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Bees

What Causes Honey Bees to Be Aggressive?

I absolutely love fresh honey, and there’s nothing more enjoyable than eating honey you know was produced right on your own farm.

But it’s hard to harvest honey when your bees are cranky, ornery, miserable – just downright unpleasant to deal with. 

My husband is the beekeeper on our property, and when he received a nasty sting that sent him to the hospital last year, we shrugged it off. Just a sting. Got him in the wrong place. He probably wasn’t allergic.

But then we discovered that our bees were stinging us all of the time – even when we were nowhere close to the hive or doing anything to disrupt them.

This year, we’ve been very hesitant to crack open the hives and work with the bees. When you’ve been stung dozens of times in one season, it naturally makes you a little hesitant.

We’ve done some research to figure out why it is that honey bees can get so cranky – as well as what you can do about it.

mean honey bees

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Why Are My Bees So Aggressive?

Queen Issues 

honey bee
Photo: Pixabay

The queen is essentially responsible for the functioning of your entire hive. If she’s particularly miserable, the hive will be nasty too. On the flip side, if she’s friendly, your bees will be nicer, too. 

Similarly, if your queen dies or is otherwise absent, the hive will begin to decline. As your bees try to requeen the hive, they will become defensive and aggressive until a new queen takes control and sets a new tone for the hive. 

Remember that  a colony that supersedes the queen can also have more aggressive bees, since the genetics are uncertain. If you “accidentally” requeen in this manner, it may be worth your time and money to purchase a marked and mated queen from your bee supplier to replace the other queen.

Rapid Growth

bees
Photo: Pixabay

A newly established colony is gentle to start. However, as it grows in size and it becomes later in the year, the bees will grow into their hive, becoming more protective of their home and honey stores. 

If your hive has rapidly grown in size over the last few months, knot hat too many bees in the hive puts substantial stress on the preexisting bees to collect enough pollen. They will feel the need to aggressively defend their honey and will lash out as a result.

However, know that this is only a temporary issue. Once the hive adjusts, and as bees begin to die off, the hive should balance itself out. 

Lack of nectar or food

bees
Photo: Pixabay

Have your bees been hungrier than normal? If there isn’t great pollen or nectar availability in your area, know that you will need to feed your bees in order to prevent them from becoming cranky. Nectar deaths – as well as drought – can cause your bees to become more aggressive.

If there is a shortage of honey, your bees will have a fight or flight mindset. They may rob other hives and this will cause them to be increasingly aggressive. Similarly, your hive may be getting robbed, too – which can of course lead to them being more aggressive. 

Poor weather conditions

 bee on flower
Photo: Pixabay

Honey Bees liked to be work on calm, clear days with plenty of sunshine – like us, they aren’t particularly fond of wind, rain, or cloudy weather

Too much hive disruption

honey bees
Photo: Pixabay

Have you been checking you have more than normal? Bees are very aware of any disturbances and can become quite protective of their homes. If you’ve recently subjected your hive to a thorough inspection or worked it particularly hard, you may find that they are crank for a while.

Even if you haven’t been poking around your hive that often, know that other creatures may have. Bee predators can cause your bees to become extremely aggressive. You might have to do some research to figure out whether this is your problem. Some common culprits might include:

  • Skunks 
  • Bears
  • Toads
  • Lizards

Remember that not all animals are vulnerable to bee stings the way we are. Skunks, for example, enjoy bringing their families to the hies during the nighttime, when the weather is cooler. They are only sensitive to stings on their bellies. They’ll sit outside the hive and eat bees and honey to their heart’s content. 

Here are some other pests and predators that might threaten your bees.

Mites have invaded

bees
Photo: Pixabay

Depending on the time of year, mites might be to blame for your hive’s newfound aggressiveness. In late summer, your hive populations will naturally drop as the queen lays fewer eggs.

However, this is the same time of the season when mite reproduction increases. You may have had a small mite problem to start with and not even realized it, but as the population becomes unbalanced, your bees can grow ornery.

You have a hornet or wasp problem

bees
Photo: Pixabay

If you have winged invaders taking over your hive, your bees will become increasingly defensive as they try to defend their space. Keep your boxes covered and don’t leave the hive open for long periods of time. Remember that a healthy hive is less susceptible to invasion, too. Your hive is at greater risk of invasion if it is new, small, weak, or battling a mite infestation. 

Your hive has Africanized

bees
Photo: Pixabay

Africanized bees are rare. However, they can be found in certain corners of the country. These bees are extremely aggressive and their populations are believed to be on the rise in the United States. Virgin queens will mate with Africanized drones in the area – even if you live somewhere that are not known to be home to Africanized bees, know that some packaged bees from the south can carry Africanized genes to your area. 

Tips for Calming Down an Angry Hive

Wear all white

raising bees
Photo: Pixabay

Most bee predators are naturally dark in color, like skunks and bears. If you wear lighter colors, it will calm your bees down as they won’t view you as a predator.

Remember – even your veil needs to be white. Plus, it will be cooler for you to work in when the weather heats up! Keep in mind that wearing a white mesh veil can also be helpful when bees cover the veil to the point where it is difficult to see- the white helps cut down on this.

Avoid laundering issues

While it’s important to wear a bee suit while working your hive, be aware that a lack of laundering can lead to issues. If you were stung while wearing your clothing or glove sin the past, they may still contain traces of an alarm pheromone that can stimulate defensive behavior. Clean your beekeeping loading after every use  – if this is not possible, smoke heavily around the area of the sting to disguise the p heormne. 

Spend time with your bees – but not too much

Photo: PIxabay

You need to spend enough time with the bees for them to get used to you – but you don’t want to pester them too often. Try to lessen the number of times that you open the hive and make sure that every time you do, it is deliberate and planned. 

Remain relaxed

Don’t rush the amount of time you spend with your bees. While you want to be efficient and gt in there, get the job done, and get out, you also don’t want to make any sudden movements.

As with all creatures, this is more likely to frighten them. You need to have a relaxed demeanor when you work with your bees, because a frantic, nervous energy will encourage them to sting you.

Work slowly and deliberately, and if you need to take a few days to complete a task, do it – it’s better than rushing the task and accidentally startling them. 

Work the hive in optimal weather conditions 

Avoid working your hive when the weather is miserable – they’ll be cranky, too. The best time to check your hives will be late in the morning or early afternoon – again, you want to wait until the weather is good. 

Remember that if it’s hot and humid, this can make bees just as cranky as rainy weather can, too.

Control mite populations

You should treat for mite several times per year. When you do this will vary depending on the genetics of your bees, what kind of mite control product you use, and where you live. Remember that some strains of bees are more sensitive to mite infestations. There are many bee breeders who now breed mite resistant bees. 

Unfortunately, while there are many mite treatment options available, most of them involve the use of chemicals. If you don’t treat your hives for mites, you will likely be faced with a decline in your bee population  – and the loss of a whole hive. You can find more information on how to treat your hives for mites here.

Avoid attracting other predators

If your bee colony feels unsafe, they will become aggressive. Consider putting your hive on a stand, which will reduce the likelihood of animal predators like skunks or bears of getting into your hive.

Do everything in your power to make your hive difficult to access. If you’re unsure what kind of critter is getting into – or otherwise pestering – your hive, consider putting out trail cameras to find out. 

You can prevent wasps from becoming a problem in your hive by using a beehive robbing screen. This makes it more difficult for your bees to get into the hive, but they’ll figure it out – but the wasps won’t. You can also set out wasp traps in the spring to catch wasp queens before they have a chance to become established.

Consider requeening 

bees queens
Photo: Pixabay

Bees are like people – none of them are alike. Therefore, some queen bees are more aggressive and it’s possible that this is causing the rest of your bees to be mean, too. You may want to replace the old queen and get a new one.

Being without a queen or under the reign of a hostile queen bee is one of the most common reasons why bees get cranky, so you’ll want to view this as an option. 

Don’t be impatient, though. Once you requeen, it does take some time for the hive to get used to the new queen and to change their behavior. You also need to make sure you purchase a queen from a reputable source.

Use proper smoking techniques

You need to use a smoker when working your hive, but did you know that improper smoking could be to blame for an irritable colony? Here are some techniques to make sure you are doing it correctly.

Consider misting

Misting bees helps calm your bees. When you mist them, they will groom themselves as a natural instinct. Try to make a sugar water or kombucha misting spray like this one instead of using your smoker. This might help calm your bees down enough that they can be worked. 

Add an entrance reducer

bee hive
Photo: Pixabay

If you suspect that hive size or nectar dearth are to blame for your newly moody bees, you might want to add an entrance reducer. This will eliminate the amount of space needed for invading bees, wasps, or other creatures. Make sure you are selective about where you feed your bees, too, as this can invite other creatures to steal your hive’s nectar.

If you’re concerned that a lack of nectar is a problem for your bees, a good long term solution is to plant more pollinator-friendly plants. This will give them more options as the hive is expanding. 

Here are some good options.

Determine whether Africanization is a problem

Photo: Pixabay

Again, this is the least likely cause of your problem. But if you think that your hive has Africanized, you will need to requeen the hive with a mated queen. It may take some time for this to influence the behavior of your bees.

Remember, an ornery beehive is usually only temporary, so if you’re having problems with your hive, it might be best just to wait it out.

Knowing the signs of a larger problem is crucial as you are beginning to raise bees, as it will help you prevent unnecessary losses and will keep your hive thriving. 

What other tips do you have for dealing with angry bees? Be sure to let me know in the comments.

Subscribe to our email newsletter for regular tips and tricks on homesteading – wherever you are. You can also follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm) for frequent updates. Happy homesteading!

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Author: Rebekah Pierce

I'm a writer and small farm owner, and lover of everything outdoors. I'm hoping to share my passion for farming, gardening, and homesteading with you on my blogging journey.

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