Bee Lining

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Bee lining is a traditional practice used by beekeepers to find wild bee colonies. It is also called bee tracking or bee hunting. The eager beekeeper goes through a process of following foraging bees back to their home. These wild hives often live in hollow trees or other natural settings. Bee lining involves a bit of time and hard work, but it is an intriguing way to find wild colonies. But, be prepared for a bit of a hike as you never know where this journey will take you.

Worker honey bee flys through air with full load of pollen.

As any beekeeper, I enjoy catching bee swarms that come across my property. But, in bee lining – we take the hunt to the bee’s home instead of waiting for them to come to us. It is a fascinating skill – even if it is not for everyone.

The Process of Bee Lining

Put on your hiking boots and some long pants (if you live in a region with snakes!). Bee lining requires that you get out in the wild in a search for that elusive wild hive. There are several steps involved:

  1. identifying foragers
  2. capturing and marking bees
  3. release the bees
  4. following the bees
  5. stopping to verify direction
  6. repeat
  7. locating the hive

Finding Foragers

The adventure of bee lining begins with close observation. You need to find foraging honey bees actively collecting nectar and pollen.

Where would you look? Look for flowers that bees love on warm sunny afternoons. This is where the work force of the hive should be.

Catch and Mark

Once a bees is chosen, the bee liner catches it with a small net or box. Great care is taken to avoid harming the worker honey bee. We want her to be in good shape.

In the same way that a queen bee is marked, the forager is gently marked with a small dot of paint or marker. This is done to help the bee hunter easily track the same bee when it returns.

Release the Bee

Once the bee is marked, it is released. Now, the period of observation begins. The bee will likely fly straight back towards her hive. If she continues to forage, be patient and follow her until she starts home.

Follow the Bee

This is the most challenging part of the bee lining process. Beginning in the direction in which the bee flies, try to keep track of her flight path.

This can be difficult, as bees can fly quickly and directly. While we humans have to climb over logs and wade through brush.

Stopping at Intervals

Most likely, you will not find the hive on your first journey and the bee will race off and leave you squinting at the sky. That’s okay. Be patient – wait for a bit to see if she comes back by.

Then, catch her again (hence the mark for identification) and take her to the spot where you lost her and release. Now, the bee liner continues to follow her as long as possible.

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Repeating the Process

The process of catching, marking and following the bee may be repeated several times. Each time the bee returns, it should have a shorter flight path as the bee liner gets closer to the hive.

Locating the Hive

Eventually, after following the bee through multiple cycles, the bee liner should be able to pinpoint the general area of the colony. Now, the job is to find the bee tree or other structure where the hive is located. Look for bee traffic and listen for bee sounds.

Honey bees entering bee tree and section of comb from a wild hive.

Harvesting the Colony or Not

You have found the wild bee hive – now what? It is not always possible or advisable to harvest a colony from a bee tree. It is a complex and delicate process.

A bit dangerous as well. In times past, the goal was to collect honey and beeswax from wild bee colonies – little care was given to survival of the bees.

Today, just as beekeepers moved from keeping honey bees in bee skeps to modern hives, we do look for more ethical ways to respect the bees and natural environment.

Swarm Collection

If a decision is made to not remove the colony, the bee liner may set up swarm traps and hope to catch a nice swarm from the wild colony.

By prioritizing ethical practices and conservation, bee liners can continue to enjoy the tradition of bee lining while supporting the health and well-being of wild bee populations.

FAQs

Is bee lining still practiced today?

Yes, bee lining is still practiced today, often as a hobby or tradition. While it may not be as common as it once was, some beekeepers and enthusiasts continue to use this method to locate wild bee colonies and connect with the natural behavior of bees.

What tools do you need for bee lining?

Traditionally, bee liners use simple tools such as a small box or net to capture bees, a marker for identifying them. If you choose to harvest a colony, protective bee clothing and a bee smoker is needed. Modern bee liners might also use GPS or other tracking devices to aid in following bees.

Is bee lining ethical and sustainable?

When done responsibly, bee lining can be ethical and sustainable. Practitioners should prioritize the well-being of the bees and their habitats, harvesting only when necessary and leaving enough resources for the colony to thrive. Sustainable practices include rehoming swarms and minimizing disturbance to wild bee populations.

A Final Word

Bee lining can be a rewarding and fascinating experience. But, it requires attentiveness and a watchful eye – along with a great deal of patience. It is not the easiest way to acquire bees for your hives. However, it can be a fun activity that takes you farther into an understanding of the complex world of bees. Bee lining is also a connection with the history of beekeeping – back to the days you could not simply order bees for a hive.

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