Landing boards and wee porches are unnecessary for honey bees. Nevertheless, the subject is polarizing. Some beekeepers swear by them, others hate them. So what are the issues?
I dislike the argument that if wild colonies don’t need landing boards, then no colonies do. However, it’s a good place to start because it’s true.
Wild colonies rarely have porches, whether they live in a tree hollow or inside a wall. Others might have one by chance, like the colonies that live inside water valve boxes or abandoned mailboxes. However, it seems like other real estate considerations are more important to honey bees, such as the volume of the internal cavity and the size of the opening.
Porches: not good for trucking
Commercial beekeepers like nothing that protrudes from the side of the hive. They need to move their hives frequently, often stacking them on pallets and strapping them together with ropes or tie-downs. Projecting architectural features of any kind interfere with business, so they would rather go without.
Likewise, storage in warehouses, barns, or winter bunkers is complicated by things jutting from the walls of the hives. Even in my small operation, I find anything that requires extra space is irritating and may have to go.
If you give a bee a porch
On the other hand, hobby beekeepers often adore porches and landing boards and wouldn’t think of keeping bees without them. Unlike humans, if you give a bee a porch, she will use it.
Try it. If you provide a landing board of any type at the hive entrance, many of the bees will land on it before walking inside. My guess—sheer speculation here—is that it’s easier to land on a flat surface than to thread the eye of the needle and fly directly into a small opening, especially when hordes of bees are coming and going at the same time.
Of course, those bees don’t need to fly directly inside. Instead, they can land on the outside wall of their hive. Like many other bee species, honey bees have arolia. Arolia are sticky, flexible pads that reside between the tarsal claws at the end of each leg. The pads help insects walk on vertical or even inverted surfaces.
As useful as that sounds, not all bees have arolia. For example, bees in the genus Megachile, which includes the leafcutters and resin bees, don’t have arolia at all, yet they get by just fine. Just a thought.
Other pros and cons
Proponents of porches are many. Several years ago, I posted a story about beekeeper Anthony Planakis who says that a combination of upper entrances and little porches soared his honey production. He simply added an upper entrance with a little porch to every honey super, an addition that yielded a massive amount of honey.
Others, including me, find landings great for bee-watching. If the bees land on a flat surface before going inside, you have an extra few seconds to examine the bees and their pollen loads, giving you insight into the workings of your hive. It also gives you time to take some photos.
Detractors of porches claim that a flat area can give an advantage to invaders such as robbing bees or invading wasps. Perhaps they also find it easier to enter the hive from a standing position rather than trying to fly in. Even mice, birds, and lizards seem to like flat areas as a place for lying-in-wait and strategic planning.
Conversely, it is often easier to see fighting on the landing board than to see fighting on the ground or between the weeds. Once you see fighting, you know you have a problem, so early detection is a good thing.
It’s a beekeeper’s decision
Just remember that porches and landing boards are primarily for people, not for bees. So if you like the idea of a landing place, go for it. If you don’t, leave them off. Either way works, and you will be happiest with the arrangement that works for you.