Last year a beekeeper told me that his bees were getting used to him. He said that as the summer progressed they had “accepted” him as their keeper and they “realized” he was only trying to help. Furthermore, he claimed they became more docile every time he opened the hive.
This is a heartwarming story. It is also totally ridiculous. Although bees are heavy into consensus-building, they do not normally include the welfare of humans in their agenda. And even if an individual bee perceived a human as a non-threatening organism, that bee is only going to live four weeks or so. By the time the beekeeper re-opens the hive he is faced with a completely different cohort. These bees have never seen the beekeeper before—and I doubt they leave messages for each other taped to the refrigerator.
A colony of bees varies in its aggressiveness depending on a number of factors. Colonies that have gone queenless, have been pestered by animals, or are exposed to high levels of noise may be skittish and temperamental. Colonies at the end of winter, in the midst of a nectar flow, or in the act of swarming may seem unnaturally calm. These fluctuations in behavior can be helpful clues as to what is taking place inside the hive.
My point here is that a good beekeeper is constantly assessing clues to colony health and making decisions based on the information he has. Changing temperament is a clue to things that are happening within the colony. A good beekeeper should make use of this information instead of deluding himself into thinking he has become one with his bees.
Of course, that said, this past weekend I delivered a nuc of bees to a friend. In the course of inspecting the hives, her bees stung me . . . and my bees walked across my hands as if we were pals (which, perhaps, we were!) Soooo, what is going on here?