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By Andre Romet
Often criticised for its defensiveness and small honey crops, Apis mellifera adansonii is very active and quick to react, either when looking for nectar, or to stop gathering. It is fast when leaving the hive and begins work half an hour before sunrise to collect the nectar produced during the cool hours of the night. A hive moved 5-10 m during the night is not a problem for this bee: after foraging it will come back to the original hive place, circle a few times and then join the hive in its new position. This important 'drift' explains why local beekeepers always place hives 3-4 m apart.
Visiting a colony is usually easy enough if you use white, cool smoke made with either dry grass, ferns, dried leaves from palm or banana trees, or maize. Three minutes after smoking the hive entrance you can work at the hive for about five minutes. If you need Ionger you will have to again smoke abundantly whilst ensuring that the colony does not leave the hive and cluster on the nearest tree (this is especially important with the black variety of the bee). If the colony does leave, you will need another hive with new brood to catch it again. If the colony does not leave you will encounter one of the greatest problems of working with these bees - when most of the colony will form groups under and outside the hive (although their defensiveness will have disappeared entirely). After half an hour the colony will re-enter their home.
There are two periods that are favourable for swarming and/or absconding: the beginning of the dry season (November/December) when trees are in blossom, and at its end when there are bush fires and a dearth of food. During the swarming period accidents can occur. If children discover a swarm they will often throw stones at it. Before long they are under attack., hundreds of stings pour down upon them often causing their death (bees provoke more deaths in Africa than snakes, despite the latter being very numerous.)
Beeswax boiled with fever-grass is the most efficient. You often see bees following a beekeeper carrying a baited catcher box: most often by the next day the box will be occupied. A problem is that all baiting materials are very attractive to other insects, especially ants.
The cleaning instinct is highly developed in Apis mellifera adansonii. Hive floors are clean all year around. A dead bee under or in front of the hive is taken away immediately. One or two bees are continuously flying around the hive looking for anything abnormal. Many scents like sweat, and stings left in clothes make them defensive.
During queen rearing when the queen cells are sealed, several bees start laying eggs and many will be kept after the birth of the queen. It is important to have open brood inside the hive when a queen leaves for her mating flight to prevent the colony from following her.
Apis mellifera adansonii is fragile; in a small queen cage many bees die after a short time making it difficult to keep a queen alive out of the hive. Although they can resist rain when flying many bees are killed by big storms when they are thrown into water puddles and drown. Feeders used for giving them syrup must have a small liquid surface (these bees are not good swimmers!)
Diseases and parasites are scarce. Tests we ran with Apistan and Apivar to detect Varroa proved negative. A Braula species is present but does not cause damage. Wax moths are abundant and can cause a weak colony to abscond. In every hive you can find 10-20 of the small black beetles Aethina tumida hiding between the frames and the frame-cover. At the opening of the hive the beetles run on the combs where the bees try to catch them to pull them out. The beetles often escape because of their flat shape and smooth chitin. As Apis mellifera adansonii cleans the hive so well, the numerous eggs laid by the beetles are destroyed. If a comb is broken and falls to the bottom of the hive the beetles slip underneath and lay thousands of eggs that develop into small larvae rushing to the honey and pollen and creating a disagreeable smell that ends in the bees absconding.
Most traditional hives are made with raffia palm that is easy to work with: the bark is very hard and the inside part is very soft. The cost is low and their use for hive building is very profitable. The hive can be reinforced by the use of two wooden sides.
In Cameroon beekeeping is an ancient activity that has changed much during the last 30 years under the influence of missionaries and NGOs. Traditionally hives were made from raffia palms with two openings to facilitate the harvest, without disturbing the brood. The top-bar hive was introduced ten years ago.
The research group in the West Province tested many existing models of hives with supers. Finally they adopted two models: the body may be either a Langstroth or a top-bar hive, both with 10 bars of 22 mm width, each with a space of 10 mm. The two models offer a surface of 70,000 cells for queen laying (a good queen needs about 48,000). A Dadant super with nine frames tops this brood box. All the bars or frames are 47.5 cm long. The hive boxes are 50.5 cm long by 40 cm wide, as timber boards here are 3 cm thick.
These two types of hives allow three or four crops of honey a year from a good colony: that is about 30 kg. It is not true that in tropical climates flowers are numerous all year round.
Filling a super takes two or three months except in the savannah. In the West Province the human population is so high that the staple crops of maize and beans occupy all land. The principal trees giving nectar are avocado, banana, coffee and mango, but at 0900 hours, when the sun is shining they stop producing nectar. Even pollen is missing outside the flowering periods of maize and palm-trees. Instead, bees gather pollen from bamboos and grasses, or during some parts of the year they collect flours of cassava, maize and rice in the markets.
Most beekeepers use bars with small strips of wax along the whole length. The Apis mellifera adansonii bee prefers to build combs with its own wax instead of wax foundation sheets, which have the embossed pattern of 800 cells instead of 1,000 as needed. Two beekeepers are now making extractors from plastic barrels with a metal frame. Embossed wax and smokers are made in Bafoussam.
[Bees for Development Journal #59]