3.3.2. Gentleness and behaviour on combs

  • As a standard protocol in performance testing, defensive behaviour and response of the bees during handling are subjectively classified by an experienced tester (Table 5).
  • In accordance with the Apimondia guidelines, the classification of gentleness and calmness are scored on a scale from 1 to 4, where 1 represents the most negative and 4 the most positive phenotype. Intermediate scores (0.5) can be used to better describe slight differences within the population.
  • To ensure the comparability of test results colonies should be scored according to the following descriptions. Use intermediate scores (3.5, 2.5, 1.5) if the observed behaviour is somewhere between the given descriptions.
  • The evaluation of the behaviour has to be repeated 3-6 times during the season without regard to specific conditions (like weather, honey flow etc.). The arithmetic mean of all evaluations is calculated at the end of season and used as test result.
  • All colonies within one test yard need to be evaluated on the same date. As defensive colonies can influence the reaction of neighbouring hives, the order of management should be varied among successive evaluations.
  • For quantitative research results, black leather balls about the size of tennis balls, marked with alarm pheromone (isopentyl acetate) can be moved in front of the hive entrance to provoke stinging by guard bees (Collins and Kubasek, 1982; Free, 1961; Guzman-Novoa et al., 2003; Stort, 1974). The number of stings remaining in the leather after 1 or 5 minutes of exposure can serve to measure differences in defence behaviour.


Table 5. Standard scoring criteria for colony defensiveness.





No use of smoke and no protective clothes are necessary to avoid stings during normal working procedure.

Bees stick to their combs “like fur” without any notable reaction to being handled.


Colony can easily be worked without stings, if using some smoke.

Bees are moving, but do not leave their combs during treatment.


Single bees attack and sting during working procedure, even if smoke is used intensively.

Bees partly leave their combs and cluster in the edges of frames and supers.


In spite of the use of smoke the colony shows a strong defence reaction on being handled, or bees attack without being disturbed.

Bees nervously leave the combs, run out of the supers and cluster inside or outside the hive.