What makes honey bees aggressive?

You’ve managed your honey bee colonies all spring and summer with no problem. Now and then an aggressive guard warned you off, but in general the bees were docile.

All of a sudden, however, the bees are angry. They fly at you. They form a dark cloud above their hive. They bury themselves in your pet’s fur. What gives?

Many aspects of a honey bee colony are cyclic in nature, and aggression is no exception. Honey bees have the ability to be aggressive at any time, but certain things set them off. In the late summer and early fall, more of these conditions exist.

Here are some of the factors that make for aggressive honey bees:

  • Queenlessness is frequently a cause of feisty bees. The bad behavior usually stops as soon as the colony or the beekeeper replaces the queen.
  • A shortage of nectar-producing flowers is called a nectar dearth. The bees can’t find nectar so they often try to steal it from other hives. This begins an aggressive behavior known as robbing.
  • Not only are robbing bees aggressive, but the bees being robbed become aggressive defenders of their stores. This often results in a cloud of bees around a hive, especially in the fall.
  • Look carefully. If robbing is going on, you will see bees fighting with each other at the hive entrance. The ground in front of the hive may be littered with dead honey bees.
  • The fighting bees release an alarm pheromone—an odor that warns other bees of the danger. The alarm pheromone makes other honey bees aggressive—more fighting means more pheromone is released which means more bees join the fray. The situation can escalate quickly.
  • Once the alarm pheromone has aroused the bees, you and your pets and your neighbors are fair game as well.
  • The odor of dead bees and the scent of honey being robbed attract other predators. Before long, wasps and yellow jackets have arrived on the scene to collect both meat and honey. This means more fighting and more alarm pheromone. What a mess.
  • Honey bees and wasps are not the only creatures preparing for winter. Colonies in the fall may be attacked by raccoons, opossums, or skunks. Regular visits by any creature—including a beekeeper—may make honey bees more aggressive.
  • Rainy weather, especially when it comes with heat and high humidity, makes bees cranky as well. During the “dog days of summer” no amount of fanning helps evaporate the nectar or cool the hive.

Of course, other factors can produce an aggressive hive. If the queen was superseded by a queen with more aggressive or Africanized genes, that could be the source of the problem. This is unlikely, however. More often than not aggressive behavior is merely a part of the cyclic nature of honey bee colonies.

Rusty

Comments

Greg
Reply

I totally agree. Here in the Northwest, by the middle of July we begin our blackberry flow. The bees love it and the honey is spectacular (apparently it’s 17% sugar to water in the nectar–very high). Then August rolls around . . . our most beautiful, hot sunny month up here, but there ain’t no forage for the bees. They do tend to get a little mean. There was also a time before summer officially set in, about two weeks when there wasn’t much available, and we experienced the same thing. Right now it’s so close to autumn for us, but the dandelions are coming on strong. Our bees are really happy right now, even if winter is about to set in.

Diann
Reply

In Virginia, there are a number of beekeepers who very recently are experiencing something never before seen, or witnessed by long-time beekeepers. The honeybees are fighting with other honeybees (from the same hive) in midair. And we’re seeing many, many dead bees on the ground immediately in front of the hives. Hive robbing was the first suspicion, but has been ruled out as the cause. I am wondering if weather warfare experimentation by the US Govt. may be the root cause. We’ve just had a very peculiar rainstorm, resembling weather/rain manipulation . . . there weren’t dead bees before the rain, only afterward. So perhaps this is an unexpected response to the ELF waves used.

Jim
Reply

The term “aggressive” should never be used in regard to bees of any type.
Honey Bees certainly can be “defensive”, but never “aggressive”.
All types of bees (honey, bumble, others) defend their colony and nest site, but never attack.

Robbing behavior is a sneaky sort of activity, so it is not aggression either.
Robbers may come en masse to a weak or exposed honey store, but individual bees are not interested in a fight, they merely are foraging, and willing to sneak and steal.

“Aggressive defenders”? Try “alert defenders” or “intense defenders”.

Even Africanized bees are merely much more defensive than European Honey bees, and will not attack unprovoked.

Tamara
Reply

Jim, Sorry, but I was just attacked aggressively by one of my honey bees. I wasn’t near the hive, I did nothing to provoke it, it simply flew at me and landed on my head, I remained calm and it stung me. The same thing happened to my husband twice this week. We’re experienced beekeepers and have never had this happen. Until now I would and have said the same thing you did. After this experience, I can’t agree, these bees were aggressive and they did attack.

Brian
Reply

I have to agree with you, Tamara, and disagree with Jim. My wife and I moved into a house about a month ago. The previous owners were beekeepers and had moved the hive about 3 days prior to us moving in. From what I was told, they moved them off to the country. Several bees were left behind. We were aggressively attacked by the bees while trying to move into our house. We finally had to spray the leftover bees as we were told they would die regardless without their queen and hive.

Our new neighbors are also beekeepers and are the ones who got the previous owners of our home into beekeeping. The neighbor was attempting to prepare for harvesting the honey and something obviously set them off. For the past two days I have been aggressively attacked by his bees which are on the very back corner of his property farthest from me. All I was trying to do was water my front yard. I can’t even get out there to mow. The company he has mow his yard had to do it with one hand on the mower and the other hand flailing in the air trying to keep the bees off of them.

My neighbor mentioned that he has never seen them act like this in all of his years of beekeeping. Several of the neighbors have called the city to report my neighbor because they are also being attacked. Fortunately for my wife, our 4-month-old, and myself, all three of his hives are being relocated out to the country. I would assume things will die down once the bees left behind die off. My point being, bees can and do attack aggressively unprovoked as I am living proof. Both myself, the individual who had to endure the bees while installing our cable, and the wife of the beekeeper were all stung by the aggressive bees. The wife was stung multiple times while out on her front sidewalk trying to peek down the driveway at the angered bees a good 130′ or so from the hive. BEE AGRESSIVE B-E-E AGRESSIVE.

Rusty
Reply

Wow, interesting story. I’m going to assume that you are in a part of the country that has been affected by the intense heat. I believe that the nectar dearth caused by the lack of water had a lot to do with the bees being aggressive. Nevertheless, aggressiveness is the one thing that worries me about suburban beekeeping—you never know what will set them off and who will be around when it happens. It is scary.

The only thing I disagree with is that I think you were probably stung by your neighbor’s bees instead of the individuals left behind from the former homeowner. Honey bees defend their home, brood, and honey stores and when that is gone, there is nothing left to defend. Nevertheless, it is a minor issue and not the point here.

I appreciate that you wrote to let us know what happened and, yes, I believe you. Several years ago, after keeping bees year after year with no problem, I suddenly had one hive whose bees would attack anything in sight—including my husband. We ending up re-queening the hive, but I don’t know if that cured it—or if time cured it—but the aggressiveness eventually went away. But for that period of time they were definitely B-e-e Aggressive.

Phillip

“Nevertheless, aggressiveness is the one thing that worries me about suburban beekeeping — you never know what will set them off and who will be around when it happens. It is scary.”

Having recently moved my hives from my urban (slightly suburban) backyard so as to maintain the peace with my neighbours — and to maintain my peace of mind — I have to agree with this one. 98% of the time, my bees were not a problem for anyone. But I’ve seen my bees chase after my neighbours who were nowhere close to the hives. If I had neighbours with small children playing in their kiddie pools, that kind of thing would be a nightmare. Most recently some of my bees got caught in the long hair of one of my neighbours and she freaked out as they buzzed and burrowed into her scalp. Which I can understand. Every day that I kept the bees in my backyard after that was nothing but stress.

I don’t discourage urban or suburban beekeeping. I think it can be done safely under some circumstances. But as with many aspects of beekeeping, urban or backyard beekeeping has been idealized so much that many novices don’t really know what they’re getting into, and neither do their neighbours.

Rusty

Excellent points, Phillip. It’s helpful to hear from people who’ve been there. I know how hard you worked to keep your bees in line but you still ended up moving them, which was the right thing to do. Thanks for writing.

Rusty
Reply

Jim,

Technically, I agree with what you say. Bees are defensive not aggressive. However, the question I am frequently asked–and the one I’m answering here–is “why do honey bees become aggressive?” From the point of view of the person asking the question, the bees appear aggressive. It is a word people use to describe what they are seeing.

When a new beekeeper is being chased by a cloud of bees as he is running from his hive he is the one who feels defensive–and he believes the bees are being aggressive. I can certainly understand that.

Even our legal system has a problem separating defensiveness from aggression. If you are relieved of your wallet by a pickpocket on the streets of New York and you turn around and kill the guy, are being defensive? Or have you crossed the line into aggression?

You can say “aggressor” is an anthropormorphic term, but so is “defender.” I believe it is more important to understand “the why of it” than the name of it. I’ve tried to explain some of the reasons honey bees may behave in this manner–a manner frequently described as “aggressive.” You can call it anything you like.

Mike
Reply

We have several honey bee hives here in east central Florida. We have a combination of wild honey bees (caught while swarming) and some purchased European bees. It is March here and we have just had several swarms. There is plenty of room in the hives and the orange blossoms are in bloom and the bees are producing honey. There seems to be plenty of food. While trying to move a swarm from the swarm hive to a regular hive the bees became very aggressive (even with smoke). It has been 5 hours since the move was made and you still can’t even go within 100 yards of the hives or the bees will chase you relentlessly. One thing I do know is that a killed bee will give off a scent that makes the others aggressive or defensive, whatever term you choose. Even without the bees being riled up we have been attacked and stung when walking about 30 yards away from the hives. I was thinking maybe these bees have become Africanized.

Rusty
Reply

Mike,

Based on your description I would say there is a good chance the bees you caught are Africanized. Normally, a swarm of European honey bees is extremely docile when they are swarming. I have caught swarms a number of times with no protective gear whatsoever. The swarming bees are defending no brood which probably accounts, at least in part, for their docile nature.

Africanized bees, on the other hand, can be quite nasty when swarming and will chase long distances and attack. Since you are right in the heart of Africanized bee territory, you need to be extremely careful. You should probably destroy this swarm before the drones have a chance to mate with any of your virgin queens and produce more Africanized bees.

Mike
Reply

Rusty:
The swarms appear to originate from our hives, but we can’t be sure. They swarm around our hives and then mass in our orange trees that surround the hives. They are usually in a tree within 10 to 15 yards of our hives. Is there a way to identify Africanized bees? If we need to destroy the bees, what is the best method, so as not to damage the hives and foundations. We have also ordered three new Italian queens and bees that should be here around the middle of May.

Rusty
Reply

Mike,

I honestly don’t like the sound of these bees. They may be trying to rob or usurp (physically take over) your other hives. There is no way to tell if they are Africanized short of sending them to a laboratory.

Whether they are Africanized or not, they sound way too aggressive and I think you should consider destroying them. If you can get close enough too them without endangering yourself, spraying them with soapy water will kill them. Soapy water interferes with their ability to breathe, but the soap leaves no harmful residue on anything.

You need to be careful, though. This is not going to make them happy and it may take a few minutes or longer to work, depending how well you can soak them. Take careful precautions to protect yourself and others in the area.

Also, let me know what happens. You’re making me anxious!

Mike
Reply

Thanks Rusty:
I may try to take one down to the Ag Center run by the University of Florida before destroying them. See what they can tell me.

Donna K
Reply

We caught a swarm about 2 weeks ago that just seem to be really nasty. We can’t even fill the front feeders for them without them defending their hive and flying at you. They will continue to chase me back to my yard–even after I’m done working with them. It is a big swarm, and we have 4 other hives that are quite docile. Our boxes are close enough to the yard that I’m concerned that visitors might get stung. I was out in the yard and hours later, one kept flying at my face. I don’t have that problem with the other bees.
Should we keep or get rid of this box?

Rusty
Reply

I wouldn’t think a swarm caught only two weeks ago would be that defensive. By now they have a nest and brood to defend, but to have them chase you is unsettling. I had one hive like that a few years ago. I ended up re-queening the hive and then the problem went away.

I don’t know where you are writing from so I don’t know if Africanized bees are a problem in your area. If not, it may just be the queen’s genetics–some are more aggressive than others.

I think what you do is a matter of how comfortable (or uncomfortable) you are with the neighbor situation. If they keep flying at you long after you’ve worked them, and you’re in an area with other people, I would either get rid of them or re-queen the hive to get rid of those genes. Perhaps you could just destroy the current queen and add a queen cell from one of your other hives.

You will have to wait a while for the re-queening method to work, but it’s a good alternative if you think you can hold out for a few weeks.

Ed Martin
Reply

We recently received packaged bees with a clipped and marked queen. We introduced the bees to their new hive without ever having to use smoke or any protective gear. Then suddenly this week, they have become very defensive to the point we now have to don protective gear even to replace the feeder. Nectar flow is very low right now and we did open the hive long enough to verify the queen is laying. Wow they got extremely defensive. Thinking possibly that they were being attacked by robbers, we have put in the entrance reducer to make it easier for them to defend. We have never had a new hive become this defensive and would appreciate any ideas why this is occuring and what if anything we should do. Fortunatley the hive is somewhat isolated from the house but we can’t even walk within 30 yards of the hive without bees becoming defensive. Please help if you can.

Rusty
Reply

Ed,

It would be normal for bees to be calm during installation since they have no brood or stores to defend, and then to be more aggressive as brood was being raised. That was my first thought anyway. But if they are following you 30 yards out, they are very aggressive indeed.

This is what I would do: Since packaged bees and their caged queen are usually entirely unrelated, I would wait until the queen’s brood starts to take over the hive. The bees that came with the package should all be dead in four to six weeks, and you will be left with only the progeny of the new queen. If all goes well, that progeny will have a more “normal” temperament. I think that will cure the problem if you can hang on for that long.

Let me know how this turn out; I’m curious.

Vickie
Reply

I am a new beekeeper in So Cal. I have two established hives, a hive that has been on my property for over a year from my beekeeper friend that got me interested in these wonderful creatures, and a new hive that I just queened. Everyone has been very kind and docile until I borrowed a brood frame to start my new hive. WOW – not so nice anymore. I’ve had bees chase, bump and sting. I’ve read EHB will subside after about 3-4 hours, but AHB keep it up for days. Four bees even pinned my daughter in the house. Every time she came to the glass doors, they would bee right there buzzing at the glass. I’ve heard they don’t like loud noises. I had a hedge clipper out this weekend and right away 2-3 were in my face. I had to dress in my bee suit to finish my pruning. I did get stung before I put on my suit. Can they tell you’ve been hit?

I had to relocate a hive (at night). How long before they stop swarming the old existing area?

This is a great blog.

Rusty
Reply

Vickie,

It’s funny, but right now this is the most frequent question I’m hearing. And I’ve had the same problem. My own bees, normally as gentle as can be, have been warning me off for two or three weeks, and I get stung just minding my own business.

I can’t tell you for sure why it happens, but I know it happens every year. It may be a combination of things, including fluctuations in nectar sources (or nectar dearths), the change in day length (they just went from getting longer to getting shorter), higher humidity in some areas, a decrease in egg-laying (which occurs after the solstice), an increase in predators such as yellow jackets, an increase in robbing bees (seen more in late summer and fall), and a need to start ejecting drones.

Normally, I just stay clear of the hives until they calm down. It’s just a cyclic thing we have to deal with.

You asked about noise. They don’t like noise, and when they are in this aggressive state, they like it even less. My husband had trouble running the weedeater last weekend, and the lawnmower, even though these normally don’t cause a problem. Bees will swarm around the old hive area for several days after it’s removed. Some of those bees are probably from the colony that was there, and some are probably robbers trying to find the source of the smell. Eventually it will dissipate.

I’m sorry I can’t be more specific. I can only assure you I see it year after year and it does go away. During the other eleven months they will be sweet!

Vickie
Reply

Thank you Rusty. All is calm again. :0) big sigh!

Stephanie Runyon
Reply

I recently discovered that my purple martin house has turned into a honeybee hive. It is approximately 25 30 feet from our house. I am pleased that for the first time in 5 years my garden is doing great…largely due to these little guys. My concern is are they two close to my house?? I love the fact they are around doing their job but I am concerned since I have small children. They are very attracted to our salt water pool and I have seen 10-12 on the railing drinking. We do live in a heavily wooded area and our yard is in the open. Should I have them removed?? I will be sure to do in humanely and in a very environmentally friendly way.

Rusty
Reply

Hi Stephanie,

Honey bees generally do not sting unless they believe their home is threatened. Bees foraging or drinking are pretty benign and tend to mind their own business. It’s interesting they drink from your saltwater pool. Bees need both salt and water, so you’ve made it convenient for them!

Nevertheless, if you are concerned about having them near the house, I recommend calling a local beekeeper. A couple phone calls should locate one. Most beekeepers are happy to have the bees and will remove them for free, especially a colony that isn’t buried in the walls of your home. Don’t call a “pest control” company, as these folks will likely kill them.

Thanks for considering the bees in your decision. And thanks for writing.

Mary
Reply

Rusty

It is August 11 and I just assessed my two bee hives that I’ve had since April 2011. They have done great until now. There was no honey at all in the supers or in the brood box. I feel we are in a nectar dearth here in SC. So, I removed all my supers and started feeding 1:1 sugar water. Later in the day, I noticed the swarming around both hives and dead bees in front of the hives. Should I continue to feed them until the fall nectar flow starts? I’m worried they will starve if I don’t feed them. This is my 1st year beekeeping and it upsets me to think I could lose the hives.

Rusty
Reply

Mary,

What looks like swarming is honey robbing. The dead bees in front of the hive are the result of fighting. When bees attempt to rob another hive of its honey, the bees fight and many will die. Robbing occurs most often during a nectar dearth, so I’m sure that’s what you are seeing.

You should immediately reduce the entrances to one bee length. Maybe 3/4 of an inch or an inch. This will make it easier for the home bees to defend themselves. Also close any other entrances if you have any. You can continue to feed if you do it inside the hive. In other words, use some kind of internal feeder where other bees cannot get to it. Also, do not use any essential oils–just use plain sugar syrup. Bees from all over will smell the essential oils and try to rob that as well.

If you were in that extensive heat wave this summer, it is no wonder the bees didn’t put up much honey. The nectar-producing plants probably didn’t have enough water to supply a good crop of nectar. It was bad luck for many beekeepers. Also, since many hives are going to be short of honey, you can expect to see a lot of robbing.

If your queens weren’t injured and most of the bees are still alive you can probably save your hives if you continue to feed. Cross your fingers for a good fall flow. Keep your entrances small for the rest of the year. You didn’t mention pollen, but if there was no pollen stored you might want to give them a pollen substitute as well. They need pollen to raise young bees and that my be in short supply as well.

Let me know what happens.

Molly Tillotson
Reply

This is a really helpful site. I have had bees for six years and this is the first time I have had a hyper-alert hive for more than a month. I have one (of five) that is and has been really difficult to work this entire season. In every other way they seem OK. I don’t see signs of skunks or coons. I will try interior feeding and perhaps requeen before winter. Thanks a lot for this conversation.

Phillip
Reply

Sorry to be a comment hog (this may be my 3rd or 4th comment today), but a lot of what you outline in the post makes sense. We’re not having a nectar dearth. We’ve had a weird summer with everything growing and blooming about two months later than usual, and I don’t see much robbing going on. But I robbed from the bees yesterday, taking about 3 frames of honey from one of the hives, and the bees went into an instant hissy fit. I should have closed up shop and got out of Dodge instead of hanging out to finish the job without any smoke to disguise my manly musk. For the rest of the day and all of today, those bees have been out to get me. I even saw my next door neighbour getting chased (not good). I’ve never seen the bees so riled up. I won’t do that again. I’m not going near them for the rest of the week. Hopefully they’ll forget about me.

The other factor that could be setting them off is the weather. The “dog days of summer” is exactly what we’re going through. The sky clouded over today but it’s still hot and humid and tomorrow we’re getting buckets of rain on top of it all. Even with a ventilator rim and a screened inner cover, the bees are constantly fanning around the hive entrance. I want to put a screened bottom board on the hive to help them out, but I don’t want to rile them up even more.

Most of the time I love having bees, but at times like this I wonder, “Why am I doing this again?”

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

I’m not worried about a comment hog, although I would like a picture. I am worried about Kansas. Today I mentioned “we’re not in Kansas any more” and you mentioned getting the h- “out of Dodge.” I wonder if I have any readers in Kansas and if they are offended. I hope I do and they’re not.

Breanne Graham
Reply

Glad I found this site too. My normally sweet bees are acting very aggressively. I was stung 8 times yesterday doing a hive inspection, and once this morning while walking by the hive. I was worried that they might be so agitated that they would abscond this late in the year. But if other people are experiencing the same thing it must be a combination of factors. I also assume that if they are defending the hive this aggressively, they probably won’t want to leave it.

Cheryl Tustin
Reply

We live in Garnet Valley, Pa near Chadds Ford. We have 2 hives . . . one established and thriving and the other is new this spring and seems to be in trouble. The new hive queen was a Russian queen and we bought the bees from Ohio. Both hives looked great in August and then we checked them again about 1 week ago. One hive was full of brood and honey but unfortunately, the other hive was very light, hardly any honey, no brood and we could not locate the queen which we have always been able to do in the past.

The hive has been very aggressive and we have had bees actively go after us near the house (our hives are in the back yard . . . we have about an acre and a half) which we have never seen them do before. We have been feeding them a 2 to 1 mixture of sugar for the last week and they have continued to be aggressive. I have had to wear my suit and gloves to feed them which is unusual even in the fall.

I talked to someone from the Pa beekeepers association who recommended to add the problem hive to the established hive that has good stores of honey. I was worried that they may fight and we may have 2 hive failures . . . he said to separate the newly introduced supers from the other hive with a piece of newspaper with a hole in it to slow down the transfer of bees into the hive. Someone else suggested to remove a frame of honey from the stable hive and add it to the other hive. I was also wondering if we could reintroduce a new queen and if any queens would be available locally. Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

Rusty
Reply

Cheryl,

All the things you noticed are characteristics of a queenless hive, including aggression, no brood, and (sometimes) low honey supplies. This time of year it will be hard to find a queen, and even if you did, the colony doesn’t hive time to build up a cluster of bees for winter.

I agree with the beekeeper who recommended combining the weak hive with the strong one. The newspaper method works well, except I would recommend using a small slit (or no opening at all) rather than a hole because a hole may combine them too fast. Here’s a post with more tips on combining with newspaper.

Ruby
Reply

My son has 2 bee hives, got them last year. I cannot be outside right now because the bees keep chasing me in the house. It is spring and I have fruit trees blooming but the bees do not seem to be collecting any nectar. Do you have any idea why the bees keep buzzing us?

Rusty
Reply

Ruby,

Are the hives close to the house? Usually honey bees aren’t very aggressive in the early spring, so it’s hard to say. Have you been stung or are they just casing the area? They may just be looking for food, checking out everything in the area. You don’t say what kind of fruit trees you have, but some are not very attractive to honey bees–pears for example.

My guess is that the bees haven’t yet found a really satisfying source of food. When they do they will get busy with that and leave you alone. I think you will see a change soon. Write and let me know if that’s what happens. I’m curious.

Ruby
Reply

The hives are close to the house, but last year I had no problems. I have not been stung, they just buzz around my head and they dive bomb my husband. I have plum trees blooming, flowering almond trees blooming and forsythia blooming, the apple tree will be blooming soon. All around the neighborhood there are Bradford pears blooming, and a lot of trees with pink blossoms, do not know what kind of trees they are.

They are getting water from the pond.

My son has been working long hours and has not had time to put on the supers, could that have anything to do with it? He checked one hive and said there was still a lot of honey in it and a lot of brood.

Rusty
Reply

Ruby,

I don’t think the lack of supers would cause that behavior. Right now my bees are flying around randomly and seemingly without purpose, but we have very little in bloom here. I’ve seen the bees in the grass, on the fence posts, and my dog has been chasing them but they haven’t been chasing us. I was going to suggest that perhaps they are queenless, but if your son sees lots of brood, that’s probably not it either. Maybe he should check the other one and see if it has a queen.

I’ve rarely seen aggressive bees this time of year, it usually happens in the fall. Readers? Does anyone have an answer for Ruby?

Ruby
Reply

Rusty, we worked outside Saturday with no problems (putting up a storage shed). Sunday the bees starting buzzing again. My son will be checking the other hive as soon as he stops working 12 hours a day. He did make the opening to the hive larger, the bees were hanging outside trying to cool off.

Rusty
Reply

Ruby,

Thanks for keeping me posted . . . interesting situation.

Ruby

Rusty, the hives swarmed on Saturday. New hives so we did not think they would swarm. Found people to take the two swarms. Maybe that is why the bees were aggressive, or maybe it has something to do with the crazy weather. Sunday was 81 here in Albuquerque, NM and now it is snowing.

Rusty

Ruby,

They both swarmed on Saturday? Wow, I’m really surprised because I didn’t think that was the problem . . . but maybe I should have. If you caught both swarms that is also amazing. Since I’ve been following this thread, two other beekeepers have written with similar symptoms so now I will tell them to prepare for swarming. I have never found bees to be aggressive before a swarm, but I learn something new every day. Thanks so much for sharing with me. Keep me posted about whether the remaining bees become more docile or if they maintain that mean streak.

Brian Shelton
Reply

I have one hive. Last year I could go and sit at the front corner of the hive and watch them. This year I had to change the bottom hive boxes. The bees remained defensive for hours and even two days later one met me before I made it to the car and attempted to sting my head. Everything is blooming and I’m sure they aren’t Africanized. I use to be able to walk past my hive without thinking anything about it. My hive is only about 50 feet from the house so I can watch them. I have had them two years and this is the first time they have been, let’s say, prolonged defensive. Thanks for any advice.

Rusty
Reply

Brian,

A lot of people are complaining about aggressiveness in their bees this spring, which is unusual. I’m beginning to wonder if it has something to do with the abnormally warm weather so early in the year. I don’t know where you are writing from so I don’t know if you’ve been affected by the warm temperatures. I am wondering if the flowers are blooming but producing smaller amounts of nectar than usual . . . or something along that line. I just don’t know.

I suspect your bees will calm down soon, that this is just a passing phase. We are having our normal wet and cold spring here in the Pacific Northwest and my bees are acting just like they always do. I really think the aggressiveness is weather related, but I don’t know why or how. I’m interested to know if your bees calm down as the weather pattern returns to normal. Let me know if they do. Also, if you are not in the unusual temperature zone, let me know that as well. Thanks.

Sergey
Reply

I am glad I found this site. I am in Santa Monica, CA. I have two beehives close to the house. Until recently, bees did not bother us at all. I could sit just next to the hive to watch them. I noticed that they got agitated progressively more after each hive inspection this spring. First, it took them longer to calm down. Now they dedicated a few bees to patrol our back door, so we could not use our backyard. After a few days, they normally release a “blockade”, but it looks like it’s getting worse. Our local beekeepers all agree that I need to re-queen because of the possibility that the bees are Africanized (in fact,they look smaller than normal bees). So, to queen or not to queen? Sergey

Rusty
Reply

Sergey,

It is really hard to tell at a distance. As I said in the post, honey bee aggression varies throughout the year and it varies from queen to queen. Also what one person considers overly aggressive may be reasonably aggressive to someone else. If your weather is hot and humid the behavior may be worse than when it is cooler and less humid. I’m guessing that if you’ve co-existed with these bees in your backyard for the past few weeks, they are not Africanized. Rather than a few bees coming after you, dozens would be after you. But only you can decide how much of the aggressive behavior you are willing to put up with.

If it were me, I’d probably wait to see if they swarm and to see if the behavior subsides. Then again, I don’t have my bees close to the house. Also, I’m not in California. If multiple local beekeepers are suggesting that you re-queen perhaps you should listen to them. You might be more relaxed in any case.

Sergey
Reply

Rusty,

Many thanks for quick response. Unfortunately, we are in very urban area with neighbors etc. If I would have just a little bit more space, I would consider bees behavior as acceptable. The thing about these bees – they were VERY neglected in the past, they are survivors. I sort of adopted them. They are very healthy, prolific and deliver a lot of honey. They used to be gentle – I had my morning tea in the garden just 10 feet away from the back of the beehive.

I feel, with all these bee problems in US, I want to keep these survivors to keep healthy and strong bees in the area. Re-queening means that I will lose this somehow unique stock… I am really reluctant to do so. Thus, I am looking for some non-traditional solutions to be in peace with my bees. Also, it seems to me, there are some trigger(s) which switch them into “attacking” . . . in my opinion, it is little bit exceeding the defense mode. My current theory is that it is the smoke – they hated it! I tried sugary water, but it is not enough.

Partially, the problem is that I an a novice in bee the business (6 mo) and probably the bees feel my nervousness, but I guess they misread it – I’m just afraid to damage them. So, any advice on how to provoke them less would be highly appreciated.

By the way, weather, no we had actually quite cold weather, colder than normal. We had one rain – these crazy workaholics just flew into the rain, they did not stop… It seems to me they have plenty of honey and nectar/pollen supply, they are not searching for the food. Hive has a double-bottom with mesh screen and top ventilation. They are not overheated. They also have plenty of space, an empty super has been added during the last inspection a few days ago. Varroa count is 20/day.

Gail
Reply

I am new to beekeeping and have ordered 2 new hives for this spring in Utah. I was considering doing some urban beekeeping (I only have 1/2 an acre and neighbors on 3 of 4 sides of my property, road on the fourth side with kids walking to school. After reading all the posts here I am wondering if they will become a nuisance to my neighbors and if I have enough space as a buffer between humans and bees. I can place them further out away from town, but I was hoping to benefit from some pollination in my garden this year. Does anyone with experience want to offer me some advice?

Rusty
Reply

Gail,

Aggressiveness in bees comes and goes as I mentioned in this post. You can have bees for years in a urban setting and never have problems. On the other hand, it doesn’t take them long to cause trouble if for some reason they feel cranky. You don’t want to cause harm to others or get yourself sued, so I would recommend that you err on the side of caution. Still, it’s an individual call and you know your circumstances better than anyone else.

If any of you urban beekeepers have some advice for Gail, please write in. Also, Gail, read my post about Brushy Mountain’s urban beekeeping webinar. It discusses some of the urban issues. Brushy Mountain may still have that webinar available for you to hear.

Jeremy
Reply

Are the bees that remain in the hive after swarming usually extremely defensive for several days or until it re-queens? I have Carnolians and was planning to split my hives yesterday; however, one of the hives swarmed before I could make the split. I successfully captured the swarm but the bees from the original hive are very defensive. Our back yard is off limits and the hive is 200 ft from the house; as soon as someone goes out the bees sting. I live in WV and I don’t think Africanized bees are an issue here.

Rusty
Reply

Jeremy,

Whenever bees are queenless they can get defensive. After a swarm, the remaining bees are protecting their hive, their brood, and their virgin queen. They are short on foragers, short staffed in general, and are protecting everything they have left with zeal. Give them a week or two and they should calm down.

Sergey
Reply

“Aggressive bees” update.
My bees finally returned more or less to normal, but still sensitive. It looks like they show aggressiveness for 3-4 days after beehive inspection/disturbance. For 3-4 days they just patrol our back door non-stop all day. After that, they do release the “blockade” but visit backdoor from time to time. Usually only 3-4 bees involved. My observation on this is that these bees (who patrols) are programmed to “attack” – they just looking for occasion. My current theory is that during the hive invasion, some bees switched into “attacking” mode and continues to be in the same mode when danger is over for couple of days (until dies?). After a few days they ether just forget about their mission or, may be just died… (after attack?). To minimize the aggressiveness, I decided to do the following: (1)minimize invasion into beehive (less frequent and less invasive if possible); (2) minimize or eliminate at all the smoke (have smoker nearby just in case); (3) to see if I could create artificial barrier between beehive and backyard – I am thinking about sort of “curtains” made out of green plastic mesh/screen material – to imitate bushes… sort of; (4) bees on mission – eliminate at the backdoor (no damage to the body) in hope that my theory is correct and there are only few bees have been reprogrammed (this approach would not help if beehive sent new bees to patrol). It is really sad to even think about destroying bees, but I think, it is less damage than complete redoing the colony (change queen). Any your comments, suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

On urban beekeeping. City of Santa Monica (CA) recently established rules for beekeeping. I think, they are very reasonable. There is some guideline regarding beehive placement:
(1) Hives shall be located at least five feet from all property lines.
(2) Hive entrances shall face away from or parallel to the nearest property line(s).
(3) Hives must either be screened so that the bees must fly over a six-foot barrier, which may be vegetative, before leaving the property, or be placed at least eight-feet above the adjacent ground level.
They also required re-queening every 2 years, swarming control and that bees owner provides source of water.
http://www.qcode.us/codes/santamonica/index.php?topic=4-4_04-4_04_130&frames=on

Sergey
Reply

Update on my “aggressive” bees: I did beehive inspection last week. It was a huge difference. I was expecting my bees “usual” behavior (quite protective if not aggressive), but everything was much calmer this time. I did usual stuff. I think, the major difference was in myself – I was calmer and relaxed. Also, I decided to use a little bit smoke (against my previous decision) – I think I smoked entrance correctly this time – a few gentle puffs just inside the hive at the entrance and than wait. After inspection I was expecting my bees usual patrol of the backdoor for 3 days, but, no – no patrol at all. Bees behaved themselves – very busy and just do not pay attention to me.

From another hand, totally unrelated to my bees, my neighbor did his bees inspection and his bees attacked me in garage quite far away from his place (no casualties so far). Interestingly, they were not interested at all in my wife – I think, they do not like my smell. Everything is balanced.

I am so glad that I did not follow the extreme recommendations to re-queen. Rusty, many thanks for your suggestion to wait and to not do anything extreme – you were absolutely right!

Rusty
Reply

Excellent! I’m glad it worked out.

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