Celebrate the joys of beekeeping. There is nothing quite like having your bees buzzing happily about their business as you perform your routine hive inspections. Beekeeping is rewarding, entertaining and can even be considered downright relaxing – but then then the unthinkable happens. Those once calm and sweet bees turn into angry, aggressive attackers. This abrupt change of mood and demeanor in your bees can not only be frustratingly perplexing, it can suck the joy out of working with your bees if it persists long enough.
So what makes honey bees act aggressively?
- Size matters: As colonies of bees grow in numbers, they need more and more pollen and nectar to make it through the winter. Each additional bee means all the other bees get that much less. As late summer rolls around, it is not uncommon for bees to become a little more aggressive as they get protective of their honey. More bees means more to deal with for the beekeeper – be gentle and try not to rile them up with harsh, abrupt movements.
- Where’s the queen?: Bees without a queen can be quite erratic and hostile. If your hive becomes queenless and you can get a replacement queen in time, the colony should become calmer.
- There’s a new queen in town: Hives that have had a recent supersedure, or a hive that has a new queen addition, may find that the new queen is of a different, more easily agitated disposition. It’s all about genetics – some queens are calm and create gentle brood; some queens are mean and create aggressive brood. It’s not unheard of for beekeepers to destroy mean queens and replace them with new gentler ones.
- I’ve been robbed!: When there is a shortage of nectar, bees will go anywhere to find some, even if that means going into a hive that is not their own and stealing it. This behavior is known as robbing and can create a violent cycle of honey bee aggression.
- The robbing bees are aggressive because their own colony is in need and they are in survival mode.
- The bees being robbed become aggressive because their hard-earned stores of honey are being robbed.
- If you look at the hive’s entrance and see bees circling aggressively around the landing board before landing, and notice bees fighting with each other, your hive is likely dealing with robbers.
- You may notice dead bees outside your hive, either your bees or the robber bees that died during the fight for the honey inside the hive. These bee carcasses can attract yellow jackets and wasps, which in turn will make your bees even more aggressive.
- Sound the alarm: Guard bees alert the colony of danger with an alarm pheromone, a smell which not only warns honey bees of trouble, but makes them aggressive. Once the alarm pheromone is released, they are ready to fight off any and all potential threats. If you get stung, even if it doesn’t penetrate your bee suit, the pheromone can still linger on your clothing. This may cause your bees to go into “attack mode” when you’re nearby because of the alarm pheromone on your bee suit. Washing your protective bee clothing may help by getting rid of the alarm pheromone on them.
Most bee behavior is cyclical and as beekeepers get more experienced, they learn to predict how their bees will behave and can make necessary adjustments before their bees become aggressive. Bee Proactive!