Bees have been kept by man from an early stage in the development of human civilization, yet it cannot be said that they are domesticated. In all of their activities, bees under the care of man do not differ from bees in a wild state.
Breeding in various ways has modified the bee but, in so far as the natural instincts are concerned, it is doubtful whether any appreciable change has been brought about and in the greater number of phases of bee life no change has even been attempted.
An escaping swarm takes up its abode in a hollow tree and the bees are often then spoken of as “wild, ” but this adjective is just as applicable to the bees in the apiary.
Certain animal trainers become proficient in handling savage animals through their knowledge of the ways of these beasts. Similarly the beekeeper, by studying the behavior of his bees, comes to know their habits and is governed by this knowledge.
This comparison of bees and wild animals must be construed not as intended to inspire fear in the uninitiated but to point out that the beekeeper actually is dealing with animals unmodified in their instincts by their long association with man.
By the proper use of smoke and especially by the way the colony is handled, the beekeeper can seemingly do with his bees as he pleases.
The fact is, however, that he cannot overstep the bounds set by the instincts of these animals.
It is therefore an incorrect conception of the ability of the beekeeper to state, as did Langstroth, that bees are capable of being tamed.
In view of these facts, the necessity of a thorough knowledge of bee activities is most evident.
Excerpted and edited from:
Beekeeping; a discussion of the life of the honeybee … 1915. Phillips, Everett Franklin, 1878-1951.