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.

Heidi
Reply

We have had bees for 3 years and lost the last ones in a hard winter. Our new hives came with queens from Florida. We have never experienced a hive quite like this one. We starting getting attacked on a daily basis throughout the day as far as 120′ from the hives. They come fast and hard, hitting mostly around the neck up until they sting you. They than start biting.

So far 3 others that bought bees from this person are having the same issues. I can not garden except in the early morning and later at night. We have re-queened a couple of days ago but never experienced anything like this. They are a very active hive, not over-crowded, have put up more honey by early June than our last two years 2 hives did at the end of the year. I think they are Africanized and yes they do seek you out when not even close to the hive. We can’t allow anyone over until they settle down. They go after everyone.

Any ideas? Any one else having this issue?

Rusty
Reply

Heidi,

I’m really not surprised to hear this. Zillions of Africanized bees live in the southern states and are moving further north. If the queen producer used open mating techniques, and most do, the chance of getting Africanized genes is large. Also, the Africanized bees seem to be good honey producers, so the pattern fits. As soon as the current population is replaced with progeny from your new queens, things should calm down.

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.

Tandy
Reply

I am a beekeeper in Southeastern Wisconsin. We have had an unusually mild winter and a very warm spring. I went out to check our hives today (we have 5) and they were extremely agitated. I was only able to check one frame of one hive before I was warned out of the area. I am happy to hear I am not the only one who is dealing with this unusual bee behavior, however, I don’t know what to do! The frame I saw had lots of brood, and looked healthy. My partner checked the hives a few weeks ago and they weren’t as mean to him. I guess we will give them some time and space and see what happens. It is a fenced area, but there are lots of people around. I am concerned about safety and right now I am not looking forward to an entire season with these bees! Thanks for this thread, I will keep checking to see what other folks are doing and keep you posted about the behavior of our bees.

Sergey
Reply

I am just curious if some global Earth physical conditions like sun activity (geomagnetic storm), moon phase (gravity waves), some seasonal (?) pollution (time for pesticides?) etc may affect bees behavior? Rusty’s idea about unusual warm weather did not explain my problems because we, actually, have relatively (for So Cal) cold spring.

S.Mc
Reply

Reading through this discussion has made me quite nervous. Beekeeping will be a new endeavor for me this year. I’ll be bringing two hives to my farm in about a month and was planning on placing them at the edge of my large yard. But these comments have made me fear for the safety of others, particularly friends with allergies and the old man that mows the grass. I have more remote areas that would work but I’d have to walk a long way to get there. Any advice?

Rusty
Reply

Most beehives most of the time create no problem for people, pets, or livestock in the area. In fact, you can go for years with no aggressive tenancies at all. Then one day, for no reason that you can see, your bees are suddenly buzzing you, stinging the local dog, or chasing the neighbor off his front yard. These episodes usually last from a few days to a few weeks, and things usually go back to normal afterwards.

However, those periods can be terrifying for those afraid of bees. In my opinion, it is best to keep them away from neighbors or from places where other people (the postman, meter reader, delivery person, door-to-door salesperson, children) may become intimidated.

You don’t want your neighbors complaining about you or filing a lawsuit, so even if you are within the guidelines established by your community, I think it’s best to tuck your bees further away and out of sight (if possible).

Rick
Reply

Rusty,

You seem to have good knowledge on aggressive/defensive bees. We are not in AHB territory, we have three hives that are all derivatives of one hive. We did have a colony collapse three years ago, not due to mites or chemicals. The hive became over-heated and the comb separated and smothered the brood.

Last year we had a bee expert come and evaluate the bees. He was very happy with the population: docile, high production, and very good quality.

However the hives were built by my father-in-law several years ago when he would capture feral hives for people. The hives are just an open box so it is nearly impossible to rob them without destroying much of the colony. So our bee expert started incorporating brood chamber and foundations. The last visit was very bad. The bees got so bad they chased him and anyone around for 200+ yard. They were wound up for more than a week, this was in fall. This spring it appears for the most part the hives are calm but we have rogue bees defending certain quadrants.

My wife got stung yesterday and my father-in-law got chased some 100 yard from the hive. I am not a beekeeper that is why I tried to get a professional, but if this behavior continues I will have to destroy these bees and I don’t want to. I recognize the bee problem CCC with mites and chemicals and I like and need the pollinators.

Any advice? Are they rogue and will they die off?

Rusty
Reply

Rick,

Any number of things can cause your bees to go through a period when they are feisty and defensive. This year has been particularly bad for some reason, and I’m wondering if it isn’t due to unusual weather patterns.

My opinion is that they will calm down in a while. It could be a week or three . . . I don’t really know. But this behavior is usually temporary caused by some condition like the loss of a queen, predators (wasps and such) bothering the hives, unusual weather, loud noises, lack of good forage, or perhaps air pressure. It’s impossible to say.

If a hive remains aggressive for a long while, beekeepers often take out the queen and put in a new one. Then, after a few weeks, the offspring will be the progeny of the new queen with a different genetic makeup. If the bees remain feisty and you want to keep the hives, a beekeeper could do this for you. You would probably have to purchase the queens, unless you have a beekeeper friend who would give them to you.

Other than that, it is up to you how much irritation you want to put up with in exchange for the pollination the bees provide. In any case, do not destroy the hives. Call your beekeeper or another one and donate them. From your description, they sound normal to me, and I’m sure there’s a beekeeper who would love to have them and who will come and take them away for free. Please do not kill them.

Sergey
Reply

Rick,

I was very concerned regarding aggressive behavior of my bees. I searched internet for answer… While I was searching and posting numerous posts at bee-sites, my bees calmed down and behave much nicer now. It looks like the story is the same: (1) feral decent very healthy and prolific bees and (2) bee inspection in accordance to numerous best beekeeping practice rules… I do find so many examples of such combination on the internet… and the same result – bees went crazy, aggressive, behaved not themselves…

I guess, they are sending a message: do not touch us, we are doing fine, do not interfere… Such message is difficult to consume for “classical” beekeeper… what about scheduled weekly inspection? There is ancient Roman law regarding bees – they are declared to be “wild animals” kept in captivity. Thus, once they escaped, they are wild animals and needs to be treated so (no former owner responsibility for the swarms in particular). I think, it is very wise approach and we need to adjust our beekeeping practices accordingly – do not treat bees as a slaves, but as independent creatures! I do not think that such approach would be welcomed by commercial beekeepers, but there are growing movement all around the globe for natural beekeeping, we have a freedom to chose the way for ourselves…and bees will choose their own way…

Mike
Reply

Sergey,

The silence that met your post regarding natural beekeeping was deafening – as well as an indication that you are correct in your statement that “I do not think that such approach would be welcomed by commercial beekeepers…” The natural beekeeping approach is also unwelcome by the army of amateur/hobbyist beekeepers who seem addicted to the practice of continually disrupting the harmony of their hives by incessant manipulation and inspection of the hive. How content and healthy would we humans be if we were constantly subjected to smoke, the roofs of our homes were routinely and repeatedly removed, and the furniture rearranged with each invasion? We would not be content and healthy, and the bees are showing us worldwide that they are not content and happy with it either. I believe that the future health and well being of the honey bee lies in the hands of all beekeepers, but a change in beekeeper attitude will be required. Until beekeepers embrace the concept of becoming bee guardians and relinquish the role of being bee owners, manipulators and orchestrators, I believe the honeybee will continue its struggle to survive.

For anyone wanting to learn more about natural beekeeping, I highly recommend reading “Beekeeping For All” by Abbé Émile Warré. Also, the short book (11 pages) “Beekeeping: natural, simple and successful,” by Johann Thür, is very enlightening. Check the following link for a PDF version of Thür’s book. http://www.users.callnetuk.com/~heaf/thur.pdf
by Johann Thür, Beekeeper

Mike

Rusty,

That was a very interesting post, but it doesn’t even come close to addressing the point of my post above: doing what is best for the bee. Per my references, “Beekeeping For All,” and the article by Johann Thür, with rare exception, yes, I consider myself a natural beekeeper. To imply that any diversion from what would be natural for a bee (harvesting, plastic hive parts, the act of beekeeping itself) detracts from the “naturalness,” is like saying that one is not as human if he has an artificial knee. Even in a natural setting, hives are harvested (bears, skunks, etc.) and bees will build their hives in artificial structures of all kinds (houses, BBQ grills, etc.) While there are degrees of naturalness in any biological construct, generally, the further away from what is natural that one gets, the further away from “ideal” for that construct one gets. So, if the beekeeper’s goal is maximum honey production through hive manipulation, as is the intention of Langstroth hive design, it will be done at the expense of the honey bee. Is that wrong? Well, as you say, how one keeps bees is determined by one’s goals in keeping them. My goal is to provide my hive with an environment as close to “natural” as possible, maximizing the health and contentment of the bees, with little regard to the amount of honey the hive produces. I feel that it is important that every beekeeper realize that other goals are likely to be in conflict with the bee’s best interest.

Rusty

Mike,

If I get an artificial knee, it is because I made the decision myself. When you keep bees, you are making decisions for them. Big difference, but a minor point.

You keep talking about honey production. Sure I take some once in a while, but my bees are going into winter with three deeps brimming with honey. Are yours? And of the honey I already took off, I hold most of it until spring just in case I have to give it back. I don’t see what your beef is here.

Here, try this one: “Let the bee be bees” Really?

Rick
Reply

Rusty,

Some additional information. I live in West TN and my beekeeper whom I spoke to today assured me he will not be deterred by his previous experience and promises to get here in the next few days to rob them which he thinks could be the problem. In talking he said he has seen a very weird trend. He tends many hives and one of his own, which has been the gentlest hive he knows, has just turned “aggressive/defensive.” He has trouble getting to his car in the middle of the day. I told him about your site and he is interested. He also has another hive about 12 miles away that is doing the same thing. He said we have had a huge increase in honey production in the early spring followed by a dramatic drop off. The warm spring caused a lot of the flowers to bloom early and now there is break between early spring bloomers and early summer bloomers. Maybe that is the problem (clover has ceased blooming as we are in a pronged dry period).

Rusty
Reply

Rick,

A nectar dearth is a common cause of aggressiveness. If you are indeed in a lull between early spring flow and early summer flow, that could do it.

Jon
Reply

Rusty – thanks for all the great info on this page. My hive was also extremely aggressive/defensive yesterday to the point where I felt I had no choice but to destroy the colony. I feel terrible about that decision but at the time didn’t see any other option. This is really long as I want to give all the details but I’d appreciate any feedback on if this was normal bee behavior. Here’s what happened.

I’m just north of Dallas, TX. I have a top bar hive on the side of the house next to an 8 foot tall wood fence. I’ve had the bees for one year now and have not had any issues with them up to this point. There was a dearth toward the end of last summer and I fed them well over the winter to ensure they had stores. The winter was very mild here, and now things are blooming and the bees seemed very happy and I could see them bringing in pollen on a daily basis and thus figured they were building honey stores as well.

Yesterday (April 16, 2012), I opened up the hive at about 11:30am with calm sunny weather, temp was probably in the upper 60’s or low 70’s F. It had rained over the weekend. The hive is shaded between the house and fence which was intentional on my part as summer temps will often stay above 100*F here and I didn’t want to chance the comb melting off the top bars. This may have contributed as the front of the hive didn’t have direct sun, thus maybe not as many bees were out foraging.

I removed the first few empty top bars with no problem, working from the outside to the middle. As I removed one frame at a time for inspection and got closer to the center of the hive the bees were a little agitated but nothing out of the ordinary. I’m almost positive I spotted a queen, but it wasn’t marked and thus wasn’t the original queen I purchased last spring. There were also multiple queen cells and a fair number of drone cells. The brood pattern was not spectacular – a couple combs had a decent pattern around the middle but none toward the edges, and the other combs had a spotty pattern. There was not nearly the honey I was expecting either – a little bit stored on the brood combs but no dedicated honey combs. Considering the amount of forage in the area and the activity level of the hive, I almost thought I would need to harvest some honey to prevent a swarm (as is recommended with TBH management).

Then, as I got to the last few frames, I noticed a peculiar smell. This later turned out to be due to wax moths. The TBH design I used has a screened bottom with a removable bottom board so that ventilation can be increased, but it turns out that space between the screen and the removable bottom was the perfect place for moths to breed.

That’s when things got nasty. As I inspected those last couple frames, the bees went berserk. I don’t have another word for it. They were landing on me and actively trying to sting. I was wearing white coveralls (the hardware store kind that you’d use in a messy work environment) with a hat and veil, heavy leather gloves, and tall boots with everything tucked in, but they were still able to make their way in to the veil. I got away from the hive, but they actually chased me to my back door (about 30 feet and around the corner of the house). The bees didn’t let up and continued to try to sting me. By this time I was panicking and trying to swat the bees so that I wouldn’t get stung any more. I know this probably agitated them more, but I didn’t want to have to use the epi-pen I have on hand for just such an emergency. I dashed in to the house with bees still clinging to me and trying to get at my face.

They were so incensed that my brother in law was stung once as he got out of his car in my driveway (about 60 feet away and over an 8 foot fence) as well as the neighbor’s dog (about 10 feet away and over the 8 foot fence) and harassed the neighbor (thankfully he was able to get away with no stings). After I was able to collect myself, I took off the coveralls as I had torn them while trying to get away from the bees. It was the first time I had worn them so maybe they had a strange smell from the factory? I put on jeans and a long shirt (which is what I normally wear when working the hive) and taped over all the openings (wrists, waist, legs, etc) and not only tied but taped the veil to my shirt as best I could.

I went back out just to get the hive closed up, figuring I would give them a chance to calm down. But, they were agitated as I even got close to the hive, and I was barely able to get the cover back over the top before they became too aggressive and were still able to find their way under my veil and were stinging me through my shirt and jeans. I ended up leaving several empty top bars off as I wasn’t able to stay close to the hive long enough to put them back in place.

I ended up with 12 stings on my face and a few other attempted stings (stinger could just barely get me through the fabric so I didn’t get much venom) on my arms and legs. I counted 20 stingers on the right glove, 25 stings on the left, about 15 on my shirt, a few on my jeans, and a few on my coveralls. That’s at least 60 stings (or attempts), plus the aggression of chasing me in to the house and stinging people over 50 feet away. I later collected more than 50 bees that had followed me in to the house either on my clothes or in pursuit as I opened and closed the door as fast as possible.

I worked the hive in the same way I always do: very slowly, making sure to brush aside bees and not squish any, and using sugar water spray to calm them. I didn’t use smoke. Here’s what may have been contributing factors:
* Queen of unknown origin (maybe more aggressive)
* Presence of wax moths and a few small hive beetles
* Very low honey stores despite apparent nectar flow
* First time I’d worn white coveralls instead of regular long clothes
* Might have been too early in the day (cool overnight temps, hive was not in direct sun so they weren’t foraging yet).
* More than 5 queen cells – I’ve read this can indicate problems
* Spotty brood pattern in some places

Given the level of aggression of the bees and the proximity to people, I knew I couldn’t keep bees any more. Even if this behavior was out of the ordinary, if it had happened with more people around (e.g., even walking by the house) they’d be at risk. I had guests arriving from out of town in a couple hours and knew there was no way the bees would be calm before then. My first child is due in June and I can’t risk him or my now pregnant wife being attacked by an overly aggressive/defensive colony. I didn’t have the space to keep them away from people or the time to let them calm down. If I had, I would have waited and closed up the hive and seen if another beekeeper could take them, but that didn’t seem to be an option. So in that moment I destroyed what I loved. I feel truly horrible about killing the bees as I had spent hours watching them go in and out of the hive. I’m still grieving over the destruction of such beautiful, fascinating, and normally peaceful creatures and feel so guilty about my decision. I’m looking for any info or advice as to whether the bees as I’ve described them were more aggressive than normal or what may have caused this.

Jon
Reply

Follow Up: I went through the entire hive frame by frame and examined each comb in detail. What had looked like an inconsistent laying pattern turned out to be a lack of new brood. There were no eggs and no uncapped brood. There was still some capped brood including some workers and a fair number of drones. As I mentioned above, there were multiple queen cells but many of them looked too small to be viable (maybe one would have turned out). All this points to the queen dying at least two weeks ago and the workers trying to raise an emergency queen. Considering they had no honey stores, pressure from pests, and no queen, no wonder they were so aggressive. There was almost no way I could have saved the colony as requeening would have taken at least a week between getting the queen and getting her installed (assuming one was even available). If I had been more diligent in checking the hive I could have removed the pests and would have noticed the dead or failing queen sooner, but between the day job and the weather (tornadoes a few weeks ago, storms, high wind) I never had a chance. Lots of lessons learned here.

Sergey
Reply

Sad, sad, sad story for all parties…
To us, urban … bee-enthusiasts (for some, myself including – not beekeepers yet), it is a lesson – we always should have plan “B” in case if something went “unusual” with our pets. What if the dog got some infectious disease, which is transferable to humans and already bit the neighbor? What if your cat get mad at VIP at your party and scratch the person to the blood? What if neighbor’s pet(?)-parrot decided to attack your cat? Same with bees – we have to be prepared in the same way as for tornadoes, earthquakes etc. Also, I think, we should be responsible for our pets because they are dependent from us. Jon, my condolence to you.

Rusty
Reply

Jon,

That’s quite a sad story and I really don’t know what to tell you. As I mentioned in the post, short of bad genes, there are usually concrete reasons for aggressive behavior and the behavior usually abates as soon as the problem is resolved. Lack of forage, queenlessness, high humidity, loud noises, intruders, parasites . . . are all things that come to mind. Just like humans, bees get cranky when things don’t go their way.

I would not destroy a hive if there was any possibility I–or time–could solve the problem. On the other hand, I can’t criticize someone who decides to take that route, especially when the safety of other people is at stake. It would have been nice if you could have locked them down for a day or two until you had a chance to figure out what was going on. But unless you think about it a day in advance, you don’t get an opportunity to close up the hive.

I feel bad for you and I feel bad for the bees. They were just doing what bees do . . . it’s one of the downsides of urban beekeeping.

Ruby
Reply

Rusty, just a quick update. Our bees seemed to have settled down. My son inspected the other hive and noticed that there were no brood cells. So I guess the old queen left with the swarm and the new queen died or was not laying eggs. My son bought a new queen and put her in the hive last Friday. All seems okay now. We live on a small city lot with houses all around and it seems like the bees did not bother anyone but us.

Rusty
Reply

Good, Ruby, I’m glad it worked out. There is almost always a reason for aggressiveness, the trick is figuring out what it is.

Jeff
Reply

Funny,

Not quite as bad. But more of a one off. I can walk up to my colonies anytime to see if they are acive or not and usually have no issues.

So the other afternoon it was nice, warm spring day and I knew the bees were heavily bringing in pollen. So as I got within 4 feet of my colonies one smacked me right in the face. By the time I has turned around and made 2 steps I was stung right below my left eye. I have never experienced that before.

Later that day I suited up and did an inspection. All colonies are queen right with eggs, open and capped brood. And just coming out of winter there are anywhere from 5 – 6 frames of honey still in the boxes. Daytime temperature was 19.5°C(67°F) And when I did my inspection I didn’t use smoke or sugar water and the bees were not very defensive. It was my first internal inspection for the year.

Rusty, any ideal what has happened? Or is this strictly a one off. Make the best of it where I was stung on the lower eyelid trying to get the stinger out ASAP I drove most of the venom into my eye. It swelled up good.

Rusty
Reply

Jeff,

I wouldn’t make too much of it. Sometimes you find a bee with mean disposition. If it wasn’t a whole of bunch of them, then I think it’s nothing to worry about.

But wow, when I get stung anywhere on my face my eyes swell shut. It is really annoying. I’m preparing to speak to a large group of people next week, but I have to hive some new packages this coming weekend. You can bet I will be wearing a suit of armor!

Phillip
Reply

Man, that is a horror story. I wonder if having a second colony could have saved the bees. Would combining the troubled hive with a healthy hive solve the problem? Perhaps that’s not so easy to do with a TBH.

When I got into beekeeping, the first advice I was given was to always have two hives. That way if any hive got in trouble, I could either combine the hives or give a weak hive more brood, pollen or honey, whatever it needed.

I can understand the decision to destroy the colony, though. With no solution in sight, what other choice was there?

Starting again (eventually), but with two hives, might be the way to go.

Rusty
Reply

I agree with the two hives theory. It gives you so many more management options.

zach
Reply

I have been noticing the same behavior described by all of you above. Aggressive bees that were normally docile and easy to approach. Yesterday I was attacked and stung on the left side of my face by bees from a hive I used to be able to sit near and watch. I was 50 yards from the hive when stung. The bees have been on alert for the past three-four days. Really helps ease my mind that I am not the only one. I am in southern Colorado, and it has been a vary mild spring. Bees have been active for about 6-8 weeks.

Rusty
Reply

Zach,

Since so many people have found an aggressive hive to be queenless, you should take a look and make sure she’s there and laying. If the queen is okay, the aggressive behavior will probably disappear on its own. Give it a few weeks.

zach
Reply

Yep, she is there…….sorry about the misspellings hard to see with my eyes swollen!

Rusty
Reply

No problem, I know the feeling!

Don
Reply

I’m not a beekeeper, but a colony has recently moved into an old wine barrel in my yard. I’d like to let them stay, but from the stories I’m reading it sounds like they could become a problem. Do you have any advice for me?

Rusty
Reply

Don,

Think of it this way: the reason people write in about their bees being aggressive is because it is unusual. Most of the time, bees go about their business and don’t bother anyone. I’ve had multiple hives for many years and I’ve only had one aggressive colony and it calmed down after a few weeks. If you read through the comments on this post, you will see the bees generally calm down as soon as the problem goes away–whatever it was.

I think the decision to keep them needs to be based on how far the wine barrel is from the public. If is right near a sidewalk or play ground, you should probably remove them. If it’s real near your house, you may get stung once in a while, but those of us who love bees just put up with the occasional annoyance.

If you decide you need to get rid of them, call a local beekeeper and someone will come and get them for free. Do not call an exterminator or pest control company. The bees are a natural resource and should not be killed or harmed in anyway.

The other thing you could do is have a beekeeper move them into a regular hive for you. In no time, you would fall in love with them and become a beekeeper yourself.

Jamin
Reply

Just last week I started beekeeping with a newly established hive from Dadant. I can walk by the hive and stand close without any problems but every time I go to change the sugar water jar from the top of the hive they become aggressive when I take it out. Is this normal? I don’t smoke them when I change out the syrup feeder, but should I be or just deal with it? And does it matter what part of the day I’m changing it out? Because I usually change it out in the morning around 7 am before I go to work.

Rusty
Reply

Jamin,

There is a difference between standing near the hive and actually invading the hive. The bees are getting upset because they see your entry into the hive as a threat to their nest. So, the answer is yes, it is normal.

Whether you use smoke or not is a personal decision, completely up to you. I don’t use smoke for changing a feeder jar but I’m sure lots of people do. There is no right or wrong answer. It depends on what makes you comfortable.

The time of day shouldn’t make too much of a difference. More bees will probably fly out when it’s warmest outside, although in the summer they can fly out at most any time of day. You will get accustomed to the rhythm of the bees’ lives as you get more experience, but for now it sounds like you are doing fine.

Jamin
Reply

Something else I’m concerned about is that I’m finding some bees on the ground walking around because they have deformed wings and cannot fly. Is this something I should be worried about? Is it OK to see a few as long as their isn’t a lot? And how many is a lot? Is this something that’s informing me that my hive or hives has deformed wing virus and that I have a problem with varroa mites? I have two hives and I want to open them up but I had another beekeeper tell me not to open them up because the hives are stressed from moving them from where I purchased them. He said to wait 2 weeks before I open the hives to check on them, does that sound right?

Rusty
Reply

Jamin,

It is reasonable to wait a couple of weeks before opening your hives. The idea is that you want the bees to adjust to their new environment and accept it as their home before disrupting them too much.

If I see more than one or two bees with deformed wings, I assume there is deformed wing virus in the hive and plenty of mites. Deformed wings can also be caused by other things, but theses are rare occurrences. If you see several with deformed wings you are most likely seeing just the “tip of the iceberg.” After your two week period (ten days is probably enough) you should probably treat for mites.

Aram
Reply

Rusty,

How is aggressive behavior in your hives now? Mine are a being very defensive, even 30 yards away, without clear sight of me and I live in Kent. Got zapped just yesterday. Do you think giving them some feed will solve that problem? Sort of to help them become fat and happy?

Aram

Rusty
Reply

Aram,

My bees are showing no defensiveness at all; I worked them yesterday with no protective gear. We have lots of trees in bloom down here, which is keeping them busy. Give them feed if you think they need it, otherwise just give them some time.

Have you checked for a queen? Is she laying? If so, they will probably calm down shortly. They should like this weather.

Aram
Reply

Rusty,

I have queens but they are not laying. They laid up a storm earlier in the year, but now have severely cut down. Out of 40 frames, maybe 3 have capped brood and 2 are eggs in any hive. They queen is fat and happy, but I think the nurse bees are cannibalizing the eggs, so I am hopeful that giving them syrup will solve the issue. The rest of the frames have either pollen or are empty. Bees are buzzing everywhere, but the supers and brood boxes are not being filled up. I think that I have too many adult bees that have no nursing duties, therefore every little darn thing is getting them agitated. If I can get the queen to lay up another brood cycle before the blackberries come in, that should give everyone something to do, and I should be in a good workforce shape. So I am giving them syrup. My whole family is anti bees now, last year they did not even notice them.

Rusty
Reply

Aram,

The queens stop laying when they are getting ready to swarm. Could that be the problem? Everything is in bloom right now: vine maples, cascara, fruit trees, and all kinds of flowers. You shouldn’t need to feed syrup. In fact, if they take it they will probably just store it in your honey supers.

Also, your hives should be packed with brood in all stages from egg to capped. Why do you think the workers are cannibalizing the eggs? Have you seen it? It sounds like something isn’t right, although I can’t say what.

You mention capped brood and eggs. How about larvae? Is it possible they superseded their queen and were without a laying queen for awhile and now a new queen has just started to lay? If the timing were right, that could give you a combination of very mature brood and a few eggs.

Aram

No, they are not swarming, there are no swarm cells and none of the top supers have been backfilled. I think the carniolan blood makes them very sensitive to flows. Not seeing anything stored leads me to believe that they are using everything that they collect on brood, and if there is not enough to feed all, they just “eat the young ones”. They are taking the syrup quite readily, so I think that my area is not quite as productive as I wish it would be. Plus the queen is very plump, so they are not really thinning her down any. I’ll continue feeding for a week and see if the temperament changes. Otherwise, I’ll need to swith to pure italians.

LJ
Reply

(Apologies, Rusty, to you and your readers for the following long post. I did think people might be interested in the UK perspective weather-wise and troublesome bee-wise)

Here in the UK, after an unseasonably warm March and two dry winters, we are officially in a state of drought. In my region, East Anglia, we have had a garden hose ban in place as of the beginning of April (as in not using the garden hose for watering plants, washing cars, etc). The day after the garden hose ban went into effect, the rain started with the result that April has been the wettest it has been in 100 years allegedly. Pretty much rain every day of the month. And much cooler weather. May has started off the same way, although this weekend we are having sunny but coolish weather.

You can guess what this has meant for the bees with respect to foraging. In March they were docile, hard-working, bringing in loads of forage. As April progressed we got warning from the national/local associations to start to feed. We knew that one of our two hives was really growing so we went to ‘brood and a half’ and added a honey super to ensure plenty of room.

To no avail. Less than a week ago, that hive swarmed, and we lost the swarm because of position and more inclement weather. The next day the second hive swarmed, and then ‘unswarmed’: the bees returned, except for one clump which I think surrounded the old queen.

Today, the bees from the first swarm hive are in a fairly aggressive mood (not as bad as Jon’s but bad enough). Why? Because we opened up the hive (as well as the second swarm hive) for a thorough inspection, as we have not had a chance to do this since March and we were concerned. And rightly so. I had not put enough frames in ‘the half’ brood box because I thought I could keep an eye on it (did this late March/beginning of April), how they would take to it and add frames later. Of course, then we had the April deluge and we were not able to open it up until yesterday. What we found was an edifice of comb loaded with brood and stores, rising up from the top of the frames of the bottom brood box up into the half, as if they had inserted their own frame.

Of course we had to remove it (we placed it in a nuc with some foundation as there looked to be the beginnings of queen cells to see what might happen). And, of course, they were distinctly unhappy. Again not as bad as Jon’s but they did follow us, harassing us, and today more of the same if we are within 10-20 feet of the hive.

Did I mention, because of April they have very little in the way of stores, but many frames of capped brood?

And that they might be waiting on a virgin queen to kick things back into gear? There has been some pollen collection today, although it doesn’t seem as much as what I saw in March. So, she might be there.

I am very sorry for this long sorry tale! Part of the reason is anxiety because the farmer who owns the field in back of our house has decided to mow with the tractor today, and our only close neighbor is out mowing his lawn. SO, thanks for letting me go on a bit!

I know why these bees are in a bad mood, but after all this my question is: should we have waited a week or two before opening up the hive?

Rusty
Reply

LJ,

There’s lots going on here. If I understand correctly, the first hive swarmed but you were unable to catch it. Then the second hive threw a failed swarm that subsequently returned to the hive. So the two hives you refer to as “swarm hives” are the original hives–not hives that swarmed from the original hives. Is that right?

A swarm often returns after it realizes it doesn’t have the queen. A swarm can’t survive without a queen and if the queen doesn’t leave with the swarm, if she gets lost, or she gets eaten, the swarm will return to the colony. You mention a little ball of bees, but I doubt the queen was there. A little ball is usually lost somehow.

Either of your hives could be cranky because they are queenless, because of the weather, because of lack of forage or many other reasons. I don’t think you opened too soon. You said you did a thorough inspection. What did you find? Is their a queen in each hive? You mention capped brood, but how about eggs and larvae? You need to figure out if you have queens or not.

In the hive that successfully swarmed, there must have been virgins ready to hatch. If that is so, then it takes a while for her to start laying. Assume 3 or 4 days maturation time, then a week for mating or longer if the weather prevents it, then another 3 or 4 days maturation time, then she should start to lay. So you should see eggs within 2 to 3 weeks of the successful swarm.

The other one is trickier. If the queen is okay, the hive may try to swarm again. Assuming they were ready to swarm before they tried, you may have more than one queen in there, or you may have none if the original queen killed the virgins, or it may be just like your other hive with no old queen and a virgin queen trying to mate. Your best bet is to keep looking for eggs. If you can’t find eggs after a couple weeks you will need to re-queen.

By the way, bees often build up when there is not frame to build onto. What you saw there is perfectly normal.

LJ
Reply

Hi Rusty

Thanks for your very considered reply. We seem to be in a bit of a holding pattern right now as the weather is still very unsettled: cold, wet, windy. In other words, not good for bees who either want to forage for pollen or swarm!

Apologies for the confusion over hives. We have two: one which is our original, sometimes called our main hive, and our second hive which we often refer to as the ‘swarm hive’ because it is a colony we rehived from a swarm from the main hive last summer. It is this second hive that swarmed and then unswarmed (leaving the clump behind it). It had the original queen from the main hive, about four years old. Going into the winter we were afraid that it would not last as it was very small and didn’t have sufficient stores. Obviously, it has more than survived. The colony has tripled-quadrupled in size. There about 6-7 frames of mostly capped brood, very little brood in other stages (which leads me to believe we are between an old queen and new queen). There seems to be some pollen gathering (there is a glut of sources, some right in our yard), but it doesn’t seem to be significant at the moment.

The main hive has now swarmed twice within a week (both cavorting about the countryside). This is or was about twice the size of the second hive, and why we went to brood and a half to try to forestall swarming. Huh! State of brood about the same as in the second hive, with both main brood box and ‘half’ filled with capped brood, some larvae but not a lot. We found three capped queen cells and at least one which looked as if a queen had hatched. We are thinking that one took of with the secondary cast.

In our three years of beekeeping, we have never been able to identify and mark our queens (even had an association guru out to help us when we were only at one hive, and even he couldn’t glimpse the elusive creature). So we have gone by the stages and amount of brood and the regularity and quantity of pollen gathering. Has worked so far, but difficult if you want to try a split or artificial swarm, which is why we have been reluctant to apply these measure. In fact, I don’t think our attempt on Friday has produced any results.

Bees in main hive seemed to have become less aggressive. There seemed to have been some pollen gathering yesterday, but with the weather being so unsettled it’s hard to tell.

Thanks again for your help.

LJ
Reply

In fact, it is teeming down with hail right now. One can only wonder what all this unsettled weather is doing to the bees here in the UK!

Bannon Bednarcyk
Reply

Hello all:

I just built my hive and got bees on Memorial day.

The weird part was that I bought a colony of 4 frames. Only 2 were delivered initially. The bees were docile. Then a few days later the beekeeper brought me 2 more frames. Many more bees and big attackers resulted. I was standing back watching him install them for me (part of the price) and I got chased. I stood there while one bomber shot right into my eye. Not sure if I swatted him or what, but I got a sting there and one on the face. I also had one in my hair that didn’t sting.

Yes, the beekeeper was wearing a veil for this 2nd delivery…I guess I should have keyed into that and worn one too.

Anyway, later in the day my neighbor wanted to check them out. I said I don’t know but it shouldn’t be a problem…sure enough, they attacked my neighbor and my hair again.

I am hoping to get into that area to organize a water trough which gets filled with drip irrigation, but will definitely wear a veil. I will check for the queen and productivity in a week or so. Hopefully they calm down in the meantime.

I ordered another hive kit so am likely going to get more bees soon but will request that all 4 frames come at the same time instead of two disconnected deliveries.

Any errors to my ways (besides not wearing the veil initially)?

I’m looking forward to the honey next year, having been told that I wouldn’t get it this year because I’m starting late.

BannonB

Rusty
Reply

Bannon,

Well, something isn’t right. It sounds like the seller brought two frames from one hive and later two frames from another hive. Then, when he put them together, they fought. It’s not at all surprising that they were testy. I hope the queen wasn’t killed in the foray.

Normally, you wouldn’t just throw bees from different hives together. You would introduce them gradually through a slit in a piece of newspaper or something.

That said, I’ve known beekeepers who just take a frame from here and a frame from there and put them all together and hope for the best. Still, I don’t like it.

If he’s your only source of bees, tell him you want all frames from the same hive next time. It seems like a ridiculous thing to ask for, since one would assume they all came from the same hive, but then obviously that’s not always true.

You didn’t do anything wrong; he did. Like you say, in a few days check to be sure the queen is laying. In fact, make sure she is there. She could have laid eggs in the few days before the second group came and then got killed. So wait three more days and then start looking for eggs and/or the queen herself. If you can’t find her or eggs after three days, I think your seller should replace the entire mess.

Be sure to write back and let us know what happens.

Bannon Bednarcyk
Reply

Thanks for the comments. It’s good to do a sanity check especially for a complete novice like me.

Just an update on the hive I started with last week…

I found that on the first day they were really pissed, then the entire hive settled down.

I was working around the hive (arranging a water barrel within 5 feet) with no hint of trouble.

Yesterday I was able to sit within 10 ft of the hive and watch the activity. It looked like a busy parking lot. Bees coming and bees going. I couldn’t tell if there was pollen weighing them down but I felt good that they had settled down and gotten to work. I was told by the bee guy to wait 2 weeks before opening it up. I’ll wait til the weekend and see what progress has been made. You better believe I’ll be wearing a veil and learn how to use my smoker by then!

I agree with your reasoning and will be asking for 4 frames from the same hive–delivered at the same time for my 2nd hive.

LuAnn
Reply

I asked if bringing the African honey bees here to America could create a problem, with the known aggressive killer bees being bred with the non-aggressive honey bees. It seems to be a problem in the making and can be serious. I understand that we need bees and that the pesticide companies have caused the bees to die as well as other factors. I certainly hope the bees that are so aggressive can be controlled! I understand in other parts of the world humans and animals have suffered and even died from the aggressive killer bees! So even the money issue as well as the farmers who need bees need to weigh the problem and ask some very important questions!

Rusty
Reply

LuAnn,

We didn’t actually bring Africanized honey bees to North American, they spread all by themselves from Brazil where they escaped into the wild in 1957. They crossed our southern border in 1990 are now in at least ten states, including California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida. People as well as animals have been killed in the United States from Africanized honey bee (AHB) stings.

The AHB is not a separate species but a hybrid between subspecies. The African honey bee (Apis mellifera scutellata) crossed with various other subspecies such as Italians and Carniolans to produce a hybrid that is extremely aggressive—what we now called Africanized honey bees. Since they are all of one species, there is really nothing we can do to stop the spread. Beekeepers, especially in the affected states, are aware of the danger, and some beekeepers have left the business because of it.

Beekeepers had hoped the aggressiveness would become diluted in the larger gene pool, but that hasn’t seemed to happen. The aggressive bees will probably continue to spread. As of now, they don’t do well in colder climates. But, as with many genetic limitations, that may change over time with random mutations and gene pool shifts.

Sarah
Reply

Do you know how common (or uncommon) an occurrence of death-by-AHB is? Saying people and animals have been killed by them sounds awful and I can hear the worried mothers now.

Rusty
Reply

Sarah,

It’s not many at all. Something like 15 people since 1990 in the U.S. Animals get killed more frequently (I’ve heard of dogs and cows) but I haven’t seen any numbers on that.

susan
Reply

Wow, reading all this makes me very worried. I just started beekeeping in May with 2 hives. My neighbors, suburban, are about 20 feet from my house. Hive #1 is on the side of my house 3 feet from my house and 8-10 feet from my backdoor and about 10 feet from my fence. Hive #2 is about 15 feet from my backdoor and about 8 feet from my chicken coop and about 10 feet from my fence. I feel like I should get them out of my yard this week after reading about others being chased and going into neighbors yards. All the beekeepers had said how passive the bees are and I could keep them there with no problem. I don’t want to take a risk but don’t know where else to put them.

Rusty
Reply

Susan,

Usually hives are docile and are easily handled in a small suburban yard. Sometimes they act up in the fall for a few weeks due to nectar dearth. But this year I have heard story after story about aggressiveness and I think it is due to the unusual weather in many parts of North America.

I agree with Phillip that it is hard to have piece of mind if you are constantly worried about your bees intimidating the neighbors. Maybe you will be lucky and have docile bees, but maybe not. If you are at all worried, see if you can find a place to keep them out of town. Many farms and nurseries, for example, would be happy to give you free “space” for the summer. Also, if you are in a bee club, maybe a club member has room for more. In some places you can get a permit to keep them on state land, such as state forests. I think if you ask around you will find a solution. Good luck with it.

susan
Reply

Thanks for the great ideas. It is very convenient for taking care of them. I just don’t want them attacking anyone and it seems I have little control over that. I did put feeders on this morning. I also had bought a Carniolan queen in hopes of docile bees. The other queen however is Italian.

Phillip
Reply

Susan, in my little urban beekeeping story, I mentioned that one day the bees got caught in the hair of my next door neighbour. But that wasn’t the bees’ fault. The problem was that I had my hives too close to my neighbours deck. I would guess less than 20 feet, possibly 10 feet. That’s way too close. I had to do a full inspection of a 3 deep hive and some of the bees inevitably got a little riled up. They were docile, but they were flying around the vicinity more erratically. And they got caught in my neighbour’s hair.

I don’t think I would have had any major problems with my bees if I’d kept them farther away from my house and my neighbour’s back deck, even if they did get a little aggressive / defensive from time to time. I’m actually considering setting up one or two hives next spring at my house but in a more out of the way location. (I miss having the bees close by.)

I think urban beekeeping can be safe, but you need nice neighbours (my immediate next door neighbours are not nice people) who you can talk to about the bees, have them over and show them the bees, etc., and the farther away the hives are from humans, the better. There’s more to it than that, but I think it can be done.

Sean
Reply

I have a hive that has become very aggressive over the last month or so. The hive seems to be doing extremely well, but while harvesting honey, they repeatedly stung me through my suit and it took me 30 minutes to get them off of me and back in the house. They were buzzing around the screen door for hours afterwards. It’s been very warm and dry here, so I’m wondering if the nectar flow is non-existent. I just went to water the garden this afternoon (~20 yards from hive) and they were instantly buzzing around me. Not sure what’s going on, but if my beesuit won’t protect me . . . what will?

susan
Reply

What state do you live in? Are you feeding them sugar syrup? if so, are they taking it? Is there a water source nearby?

Sean
Reply

Massachusetts. No syrup since spring. I have a swimming pool (not adequate obviously) and a bird bath that we try to keep full. Also, neighbors across the street have a waterfall-pond feature that they frequent.

Phillip
Reply

I’m not sure what Rusty will say about this, but last year one of my hives got extra defensive after I tried to harvest some honey. I just opened the honey super, pulled out the frames and brushed the bees off. No smoke, no nothing. I probably should have smoked them or at least used a bee escape and taken the honey a day or two later.

The bees will defend their honey stores, but when you’re not nice about the way you take it, they can get even more defensive.

Rusty
Reply

I agree, Phillip. I’ve done both–just brushing and using a bee escape. Things go much smoother using the bee escape and the defensiveness doesn’t last nearly so long.

Sean
Reply

So….what is this said bee escape????

Sean

Okay. Thanks for the info. I still can’t believe a day after getting into the hive, they’re still coming after me.

Phillip
Reply

“I still can’t believe a day after getting into the hive, they’re still coming after me.”

I can believe it. It took my bees about three days to forgive me.

Sergey
Reply

Yes, usually 3 days or sometime longer. But, it is all our mistakes – if we provide minimal disturbance to the bees, they are much more forgiving. When I just started bees (see my posts at the beginning of this thread), after every inspection bees patrolled my backdoor for days. Now, sometimes, I have no blockade at all! As Rusty properly explained, there are many factors, which could make bees moody. Sergey

Sean
Reply

Just got stung again trying to water the garden . . . 2 days after honey removal. I’m not sure that I can deal with this type of aggression. I need to tend to things outside and this is a nuisance. I’m debating splitting to help my weaker colony along with buying a new queen, or totally destroying this hive. I’m at a loss as a 3 year beekeeper.

Michael
Reply

Boy did I make a mistake. Just spun out my honey and figured what the heck, the ladies have worked so hard for the golden goodness why not just put the empty frames out in the apiary for them to clean off and store the excess for winter? Big mistake. I have accidentally promoted aggressive behavior and now have a 3-hive mess on my hands. My solution will be to suit up, smoke the area out, and remove the frames. I will rinse them elsewhere and sun dry them out to prevent any mold, and store them wrapped for next year’s use. I actually put a set of frames on the top of each hive figuring the bees would go the most available honey source. Nope, they seem programmed to fight for all of it, everywhere. My strongest hive is super active and I feel pretty bad about all of the dead and dying workers lost to my ill-conceived plan. So it goes.

Rusty
Reply

Michael,

I put the empty frames back in the super and put the super back on the hive and close it up. That way the bees can clean up the frames inside the hive and not be so vulnerable to robbers.

Kaylea
Reply

Okay guys, I’m in dire need of advice. My two-year-old is highly allergic to bee stings, so I have always made sure I keep plants that are pollen-free so not to attract them. But the past 3 days he has not been allowed in the garden because I have honey bees that seem to be guarding my back door. There is only about 7 that hang around at once so knowing nothing about bees doubt that is enough for a nest to be present. They seem to just hover and attack any insect or fly that comes near the garden. Once they have chased insect off they return to where they were before visitor arrived. I really don’t want to use chemicals to kill them because they are very useful creatures that help pollinate and make honey, but I love my son too much to risk his health. Do you think they will calm down and move on at any point soon, or do I need to grab a can and get spraying?

Rusty
Reply

Kaylea,

In my opinion, the attackers sound like some kind of wasp. Honey bees are not territorial except right near their hive, so I’m guessing they are not honey bees. To avoid using chemicals, I would catch the insects in a butterfly net and kill them (assuming there are just a few) or you can try hanging a wasp/yellow jacket trap in the garden. These traps do not use poisons and they are readily available at grocery, hardware, and home improvement stores.

Sergey
Reply

Kaylea
Allergy reaction to the bees venom is serious because your son could meet a bee or wasp practically anywhere, in the kindergarten… in the parking lot… you name it. You need to ask your doctor for consultation with allergologist. Allergologist may suggest the course of decincibilization against the bee venom. Desincibilization is sort of reverse to allergy, it is effective in many cases. I do not know if they do it for young kids. Sergey

Kaylea
Reply

Okay, thank you very much. Will buy a trap asap and assume they are wasps, which I’m sure you’re correct because like I said in last thread I know nothing about bees. I realize I’m now on the incorrect thread but once I get rid of the unwanted wasps is there anything wildlife and child-friendly of course that can be put in a garden that wasps and bees will avoid as I feel so cruel killing them. I would much prefer to prevent this situation again. I realize this is probably a long-shot question and am sorry for being a pain.

Rusty
Reply

Kaylea,

First off, you are not being a pain. Answering questions about bees—and sometimes wasps—is pretty much what happens around here.

That said, a garden is going to attract bees and wasps because it is a garden. Off hand, I don’t know of anything that will repel both bees and wasps. In fact, I can’t think of anything short of the kind of insect repellent you rub on yourself (like DEET) that might keep them away.

It seems I’ve heard of a bee repellant, but I can’t think of it.

Readers, does anyone know of a bee and or wasp repellant that would keep them away from a garden? Any other ideas for Kaylea?

Kaylea
Reply

Have heard that mint repels. Do you think this is true?

Rusty
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Kaylea,

Absolutely not! Many of the mint family plants are the all-time favorites of bees. I plant mint to attract bees.

Kaylea
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Thank you very much, Rusty. I doubted there would be anything that would repel both but you have been very helpful and understanding :)

elaine
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Our honey bees have certainly kept me running in house for last 3 yrs. From front of house to back deck. They are not very close to the house &even moved them further away but still aggressive. I have quit wearing any lotions, perfumes, hair products if I know I’m gonna be outside. Bees love sweet odors.

Peter Gagne
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Great site. I am in southwest N.H. and have been dealing with a very aggressive hive for over one week now. They are all around back door were our dogs came arunning in after being stung many times, one we had to take to vet. I just brought down 2 containers of water and got it once about 30 yards from hive. How long will bees stay aggressive? We opened hive a few days ago to take some honey and check on it and its been crazy since then. I believe it must be the heat. Thoughts and suggestions would be helpful, Thanks. Boy its been hot!

Rusty
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Hi Peter,

In my opinion, they will stay aggressive as long as it stays hot and nectar is in short supply. I think they get extra defensive because they are short of winter stores and they know it. They will go a long way to protect what they have left.

Chuck
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I have talked to several beekeepers in our city and they have all experienced a radical change from a docile hive to a very aggressive hive. All have similar stories about being stung when mowing. My hive used to not care at all if I mowed. Now I’m getting stung and, worse yet, my neighbor is getting stung. Any help appreciated.

Rusty
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Chuck,

Bees get defensive in the late summer when nectar becomes scarce. In the spring and early summer they are busy collecting nectar from a seemingly endless supply of blooms, but when the flowers dry up, the bees aggressively defend what they have already collected. Robbing bees will try to steal their supplies as well as wasps and other predators, so they stay on the alert for trouble makers. Loud noises such as lawn mowers are perceived as possible threats. Typically, things that don’t bother spring bees definitely bother fall bees. Your situation is very normal. The bees will stay inside the hive once winter comes, and in the spring they will seem like their old docile selves. In the meantime, there is not much you can do except keep the lawnmower away from them.

Ed
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Does it help to feed them in late summer when the nector is scarce?

Rusty
Reply

It depends. If you spill any syrup outside the hive, it can cause a robbing frenzy. If you are careful not to spill, late summer feeding can keep your bees happy.

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