BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Bees get a lot of flak. In autumn, it’s mostly undeserved.
With a protective bee jacket and full netted hood on, I joined Bill Perkins as he cracked open three teaching hives at the Fenway Victory Gardens. He’s the president of the Boston Area Beekeepers Association (BABA), which has hives all over the city.
“They are more nervous because this time of year, if something happens to their hive, they’d have a hard time surviving winter,” he said, as hundreds of bees took off and landed from the hives in front of him.
“They all have their own moods, just like people,” Perkins said.
To understand the latent moodiness, one needs to understand a little about bee biology. The insects spend all spring and summer collecting pollen and nectar from flowers, busily turning it into massive stores of honey. By the time fall rolls around, food is starting to get a little more scarce, and the focus turns to protection.
“They don’t have as much to do. They’ll often sit around…they kind of hang out. I jokingly say, they sit around looking for trouble,” said Perkins.
Thousands of female worker bees and the all-important queen keep themselves alive all through the cold winter months, and they feed on honey to do that. An attack on the hive at this crucial time of the year would spell disaster for the bees — hence the touchiness.
A large, healthy colony can have 60,000 bees in it, and Perkins estimates there are about 150,000 in the hives at the Victory Gardens.
But even as the bees are on alert, Perkins said that really only extends to the ten feet or so around their hives.
“They’re almost never aggressive away from the hive. There’s really nothing for them to protect when they’re away from their hive,” he said.
So why do the calls to BABA over aggressive bees spike in the fall? That, apparently, is a case of mistaken identity. About 95 percent of those callers are actually seeing the honeybee’s more aggressive cousin, the yellow jacket.
“They do look very similar, and yellow jackets are a bit more aggressive and give bees a bad name,” Perkins noted.
Unlike the bees, the wasps start small in number earlier in the year and the nest keeps growing throughout the summer. By this point, the colonies are really burgeoning.
There are a few ways for an observer to tell yellow jackets and bees apart. For one, the wasps are the eye-searing fluorescent yellow of a freshly-painted Lamborghini.
Bees, in contrast, are a muddy brownish yellow, and covered in fuzzy hairs.
Yellow jackets are also all-purpose predators and scavengers, so if they’re attacking your tuna fish sandwich or lemonade at a picnic, it’s more likely to be a wasp.
WBZ’s Chaiel Schaffel (@CSchaffelWBZ) reports: