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

Mary P
Reply

Kaylea,

I have a concoction that I have made and we are going to try to use it when we go out. Our bees have decided to attack us every time we go outside. They are swarming around my neighbor’s porch and fountains and stinging them. The neighbors are not happy with me. The concoction is called, “Vinegar of four Thieves”; it is a mix of vinegar and herbs. You might want to try and google it. Otherwise I know you can buy all the ingredients and instructions on the web site, http://www.bulkherbstore.com. Good Luck.

Paulette Minatre
Reply

Well yesterday I experienced agressive behavior in one of my hives. This is my 1st season of beekeeping, and I have 2 hives. I’m trying to inspect and put screened bottoms on for the winter. One hive that had swarmed in June is very docile, and still needing to build honey stores;they have let me add the new bottom, feed, and medicate,but the healthy hive wouldn’t let me near them. A few made it up into my veil and stung me twice. After leaving the scene, and returning to close up the hive, they wouldn’t let up. I’m trying to put in top feeder (which I did), but couldn’t even attempt to add the screened bottom. Any advice on being able to add the bottom for ventilitation just before I winterize? I’m in northern Idaho.

Rusty
Reply

Paulette,

Wait a few days and try again. Sometimes bees can be testy for no apparent reason and completely docile a week later. You can also try to do it early in the morning while the bulk of them are still in a cluster and not yet flying around. Are you using smoke? That may help as well.

If you don’t have to inspect frames and are going to just add the screened bottom board, it will probably go much smoother than it did with the inspection.

Liz
Reply

Hi everyone
I just read everyone’s comments and also have concerns about bee stings…I don’t know much about bees or wasps. I’m supposed to have my daughter’s birthday party outside this week (in North East) and am afraid about the bees. My brother is severly allergic to them. Should I move the party inside?
Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

Liz,

I would have the party outside and keep your brother away from the bees. A party outside is so much better and at this time of year you are unlikely to be bothered much by bees or wasps of any type.

darwin van raalte
Reply

Hello, Love all of the information here. Please forgive me if this is the wrong place to ask questions. I have an old house that has had one or more large hives in it for twenty years now. Never even realized they were honey bees. Just last year or two there has been a huge pile of dead bees on the area around these hives and was curious; I figured it was some sort of spring cleaning or such. I am also very interested in beekeeping and any information would be helpful especially in proper removal of the hives (hopefully intact).

Rusty
Reply

Darwin,

The presence of many dead bees around the base of a hive is not unusual. In the summertime a large hive may lose 1000 bees a day, and these are easily replaced by the colony. If the colonies in the house still look and sound normal, they probably are.

Removing a colony and installing it in a hive is tricky if you’re not an experienced beekeeper. It requires cutting the combs out of the structure and tying them onto frames or top bars. Alternatively, the area can be closed off and the bees trapped as they leave the colony or return.

I think your best bet is to call a local beekeeping club and see if someone will help you do this. At least they could come out and look at the colonies and give an opinion on the feasibility of moving them.

Best of luck.

Joann Odenwelder
Reply

We live in the Texas Hill Country. Our honey bees are NOT being aggressive, except at their hives, of course. However, they are congregating at every door into our house. Just this morning I captured and put outside at least 25 bees. Of course, who knows how many got in when we opened the door to release the captured ones! They are not at all aggressive when I am outside around the house–more nosy and interested. It seems they are everywhere in the immediate 2 acres around the house–in the vegetable garden, courtyard, on everything that is blooming and hanging around the doors in an attempt to gain entry. If anyone knows what causes this, I’d love to know!

Glen
Reply

I am new to beekeeping, so need some advice here. Yesterday I inspected the hive, pulled a few frames in my supers to see how the girls are going, they were quite docile. One bee managed to get into my suit and crawled around my neck, finally in went the stinger. I had to keep going as I had the hive apart but the bees very quickly got agitated and flew at me crashing into my veil.

Now a day later when I go near the hive there is one that comes crashing into me and burrowing into my hair, buzzing like mad. It chases me back to the house. I already have a nice big itchy welt on my neck from the bee that got into my suit and I don’t need another. How long does it take for the bees to forgive me and also what is an average safe distance one can go near a hive (unsuited) without getting attacked?

Rusty
Reply

Glen,

When the first bee stung you, it released pheromones that alerted other bees in the hive that danger was about, so they came out to defend the hive. If a bee gets in your suit, it is often best just to pinch it right through the fabric. If it stings you it will die anyway. If you kill it before it stings you, all those pheromones won’t be released.

You have some bees in the hive that are more defensive than others. Remember, although all the bees in the colony have the same mother, they have different fathers, which means they have different genes and different temperaments. Usually the bees calm down after a few hours or sometimes up to 12 hours. It depends on many factors, including temperature, weather, presence of robbers and predators, etc.

You don’t say where you are, so I don’t know how cold it is, but by this time of year you really shouldn’t need a suit, especially if you approach the hive and open it from the back.

Larry S
Reply

I have been reading all the posts and don’t understand the problem. I have a water feature about 20 feet outside my patio door with a rag hanging over the side for the bees to get water. Even now on a nice day here in North Las Vegas, NV the bees will be all aver the rag getting water.

I’m in and out picking up land mines and tending to my covered beds and the bees totally ignore me. I have three hives at the side of my house and never had a problem with bees attacking me. I normally work my hive without gloves or a veil we get along real well. Although I did get stung a couple times this fall by that one pesky guard that just had to make that ultimate sacrifice :(

Rusty
Reply

Larry,

The aggressive thing happens once in a while under certain circumstances. It is an exception, not the rule. Most bees most of the time behave just like yours.

Susan R.
Reply

I am taking a long shot here. I was wondering if someone could help me. I live in Arizona and moved into a new house that backs up to the mountain 8 years ago. I have lived in Arizona for 37 years and have never experienced what I am now. I do have a pool, but I also had one in every house I have lived in and have never had the problems I do now. I have very low or no flowering plants in my backyard.

What I am experiencing and have experienced since I moved in, is erratic bees that zip all over my yard all day, all the time. They don’t get a drink and they don’t go to the few flowers I have. They literally zip around my yard crazily. They don’t land, except sometimes on my cool deck or wall. I have had a bee company out and they found no hive. I also have regular pest control and they don’t know what is causing this. My children and I cannot enjoy our backyard for fear of being stung because they seem to be kamikaze bees. Can anyone tell me how to get rid of them? They are very, very aggressive and I can’t figure out what they are doing in my backyard! Thank you very, very much! Susan R.

Rusty
Reply

Susan,

I don’t know. You say they are zipping across your yard and they don’t land, but they are aggressive? How are they aggressive? Have they chased you? Have they stung you? Have they flown into you? I don’t have a picture of the aggressive part so I can’t really say what they might be. Are there any readers in Arizona who recognize this behavior? Let us know.

Susan R.
Reply

Hello,
Yes, they have chased me and my kids. Luckily we have not been stung. They try to fly into us and when we run inside they bump against our patio door window. They also bump into other windows in my backyard.

Rusty
Reply

Susan,

You’ve convinced me they are aggressive. No doubt. Next question: is it possible to catch one and take a photo of it? Do you have a butterfly net or something similar? It doesn’t matter if it’s dead or alive as long as it’s not squished. If we could figure out what it is, we would have a better chance of figure out where it’s living.

Susan R.

I will take a picture and send it as soon as possible. What email should I send the picture to?
Thank you very much!
Susan

Rusty

Susan,

I sent you an e-mail.

Narine
Reply

Hello, so my parents and I just moved into a new house in February, and for about 2 weeks now we noticed there’s a beehive somewhere on our house. Also, the bees seem to be living or are trapped inside the walls of our den. Is this dangerous or should they be ok? We definitely do not want to harm them or anger them, and we walk in and out of the den and backyard and they seem to be nice to us but in any case we do not want to get stung or be a threat to them, and they be a threat to us. Will they eventually leave over time, or are they going to live in our walls for… ever? 2 days ago, though, they seemed to be very angry with each other and at the front door of our den there were approximately a few hundred bees (maybe I’m exaggerating but there were too many to feel safe) but they calmed down and there’s just about 20 flying around the roof and who knows how many are in our walls.. BASICALLY what should we do about this situation? Should we worry or let them be?

Rusty
Reply

Narine,

It is impossible to tell if they are bees or wasps just from your description. Both honey bees and wasps are known for making nests in walls. It sort of sounds like honey bees, but I can’t be sure. Do you have a photo you could send? They behave very differently. Honey bees probably wouldn’t bother you much if they were left alone, but wasps can become pretty cranky. No matter what they are, bee hives are hard to get out of walls.

Narine
Reply

I should also mention I am having a birthday party tonight, and I’m worried that the loud music/bass will disrupt them.. Do they get angered by loud music?

Rusty
Reply

Sometimes bees and wasps both get upset by loud music, but they are not apt to fly around at night. If the party is after dark it is probably not a problem.

Melissia
Reply

Hello everyone. We are from Indiana and are trying to relocate to Tennessee. We found a house we REALLY want but my 11 year old son is allergic to bee stings. Not all types but the doctor says they are not sure what kind. the place we found has a Honey Bee keeping operation on the property. I was wondering if it would be a bad idea to live there. We think it would be ok as long as my son stays away from where the bees are being kept but I am not sure and would love some advice.

Phillip
Reply

I may have discovered something else that makes bees become extra defensive: transporting the hive down a bumpy road.

I recently moved four of my hives to a new location. I took them on the road in the back of a trailer for about 30 minutes. Since the move (3 or 4 weeks ago), the bees in one hive have become incredibly defensive. All I have to do is walk within a few feet of the bottom entrance and they immediately dart out and try to sting my legs. I’ve never seen anything like it (in my three years of beekeeping). The slightest disturbance and bees virtually start pouring out of the bottom entrance.

Until I have a chance to requeen the colony, I’ve decided to move the hive far off into the wood away from my other hives (and me).

Slightly off topic: Could the disruption of being transported trigger the swarm instinct? I barely fed my colonies this spring and didn’t see any signs of swarming in them — until I moved them. Being transported must feel like an earthquake to bees stuck in a hive. If it seemed like my house was built on a fault line, I’d probably want to move too.

Rusty
Reply

I don’t know, Phillip. It seems like they would calm down after a few days, let alone weeks. Maybe something else in the new area is making them defensive. Do you have skunks, racoons, or opossums trying to break in at night?

As for swarming, maybe there are richer food sources in the new area? Hard to say, but interesting.

Aram
Reply

One thing that I have discovered is that nuc colonies can be very gentle but 3 deeps worth of same bees will be defensive. So will the same hive that was moved from shaded location to a full sun (maybe not a factor of a bumpy road). I got flow everywhere now in South Puget Sound of Washington State, but all of my huge colonies are just slightly more edgy than they were even a month ago. Small nucs I work without smoke and veil. Must be a factor of number of guard bees being proportional to the size of the colony.

Newbee
Reply

I am new to bees and getting my first hive. I have two location picked out but having trouble picking one. The first on is about 20 feet from road with trees to the sides and 3 foot vegitation in front. It faces the house which is about 150 feet away. Morning and evening sun facing south east. #2 is facing south about 30 feet in woods. Dappled sun throughout the day. Facing the driveway. Which would be a better site?

Rusty
Reply

Either site would probably work just fine. I have my bees in the woods, dappled shade most of the day, and they have done fine for years. I like sites not clearly visible from the road, so I would probably go for the woods . . . but every situation is different.

newbee
Reply

Thanks Rusty. How high would you say their flight path going out is? I’m just thinking if I walk down the driveway I don’t want to be in the path. From the driveway you can’t see the hive so I should be good. Comments?

Rusty
Reply

They ascend steeply. I have one hive about 15 feet from the driveway, and it’s never been a problem.

newbee

Rusty

Thanks again for the reply. This is a great site full of information! I’m looking forward to my new hobby!

Celia Padvis
Reply

Hello Rusty,

I’ve just found this site by accident searching for the reason why bees are suddenly buzzing in circles around a spot under the roof tiles of my bungalow. I’ve been sidetracked from my quest though because I found it all so interesting and entertaining to read – so thank you for that. We are being encouraged here in the UK to look after all our bees as they are struggling with various problems at the moment and, although I have no space or intention to keep honey bees, I do want to help whatever visits my garden in any way I can. I do actively search for and plant anything which is known to attract them to feed. I’ve ‘rescued’ a few (I hope I did anyway) when I’ve found them on the ground in early spring because they’ve run out of fuel – the advice here is to make a small amount of honey or sugar water available for them in such a way that they can’t fall in or get covered in it – they seemed to like in anyway. I’m just waiting for the first feeder, designed specifically for bees, to appear in our Garden Centres – it won’t be long I’m sure!

I still don’t know exactly why these bees are doing what they are but they are not aggressive so we’ll just leave them to it. I hope to visit you again when I have more time just to read what’s going on.

Celia.

Joann C Odenwelder
Reply

Celia,

Here in Central Texas I’ve heard advice against feeding bees honey, except that which comes from your own hives. Since you don’t have hives, the best approach is to make sugar syrup, but ONLY if there are insufficient flowers in bloom. Mostly here in Texas they need supplemental water.

We take a shallow tray—like a saucer from under a flower pot. Place in the middle of the saucer 2 or 3 small blocks of wood that are less tall than the saucer is deep. Fill the saucer with water to just up to the edge of the wood blocks. Then fill a quart jar (Mason or Ball jar) with water and use a thin piece of plastic or similar material to cover the opening. Flip the jar upside down and place the rim over the blocks, carefully sliding out the plastic.

It may take the bees a while to find it, but they will come and being creatures of habit, they will return again and again. Oh, I put sea shells or rocks in the saucer so the bees have something to land on; otherwise, they do the backstroke until they can get out! Fill the jar when it empties and enjoy watching the bees!

Joann
OHHO Apiary

Celia Padvis
Reply

Hello Joann,

Thank you for that information and I will certainly bear it in mind. I would guess you will probably get much higher temperatures to deal with in your part of the world than we ever do though. Having said that we have just experienced a reasonably lengthy heatwave here. There was a maximum of 34degsC somewhere in the UK the other day, which is unusual to say the least, but we only just reached 30degs here in the Midlands – and that’s way too much for me!

We do have several birdbaths which are kept clean and well filled and I have seen wasps and other insects visiting them – so hopefully the bees do use them too – though I haven’t actually seen that happen. Spring is mainly when we non bee-hive keepers see bees in trouble in our gardens here. If there has been one of those early warm days that wakes them up but there is very little in flower and only a short day for them to feed you find them ‘conked-out’ on the ground. The BCT (Bee Conservation Trust) is very active now in trying to educate people as to what they can do to help.

Best wishes,
Celia.

Trent
Reply

Aggressive bees is what worries me most. My city ordinance states that all hives must be no closer than 50′ from a neighbor’s structure, and even though I have a 1/4 acre lot, the ordinance forces me to put the hives right on my property line…with a neighbor who’s allergic to bee stings. I put up a fence and hope bees abide by out-of-sight-out-of-mind. One sting, and the bees will go the way of the dodo…at least in terms of my back yard. I think I need to find an out yard somewhere.

Ron
Reply

Thanks for this tread. We never had a problem with aggressive honey bees until recently.

We live in Northern California and have a house that belongs to our family that is vacant. It has a long driveway lined on one side with old olive trees. Two of the trees have wild hives in the trunks that have been there for years. We often walk down the driveway and sometimes watch the bees and they have never been aggressive.

We like honey bees and don’t want to destroy them but couldn’t find any local beekeepers to ask if they wanted them. I did look online and learned that it’s hard to get them out of tree trunks anyway.

We decided to just leave them alone since they never bothered us. However the last two days when I walk down the driveway past them one of them at least one of them acts very aggressive and chases me quite a ways trying to get into my hair. This only happened one other time a few weeks ago.

It sounds like since this is later in summer (although it doesn’t get cold here until late Oct of Nov) could be the reason for aggressiveness. I hope it does stop soon because I would hate to have them destroyed. We need to use the driveway almost daily.

Ron

Rusty
Reply

Ron,

I hope you don’t have to destroy them. This type of behavior happens in late summer when the hot weather had depleted the supply of flowers with nectar. If it starts to rain enough to give you fall-flowering plants, the situation should ease up. Often things like goldenrod, asters, dandelions and similar blooms are enough to dispel their mood. Good luck with it. They sound like great colonies.

Loueezbeez
Reply

Hello! Great site, interesting thread.

I have created a problem for myself. Last night I prepared my two colonies to move them from my backyard in Winnipeg to a field of buckwheat seven miles out. My method is to split the colonies in two, with a cover on the brood chambers and a bottom board on the lower of the two supers and a cover on top, so I have four x two boxes. Then everything is stapled. This way I can lift them (I am not that big or strong) with one other person and also fit them into my hatchback. It’s klugy, but I can’t do it any other way and it’s worked for me for five years now; a hassle but do-able.

So here’s the thing: Last night, I pulled out five full frames from each colony (mistake #1) to lighten the load and then banged in the staples (mistake #2). At sundown (mistake #3).

I left the 2 x 5 pulled frames (including bees) in my backyard in boxes (no choice here) with covers on them and planned to take them out tomorrow when I reunite the upper and lower halves of each colony.

However one remainder box (still in my yard) is spitting mad at me now, and I can’t even pick my beans. I’m not too afraid to get in there and move them anyway, in my suit, but how long will this fury last? The parent colony out in the field isn’t much happier, but I need to reunite everyone asap. (and somewhere in there I have to start extracting 60 frames, cuz I have no empty ones!)

How long can/should I wait? The ones in my yard are of course queenless which doesn’t help. Keeping them here (on the down-low, by the way) is basically inviting them to go sting my unsuspecting neighbours. But I want them to calm down! Will they be like this forever, especially if I move them again? Any tips, tricks and suggestions would be very much appreciated

Thanks in advance for your advice,

Loueezbeez

Rusty
Reply

I don’t know how long they will stay feisty, but I would be careful about reuniting them with their original colonies. Bees realize they are queenless after just a few minutes, and putting them back together after being apart overnight is asking for trouble. I would use the newspaper method or some similar technique to protect your queens.

Laura
Reply

Hi Louizbeez.

I read your situation from last summer when you made your bees upset.

I too have pissed off my bees. Accidentally overdosed them on formic acid. Long story but the hive is queenless and my bees don’t want me in my own back lawn. One stung my little neighbour in her cheek while she was playing in her own back yard. Others chased my opposite side neighbours off their deck. I live in the city so good bee PR is critical. Any suggestions? Thanks so much!

I’m getting a queen to install later today. How was your experience?

raymond
Reply

Just curious, I have spotted what I guess is a hive way in the top of a tree on my property. I can’t tell much other than seeing the bees flying around the top of the tree. (Im using binoculars) I am in Tn and the tree is along a river bank. What type of bees are they likely to be? Honey bees? Are there any other species in Tn that would nest high in a tree?

Rusty
Reply

Raymond,

It could be honey bees; it could also be wasps (yellowjackets) or hornets. The shape of the nest would be a good clue to their identity.

Joan EJ
Reply

I am a newbee…I have 2 hives….one is stronger than the other. I began feeding 2:1 sugar water a week ago in a quail feeder. Problem when I lift off the top board there are so many bees and I seem to be unable to easily lift out the feeder to add the new feeder without smashing bees. Should I be lifting off the deep first, then smoking or brushing the bees away to remove and add the new feeder? Now today there are so many bees aggressively flying around both hives and clustering at the 4 corners, front and back of deep containing the quail feeder. Could these be robbers or are the bees just aggressively mad at me?

Rusty
Reply

Joan,

If you can’t set the feeder in place, smoke the bees down first. Or just lower it very slowly until they move out of the way.

Bees at the corners of the super containing the feeder definitely sounds like robbers. They follow the scent, and if the scent is wafting out of that box, that is where they will try to get in. I would be very careful when adding syrup and be sure to reduce your entrance until it’s about 3/4-inch so the robbers can’t get in as easily. Use a robbing screen if you have one.

Aram
Reply

What an amazingly popular topic. Come to think of it, I think I found your site researching this very same subject.

Joan EJ
Reply

Thank you for your response…..I put in the reducers and today there are thousands and thousands of bees bearding all around the one hive. Many have pollen and don’t seem to know where to go as the entrance is reduced to about 3/4 in….It is very hot and humid in PA today with storms predicted late and cool coming by Tuesday, The 2nd hive appears normal looking. I have seen bearding several times before but never like this….wish I could send you a pic…I don’t think robbing is going on…..should I leave the reducers in? I’m still a newbee. Thank you.

Rusty
Reply

Joan,

Take out the entrance reducer on the stronger hive, especially since you don’t see robbing there. On the weaker one, where you suspected robbing, leave the entrance reducer in place. Some bearding in hot and humid weather is normal, but the stronger hive shouldn’t have a problem with robbing in any case so you can just increase the entrance size.

Lora
Reply

Wow. This is my fourth year of beekeeping and my first year to experience the aggressive behavior. My new colony is Italian and really friendly, the colony I have from last year I think are African and really mean. I had one hive fall over onto the the other hive and while trying to right the boxes bees got under my veil and needless to say had many stings on my face and head. That was on Friday and Sunday while trying to grill they were still really aggressive. My husband wants the bees to be gone, and now I’m worried about taking the honey this fall. Is there a better time to take the honey? What are the ideal condition for taking fall honey?

Rusty
Reply

Lora,

If you live in an area with Africanized bees, you can send them in to a state agency and have them checked. But if they are just aggressive due to the summer nectar dearth, they will soon get over it. This is traditionally honey harvesting time, but you can wait until the weather gets colder if it would make you more comfortable. Check your suit before you start, smoke them good, and them move the frames of honey away from the hives as soon as possible.

NORMA
Reply

A beehive formed in a bird box that we have in a tree in our backyard last year and again this year. We do not mind having them there, about 20 ft from our house although they swarm at times and we just keep away. Since I am not a beekeeper I wonder if I should call someone to do something about the hive, or should I just leave it alone. I have many flowers in my patio, and in Miami many bloom all year long. Your advice is appreciated.

Rusty
Reply

Norma,

I can’t tell what kind of bees they are—or if they are bees—from your description. How big is the bird box? Unless it is huge, the inhabitants are probably bumble bees, not honey bees. If you can live with them, why not? They like the flowers, no doubt, and if you plants lots of flowers you can expect lots of bees.

Brynn
Reply

Hi. I found your awesome website because I am curious why one of my hives is completely docile and the other nothing short of vicious, chasing me for a distance if I work with it.

The docile hive was a split off the aggressive one early in the year.

I realize now in fall lack of nectar can be a problem, but am struggling to understand why two related hives could behave so differently. Even in mid summer when I took some honey out they were like this. It’s so extreme that I almost feel like getting rid of the one hive.

Any ideas? Thanks for your time!

Rusty
Reply

Brynn,

Even though they are related, the queens mated with different drones, so you can get significant genetic variability. If they are like this all the time, and not just in the autumn, I recommend ordering a new queen to replace the one in the temperamental hive. No sense getting rid of the whole thing; as the old bees die and the new ones become numerous, the overall colony behavior should change.

Brynn
Reply

Thanks so much for the reply, Rusty. Yup they are still aggressive, and if still like this in spring I will consider a new queen. I never thought of the fact they have different fathers. So much to learn!

Keep telling myself to be brave and calm, but the thought of opening that hive and even finding the queen freaks me out. The other hive I’d face with bare hands.

Thanks again

Brynn
Reply

Just came across this thread again and thought I’d add that this aggressive hive died over the winter when a raccoon knocked it over during a really cold spell while I wasn’t home. Feel sad for bees, but kind of embarrassing to say, I’m kind of relieved!

Kathi
Reply

I am a newbie and my hive has always been very calm and gentle. This last week I can’t get near it without them trying to sting me. I want to do a hive inspection but they want no part of this. The one frame I was able to pull had capped brood and honey. It is a nice warm day today and I thought they would be in a better mood. I tried on Sunday but they were agitated that day also. I don’t see any signs of robbing. I see bees coming in with pollen. Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.

Rusty
Reply

Kathi,

I don’t know where you are writing from, but you are probably in a nectar dearth due to warm and/or dry weather. They will calm down when fall flowers become available or when it cools down. This is a common late summer/early fall behavior.

Jordan
Reply

So I am at a community garden near my house and there are at least 7 bee boxes that are close by, maybe like 20 feet away from our plot. It was weird; we were working on our plot all morning and then around 11 this morning was when they started getting into our hair, and then kept landing on our faces and basically seeming like they would just attach themselves on our faces, no where else on our body. We would hit them off then they’d just keep coming back and then were like swarming my dog.

We ended up killing like 15 just because they were harassing us. It’s just weird cause we have been here before and this has never been as big as a issue. The started after us after we were laying down horse manure, I am not sure if there is anything that triggers bee in that. But there were 3 other gardeners out and our area was the only one being attacked. And one of the boys got stung right on his face under his eye. Kinda scared me. So what causes that kind of behavior and why do they keep going into hair?

Rusty
Reply

Jordan,

I’m guessing here, but I think the smell of the manure warned them that danger was nearby. Bees have evolved to be wary of large and furry animals like bears, and they will harass those animals to try to get them to go away. Probably the smell of the manure combined with your family’s hair led the bees to believe you were something that needed to be chased away. As the smell of the manure abates, I’m sure their behavior will return to normal.

Aram
Reply

Ask the beekeeper to check if the hives are queenless due to swarm or other causes. This time of the year it is kind of unusual for aggressive behavior. I literally just fixed an aggressive hive that turned out have been queenless by adding a queen. They became a lot more on task of honey gathering, than protecting the queen cells against horse-predators. No guarantee that that’s the cause, but do ask the beekeeper.

Rusty
Reply

Aram,

Excellent point. Yes, Jordan, do ask the beekeeper to check his hives for queenlessness.

Diane
Reply

I have one hive that made it through a very tough winter. About two weeks ago, four swarms showed up – one did not settle and flew away, one I gave away, and two I kept. So now I have three hives, but one acts very differently from the other two. The bees cling together with their legs even in the hive when I try to pull out a frame. Also, they fly around the front of the hive more actively, almost like robber bees. The other two hives, situated within a few feet, are fine with normal bee activity – very happy and productive. I’m wondering if I caught a “wild” bee swarm. They’re not aggressive – I walk up unsuited, and even added an entrance reducer to see if that would help while wearing normal shorts and a T using a light colored ballcap just to hide my dark hair. Any ideas?

Rusty
Reply

Diane,

I would say they just have different genetics. The clinging together (festooning) is normal behavior, especially during comb-building. If this particular swarm has more younger bees, you may see more festooning than average.

The flying in front sounds like orientation, and I’m sure some colonies do it more than others. If they are not aggressive, and you are not seeing fighting at the entrance, I would just assume they are normal but with different genetics than your others.

Could it be a feral swarm? Sure. And if it is, their genes will most probably be a boost to your apiary.

David
Reply

This is my second year. I inspected the hive as usual and now they are aggressive. Sad as I could go out in my boxers to inspect and never have a problem. I have a new carniolan queen and my bees are blacker than most but I have notice now, some golden bees in my colony and I’m not sure if I have a new queen or if my queen mated with another drone from another hive.

Rusty
Reply

David,

Your queen mated about 12-20 times. Each father (drone) will have different genetics and may yield different colored offspring. You need to read “Why are my bees different colors?” But after her mating flights, which last a couple of days at most, she will never mate again.

Aggressive bees often occur in queenless colonies. You can check to see if you still have the queen you purchased or if she is missing. Other reasons for aggressiveness are in the post.

Ron
Reply

I’m not a beekeeper but we have some bees in trees next to our driveway. I walk down the driveway daily without a problem.

Today one of the guards chased me for a pretty good distance. I guess heats makes them grumpy just like people. Our normal temp this time of year is about 70 and today it must be at least 90.

Rusty
Reply

Ron,

Yes, heat will do that, and especially high humidity.

David
Reply

Hello, thanks for the information. Today in my neck of the woods it has been a little rainy, overcast, and slightly humid. I noticed that my bee’s have covered the outside of the hive today, and really acting aggressive, something I have not seen often (this is my second year of beekeeping). So, I figured it was due to the weather. I’m saving your site for future reading. Thanks again.

Roy
Reply

I have been running a piece of heavy equipment about 30-50 ft from a hive in the side of a bluff. These honey bees are getting upset and coming after me! I would just like to know why, if it is the vibration or sound of the equipment or what? Why do they attack my face? Is it my breathe or what?

Rusty
Reply

Roy,

Yes and yes. Honey bee colonies are known for disliking loud noises. Lawnmowers, leaf blowers, tractors . . . anything like that will set them off. Once the bees get close to you, they detect your breath and go for your face. I’ve read that they sense the carbon dioxide when you exhale. I’ve tried blowing on a calm colony of bees and it really riles them up.

Silvia
Reply

Rusty your are my hero! Last Friday I just saw exactly what you are describing with the robbing! I called the beekeeper associate, and he said he never heard or knew of anything like what I had just described! Dead bees on the ground, more aggressive bees, some of them fighting.

Yesterday one of them sting me on the tip of my nose! Ouchhhhhhhhhh it hurt! Thank GOD I am not allergic, it did not even got swollen, (imagine me going to work the next day, with my face blown up!!) lol.

The bees are now coming into the garage, I have to get them out of that wall! But, its not cheap, I just ordered the beginners kit from Brushy, rats! $350 with the shipping. Darn bees, they are leaving me without my hair cut, tint and pedicure for the next 6 months!

They better give me some off their gold stuff!

P.S. Sorry for that! Just getting use to how to use this site!

Michael Lowe
Reply

My bees continue to be aggressive. Each of the three hives has a queen, ventilation, honey stores, cells full of pollen, space, etc. My borage field is blooming right next to them. So … I thought about when and where They go after me. Not when I am seated on the bench facing their hive. Always when I am behind the hives, and near where I burned the frames early this year when the hives all froze. Could they be reacting to that? Variable: I am usually sweaty when they mess with me – due to gardening chores. Do they not like sweat? Curiouser and curiouser.

Rusty
Reply

Michael,

Sweat is a possibility, but I don’t think the burn area is. Another possibility is temperature: they often get more temperamental in really hot weather or excessively humid weather. Or perhaps you got some feisty genetics? Did they all come from the same place?

Croc
Reply

This is my third year of beekeeping near Chicago. I have two hives in my backyard. They are carniolans started from nucs spring 2013. The one hive requeened during the spring this year. They were very aggressive during that time but calmed down once the queen was established. They were only aggressive when I was disturbing the hive. The other hive is very easy to be around.

Now, approximately two months plus later, the one hive is aggressive again. I understand when I am in the hive them defending the hive but I cannot go into my garden or backyard without 2-3 bees being in my face. I thought it might be a few rogue bees but that is not the case.

The calm hive has a weak queen and I will requeen as soon as my new queen gets here. I cannot afford to have such aggressive bees in an urban environment as other posts have stated. I have never experienced aggressive bees away from examining the hive.

We have had a pretty mild summer with plenty of rain until this past week. This week it is hot and humid. I have not extracted yet but plan to soon.

Thanks for any thoughts anyone has to offer.

Rusty
Reply

Croc,

I suspect they are cranky due to hot, humid weather and the approach of a nectar shortage.

Croc
Reply

Rusty,

A follow up to my earlier post: I decided to requeen the hive that was so aggressive. As I was going through the hive, smoke did not seem to have any affect on the bees. They were all over me and bumping away at me. I found the queen quite easily since she was so big. I replaced her and closed the hive.

Unfortunately, I chose to do this on a Sunday afternoon. My neighbors two doors over were entertaining and three of their guests were stung. Another neighbor that is behind us and three doors over were grilling and two of them were stung. Before, their aggression was limited to our yard.

I had about two dozen bees follow me and had to finally take a hose and make like a spray over me to get them to leave so I could get into the house. I talked to a few other beekeepers that were surprised at how far the bees went with their aggressiveness.

The neighbors were very nice and understanding. Hopefully a steady supply of honey will help.
The bees are Carniolans. I thought they were supposed to be less aggressive.

Rusty
Reply

Croc,

It will be interesting to see if the new queen’s progeny are more amiable. I’ve had hives produce “chasers” but I’ve always found they calmed down when the nectar started flowing again.

It sounds like you have amazing neighbors. Most aren’t nearly so accommodating.

Aram
Reply

Croc, I know exactly what you are saying. Except mine were doing the same thing about this time of the year and they were Italians. Replaced with NW Carniolans and have never ever had the same issue again. It was as if the workers became neutered. 2 weeks after the new queens entered the hive, the old Italian workers walked over my hands buzzing in excitement. The behavior like you are describing is not unusual for honey bees, but it is very annoying. Check out their behavior with a replacement queen in 10 days, the difference should be that immediate. I would not raise any of your own queens this season, if you are into that. The drones from the old queen will still be around.

By the way, I caught 2 Italian swarms this year. Both went nuts on me. Replaced with my carnies, calm as kittens. I have no idea what gets the workers going, but the right queen and her young larvae seem to really calm them down.

Also consider that tall hungry hives are always more defensive. Cut them down to a deep and a medium, give extra workers to weaker hives and things will calm down.

Kris L
Reply

I guess misery does enjoy company! I too have had my bees act more aggressively over the past month. I used to be able to stand within a few feet of my hive and watch them with no issues. Now if I come within 20 feet of the hive a guard will come out and start attacking. They will also pursue me to my house which is about 60 yards away. I have noticed that they will always send a couple of bees out when I fire up my riding mower; they don’t get upset with the push mower, just the riding mower.

I have noticed that they are most aggressive after a hive inspection. It usually takes them a week or so to calm down and not chase me when I come near the hive. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), they have had plenty of forage in the nearby alfalfa fields and have been producing honey like crazy so I have had to add a new super every third week to keep up with them. I just added a 5th super. On one hand I am concerned about their aggressive behavior, but on the other their production has been through the roof and it is a really strong hive so I anticipate they will make it through the winter.

I guess I need to take the good with the bad. Having an occasional bee come after me is worth having a healthy hive that is producing excellent alfalfa honey. My hive last year didn’t fare so well and ended up losing its queen during fall wasp attacks, then eventually died during the winter. I am optimistic that they will calm down and be less aggressive as fall settles in and cooler weather starts.

Mary Jane
Reply

I have had my hive just since April. All during spring and early summer I could inspect without any problems. Lately my husband and I have had a few bees come after us when we were 30 to 50 feet from the hive. Recently I have begun feeding because of the scarcity of nectar. and each time I changed the feeder and walked back to the house with the empty feeder several bees would follow me and hang out by the back door. Today I changed my route and left the empty feeder a distance from the house intending to collect it this evening. The bees still followed me and are flying around the smoker which I left outside the back door on a table. They will keep this up for 3-4 hours which makes it difficult to use the back door. Can you explain this behavior? I am thinking about giving up on the feeding. I live in an area of inland of San Diego and it gets pretty hot in the summer.

Rusty
Reply

Mary Jane,

This is completely normal behavior during a hot weather nectar dearth. The bees are searching and searching for some new food source, but they are not finding anything, so they keep investigating. Feeding usually makes this worse because bees from other hives may smell it and try to rob the lucky hive that just received food. All the bees will go back to normal once the weather cools and fall flowers begin to bloom. It is just a normal part of beekeeping.

Mary Jane
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Do you think I should discontinue feeding them? Also where I live (east county San Diego) we are in a drought and other than a few of my non native plants that are still blooming, all the native chaparral plants are dormant and we won’t get anything flowering until late winter, January or February. A beekeeper friend of mine was going to try leaving open containers of sugar water a bit of a distance from her beehives with small blocks of wood so the bees won’t drown. She knows it will also attract every wasp and yellow jacket and I imagine ants as well. What do you think? At this point going down to the hive to change the feed every 2-3 days has become an ordeal!

Rusty
Reply

Mary Jane,

I’m not a fan of open feeding because it can cause fighting, spread disease, and may initiate robbing. Also, if there are a lot of insects eating from it, you can go through a gallon of syrup in an hour.

I would base my decision to feed on how much stored honey your bees have. If they have enough to get them through until the first of the year, then they are fine without. If they are short of stores, then I would go ahead and feed (inside the hive).

Or, if they have enough food for a month or so, you can delay feeding until the weather cool downs and they are better behaved.

I understand your weather; I lived in El Cajon for several years.

Jim
Reply

Just found this site and have enjoyed the discussions.

We are in Southern Cal. and have been experiencing the worst drought in many years. We have a small farm and have tried to plant things that will provide food into late season for the bees we have on site (currently 7 hives). This year it may not be enough. After an inspection it was apparent that 3 of the hives did not have enough stored honey/pollen to get through the winter, so I started feeding with top feeders. This afternoon I noticed massive activity on the back field with bees clustered on the seams between hive boxes. I do have entrance reducers on the hives being fed, but there is a jam up of bees at each entrance. Going to check for signs of fighting tonight after things calm down a bit. What do you think about taping the seams up? I think the robbers are smelling the honey in the hives and trying to get inside any way they can.

Rusty
Reply

Jim,

Bees at the seams are a sure sign of robbers. And you are right, since the bees don’t live there, they don’t know how to get in. They follow the scent until they get lucky and find the entrance. Feeding always increases the chance of robbing. Even if the syrup isn’t laced with an attractant, just opening the hive and disturbing things releases odors that the bees find.

For the most part, a small entrance is defendable by a normal-size colony. For very small colonies, I like to use a robbing screen that fits on the front of the hive. It moves the entrance away from the regular entrance so it is away from the smells emanating from the hive. They work really well.

Just a theory, but I think taping the seems would be a bad idea. The only place left for smells to come out would be at the real entrance, so I think that would lead them to the entrance sooner and more reliably. I would (and do) let them waste their time at the seams.

Jim
Reply

Update to bees robbing at the hive box seams. I will follow your advice and not tape up the seams. An early morning inspection showed no dead bees at the entrance and I already have it reduced to about 1 inch. I think the seams are too narrow to allow entrance so I will let them burn out their energy there.

Thanks for the quick response. It is nice to know there are resources out there!

Lyn
Reply

I am a small beekeeper in central Florida. I have 2 hives at my home with Italian queens, which are really calm. I don’t even use smoke normally on them; I use sugar water, which they love. A quick spray when I open the hive and everybody is busy licking each other off. lol I recently purchased 2 new hives with hygienic queens for a friend’s grove close by. They are MUCH more aggressive than my Italians. Anyone else found that with the hygienic bees?

Clifford
Reply

I live in SW Oklahoma and we do have Africanized bees here. I captured a colony from a farm building this past June. The owner told me he had an African colony in a tree on another farm. He was trying to remove it when they attacked him. He is a disabled man and couldn’t walk on the rough ground. He got off his tractor and was in trouble. He managed to call his wife. She was able to rescue him and get him to an ambulance. The medical people estimated 2500 stings. He was okay the next day and went home. They are awfully defensive. From the reading I have done, they are more aggressive in everything they do. They mate with the queen ahead of all others. They make more honey, they make more comb, they hatch sooner etc. All the bees I have captured, I have re-queened. I am thinking I just need to do this. $25 is cheap for a hive of bees. I will spend the money to keep the genetics out of my hives. The tendencies are always there, they tell me. They never go away and they never dilute. I am certainly no authority on this but I am cautious. I order queens that have been in a controlled environment.

Mary Jane
Reply

Just an update from East County San Diego. I have slowed down on feeding the bees as we are busy getting ready to go out of state for a wedding. But my bee friend just invested in a type of bucket feeder (Collis) that goes inside the hive. I was wondering if you were familiar with that style of feeder. Even though I try and alter my route after changing the feeder, and leave both the smoker and empty feeder a distance from the house I still have several bees follow me home and they hang out by the door for hours, and if I go outside they actually harass me. Its kinda discouraging, and my husband is getting annoyed. Do you think this behavior will eventually subside?

Rusty
Reply

MaryJane,

Eventually, but it may take a while. Honey bees are stubborn.

Alan
Reply

Hi there

I live in eastern South Dakota and have kept bees since 1995. I bought three nice colonies from a keeper who brings his colonies up north via California and Lufkin, Texas. These bees are the hottest colonies I have ever had the displeasure of working with. Just pulled three full supers of honey from each. They are big strong colonies. But they are unmanageable in every other way. Cannot break open the brood boxes without a full on attack. They patrol the area and are located a 75 yards or further from the property owner’s house. They have stung lately by the house. I added formic a couple weeks ago, Mite Away, but to be honest I could not entertain the idea of requeening due to the defensiveness. My thoughts are AHB. Just knowing they came through Texas makes me wonder about the genetics. We are going to have highs in the low sixties and lows in low 40s soon. Any thoughts Rusty? I called the guy I bought them from to get his take on it.

Rusty
Reply

Alan,

AHB came to my mind as well when I read your description, especially when you add together their origin, the defensiveness, and the good honey production. But even if they are not Africanized, it seems prudent to re-queen with milder bees. If you keep bees for enjoyment, but it becomes uncomfortable, re-queening is probably the best option.

I certainly understand your anxiety at having to find the queens in super hot hives, but I’m thinking that is exactly what you have to do. On the other hand, if they are not Africanized and are just being aggressive due to high heat and/or a dearth, they might be easier to re-queen once the cooler weather comes in. You could wait a couple weeks and look for a change.

I’m interested to hear what the seller has to say.

Aram
Reply

The Ohio Country Boy on the youtube talks about dealing with a hot hive. He basically broke the colony onto 3 stands. It was a lot easier to work with 1/3 of the hot bees. Then checked it in a few days for whichever one had the queen and dealt with it from that point on. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmmtjFgdqz8

Jim
Reply

I did something similar to a hot hive by breaking it into 3 and re-queening. This does work but it is getting late in the year for it. Not enough time left (at least in Central California) for the bees to build up for the winter.

Rusty
Reply

Jim,

That is true, but I once split a hot triple-deep hive in order to find the queen. As soon as I replaced her, I immediately recombined the parts of the hive with newspaper. It’s a lot of work, but it solves the problem and you don’t need time to build up because you’ve got a triple-deep hive again.

Jim

I like that idea, Rusty. The main idea is to get the hive down to a size where you can find the offending queen and then do what you need to do to replace her.

Alan

Hi Jim

For me these bees are just too darn crazy; just to split two brood boxes causes them to go ape!!

Alan
Reply

If I could even work with them long enough to put an excluder in, that would be a major coup. The worst part is that I have a really gentle colony I caught as a swarm in early August. I would like to kill the queen in at least one of these hot colonies but that prospect seems unmanageable since I cannot even do a simple operation like find the queen without a major onslaught.

Aram
Reply

Rusty, if you don’t mind a shameless plug here, but I do have 2 laying Northern queens left from this year, if Alan cannot buy one locally. No AHB blood in those.

Alan Montgomery
Reply

Hi there:

I would sure appreciate the queens if you still have them.

Alan Montgomery
520 North Prairie Avenue
Madison, SD 57042

William H N Fleming
Reply

Aggressive honey bees can often be caused by the crossing of the dark honey bee, Apis mellifera, and the lighter honey bee, Apis lingusta. In order to get gentle bees a program of breeding needs to be done. Any colony that is aggressive should have the queens replaced as quickly as possible. Read Ted Hoopers book, A Guide to Bees and Honey.

Alan Montgomery
Reply

Hi William:

Just trying to find this queen results in a massive outpouring and lots of pheromone (banana smell) being emitted en masse.

Aram
Reply

Alan,

Plug the mean hive and place the “kind” hive in the “mean” hive’s location. Move the mean hive further out. The foragers will move into the kind hive after liberation. Hopefully both hives are currently close enough to each other that the kind foragers can easily relocate.

All you’ll have left is young bees in the mean hive. They are generally less mean than older foragers and there will be less of them. Now you can go through the hive to find the queen. If you spike them with sugar syrup the foragers will go out for a clensing flight and relocate. Rusty has discussed many methods of finding the queen without too many manipulations. Apply as needed. Good luck.

Alan Montgomery
Reply

Hi Aram:

Nice…when you say “plug” do you mean seal off the entrance to the mean hive? I will duct tape it. I like this idea. Will return with a report.

Best,

Alan

P.S keep me in mind for queens

Aram
Reply

Alan,

For some reason I visualized that you had a central hole (holes) in your deeps that you could plug with something or other to keep them inside. But yes, I meant seal off.

Alan
Reply

Ok yes that’s what I will do and move them 15 ft away put gentle colony in their place.

Rob
Reply

A note from Tasmania, yes Australia.

My experience shows that these factors may also promote aggression

# Human nervousness
# Strong odours like petrol, deodorant and exhaust fumes
# Wind and sharp movements of the hive
# Dark colours
# The beekeeper obscuring the sun or causing a strong shadow on the active bees

But the rewards are great…great web site folks
Rob

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Rob. We hear quite a bit from our friends in Australia, and we certainly appreciate it.

emily
Reply

What is your last name? I am doing a project at school and I need to know your last name.

Rusty
Reply

Emily,

My last name is Burlew. Here’s a hint to help you with names: oftentimes you can scroll down to the bottom of the home page and find last names in the copyright notice.

I would love to hear about your project. Why don’t you write back and tell me about it.

Todd
Reply

Rusty,

I wanted to comment on the wind and strong odour factor contributing to aggression from our Australian neighbour Rob. I have two new hives which I have been feeding, salting, and putting water out for. No complaints from our fat and happy Italian bees until a few days ago we had some strong wind gusts and I was dressed to go out and decided to check on them and was chased about 60 yards then after about 20 minutes getting into my truck had another give a hair attack. The next day with no cologne on and less wind had no problems standing next to the hive even with a red wasp flying around them.

Rusty
Reply

Todd,

My guess is the wind bothered them, especially if it was causing noise. Cologne incites curiosity more than aggression, but wind noise can be very disturbing.

Merilyn
Reply

I am interested in the alarm pheromone, as I had not heard that bees have such a pheromone. A few days ago, I checked my bee hive, an there were very few bees (3) coming or (7) going over the 10 min period that I was observing them. Was it because they were all in for the day as it was 5.40 pm and the sun set? I listened closely at the back of the hive, and I could barely hear a hum at all. I wondered if it was because the temperature was about 25 degrees Celsius and were the bees not hot and not cold and therefore happy and not fanning or creating a fuss. This afternoon about 4.30pm I checked them again, and this time there were a few more buzzing in and out which was a good sign but still not like the activity even just one to two weeks ago. I was able to listen to a slightly louder hum than last time which told me there were a few more bees present and at least they had not all absconded, if indeed that is the reason for their low numbers or inactivity. Then I moved to the side of the hive, level with the front opening, suddenly there were a couple of dozen bees emerging too check me out and I withdrew behind the hive. One got caught in my long hair, so I went back to the house for someone to let the bee escape as no amount of shaking would set the bee free. None of the bees bit me, but I was surprised at how quickly their numbers increased, and the alarm pheromone would explain this sudden increase.

Rusty
Reply

Merilyn,

I’m not sure I understand your question. Sometimes the bees are just more docile than other times. The alarm pheromone can be released for different reasons, and one example would be a sting. Once one stings, they all want to sting (or so it seems) and that is a result of the alarm pheromone signaling a danger.

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