I was just about to shut down my computer last Thursday evening when this startling subject line appeared in my e-mail. Suddenly I was in no mood to cook dinner. In part, the message said:
I came across your site when I pulled a public information request from my town after receiving a citation from the town about my bees. My neighbor . . . referenced your site to show that honey bees are aggressive . . . I’m contacting you in hopes that you can help me in some way. What should I tell the town about that post? There are 130-plus comments about aggressive bees.
After a few minutes of rapid-fire e-mail, the whole thing became clear. It turns out the beekeeper was being cited for a violation of her town’s animal control ordinance as a result of this neighbor. The neighbor was using the “What makes honey bees aggressive?” post to prove that children waiting at the school bus stop were in grave danger from the small hive.
The state in question is forward-thinking and pretty much treats honey bees as a protected class. Their law says:
No county, municipality, consolidated government, or other political subdivision of this state shall adopt or continue in effect any ordinance or resolution prohibiting the establishment or maintenance of honeybees in hives, provided that such establishment or maintenance is in compliance with this chapter. This section shall not be construed to restrict or otherwise limit the zoning authority of county or municipal governments; provided, however, that a honeybee hive being maintained at a location in compliance with applicable zoning requirements on June 10, 2011, shall not be adversely affected and may be maintained at the same location notwithstanding any subsequent zoning changes.
But the local animal control ordinance says:
Housing of any type of animal in the front yard of residences is prohibited, including animal cages with or without the animals in them. Front yards are defined as the portion of the yard from the forward most front part of the residential structure to the street. This does not apply to small bird houses.
Aside from the legal ambiguities, I was totally miffed that someone was actually trying to use my website against bees and beekeepers. If you want to get me riled, just try it.
So I sent the following letter which was read aloud at the council meeting. Although the issue is a long way from being resolved, the beekeeper has told me that, “The Town Council has decided to proceed with looking at language to amend the ordinance to accept bees in front yards.” Wow! Great news.
But here’s the kicker: The beekeeper sent me photos of her front yard: small neat beehive, three mediums, painted. She also sent me a photo of her neighbor’s front yard. At the moment, it is decorated for Halloween with a lynching scene. A life-sized dummy dressed like a rancher is swinging by the neck beneath a large tree surrounded by ghosts and tombstones. How politically correct is that? If I were searching for aggressors in the neighborhood, I certainly wouldn’t start at the hive.
█████████[a town in a southeastern state]
October 20, 2012
Dear Council Members,
It has come to my attention that a resident of your jurisdiction, ████████, is citing a post on my website, www.HoneyBeeSuite.com, as “proof” that honey bees are aggressive. The specific post, called “What makes honey bees aggressive?” is a discussion by beekeepersfor beekeepersabout behavior differences seen at different times of year. Once you take the discussion out of context, it makes no sense.
For example, most beekeepers use a minimum amount of protective clothing to care for their bees. Many use none at all because honey bees are extremely docile animals. However, at certain times of the year, the bees may seem more agitated than others, and the beekeeper may see fit to wear protective clothing when opening the hive. It is this opening of the hive that bees may object tojust as you may object to an unwanted visitor entering your home.
For lack of a better word, we beekeepers refer to these short periods of agitation as “aggression.” As I just pointed out, it is a relative term: if you can open the hive without protective clothing we say the bees are docile, if the beekeeper feels the need to wear protective clothing we say they are aggressive.
Bear in mind that I’m talking about opening and disturbing the hivesomething ████████ [the neighbor] is never going to do. The bees kept in a family hive do not attack like wasps or hornets, nor do they attack in groups. Honey bees go out into the environment looking for flowers from which they collect pollen and nectar. Honey bees, unlike wasps or hornets, are vegetarians that have no interest in meathuman or otherwise.
When a honey bee stings a human or another animal, it is nearly always because that animal attempted to enter the home of the bee. An animal that is unwise enough to attempt entryand that includes the beekeeperruns the risk of getting stung on occasion. But, to draw a picture of honey bees as marauding, stinging, threatening pillagers is naïve.
Many of my readers joined in the discussion of aggression not because their bees are frequently aggressive, and not because they have had problems in the past, but because they want to prevent problems in the future. This is a good thing. Over twelve hundred beekeepers per day visit my site and most of them are deeply responsible people who wish to pursue their hobby as good citizens. My post was designed as a tool to make beekeepers aware of potential problems so they can avoid them.
████████ [the beekeeper] sent me pictures of her beehive and her lovely neighborhood. If ████████ [the neighbor] gave it some thought, she would realize that most of the lush trees, the brimming flower beds, and the healthy shrubs in her community are the direct result of bee pollination. We often hear that bees are responsible for pollinating one-third of all the foods we eat, but we sometimes forget they also provide us with fibers, oils, animal feed, and the sheer beauty that we have come to expect in our communities. How can we complain about any animal that gives us so much and asks for so little in return?
I will let you know what happens.