back inside. I don’t know but I get the feeling that there is more to these creatures then anything I have been able to absorb from literature or on line. I am learning all the time and becoming a great shot too! Perhaps I am silly but I never have any protective gear (apart from the pistol and the swatter). I expect I might be able to harvest some honey next year but that is the least of my priorities right now. These things have taught me a lot about life - I am so glad that I discovered bees during the covid period. I must say that my mental health has been challenged quite a bit these last 2 years and they have been a saviour!! Sorry for the war and peace!
That’s a great story John, thanks for sharing it. I like your strategy of shooting the hornets with the BB revolver.
I don’t know if something like this would kill them, but it might be a lot of fun to try! I don’t have one, but I do use a static zapper lamp for midges, gnats and mosquitoes. It works well.
Thanks Dawn. That definitely wouldn’t be any better - and it would break very quickly. My bamboo/plastic lid swatter is much longer and about the same circumference. And if it breaks I make a new one in 5 minutes. Thanks for the suggestion, though
I have been visiting my hive every day, 0800-1000, 1500 - 1830 ish, (sound like a blog!). I have killed 439 hornets since 9 August! Today was a count of 69, including 18 with the BB gun. I found what must be the major source of the problem a very large nest about 100m away in a neighbour’s tree. Of course I am still waiting for the people to come and poison the nest. The bees habit continues - about 5 or 6 bees guarding the 5cm wide entrance and still allowing me to touch them and say hello. The hornets tend to ‘thin out’ after I arrive and more and more bees come out and dare to leave. Every afternoon, at ‘the golden hour’, a few thousand bees return, very few with pollen, and then gradually go inside the hive. The last arrivals clear the area, flying around in a radius of up to 10 m before letting themselves in. Any bees with pollen go straight inside (normal foraging). I call them ‘the bombers’ because they are carrying weight and are a lot more ‘draggy’, so they get priority without any interference from the guards. The mass arrival lasts for half an hour and then normal foraging continues. It’s fascinating. I have included some photos and I have also decided to collect the hornets in a container (the ones that I can find after swatting/shooting). Hopefully the authorities will get rid of the hornet nest and life will be less precarious for the bees in the coming days.
They are great photos John. If I was able/allowed to, I’d be taking matters into my own hands. Maybe a long stick with a flame on the end. I guess it depends on how high up in the tree it is. Another option would be a cockroach bomb duct taped to a stick.
You will never be allowed to have a flame near a pine tree, specially in these times. I wouldn’t risk it anyway with the hornet stings. Apparently they are very nasty and ordinary clothing doesn’t protect you. They are about 8m up in the tree and I have a recovering broken leg. Too many reasons not to, I’m afraid
I agree John. Look after that recovering broken leg. Hopefully the authorities will deal with it sooner, rather than later.
I figured that if you were going to get close to them, you’d need a few thick layers of clothing. If you could get close, under different circumstances, I think that a roach bomb would work well. As long as you could get it under the nest quickly, before the tin runs dry.
Dead hornet count up to over 600, and still waiting for the authorities. Meanwhile some other friends are enjoying the ivy! Lots of pollen from various sources here in Portugal and many flowers starting to bloom again
I made a perspex cover which I place on top so that I can observe the bees without subjecting them to the elements (not for inspections, of course). After a short while the bees are marching on the cover and I get a great view of their under sides too. I wonder if this would be useful in determining whether there is a varroa problem or not. For instance, I can take a shot and zoom in to see whether the bees have mites on or not. I figured it would be like taking 100 bees and putting them in a cup…or am I missing the point?
I figured it out with the ‘arriving multitude’. Late afternoon, every day, the entrance starts to fill, from inside, with lots of bees. They brace themselves and then start an aerial ‘exercise’ in their thousands. It’s like prisoners having their daily physical stretch in the courtyard. They all go for a little local flight, for about half an hour and then return. It looks like swarming, robbing, or orientation but it’s actually bees taking a little break from the hive and then returning… fascinating. Hornet activity is quite slow at that time of day. I have killed 632 veludínea since 9 Aug, an average of around 20 per day. That has dropped quite a bit now and I am still waiting for the authorities to kill the nest.