Why Are My Bees Suddenly Aggressive?

Honey bees can be like teenagers, they get mood swings and become very aggressive. Unlike hormonal teens, beekeepers can usually find a reason for the sudden change of their hive’s behavior.

Temperamental bees are not an ideal scenario for beekeepers. They can get aggressive and even attack while you’re performing necessary tasks like hive inspections or manipulations. If provoked, bees can even chase a beekeeper away from their home.

Although, nonaggressive bees are generally docile in the spring and early summer, it’s not uncommon to find a shift in behavior as the colder season approaches. Bees are generally more aggressive in the late summer and early fall. This is because they are near the end of collecting and storing their honey supply for the winter. As a result, they become protective and defensive of their hive.  

However, sometimes a beekeeper needs to troubleshoot other causes for extreme behavior shifts in honey bees.

5 Reasons Why Your Bees are Suddenly Aggressive

1. Lack of Nectar

Summer is a common time for nectar dearth. Nectar dearth is a period when there is little to no available nectar for bees to collect. Each region experiences its own nectar dearth at various times, but it’ll typically occur during seasonal transitions.

There are several signs of a lack of nectar in your area:

  • Louder bees- If your bees are noticeably louder and linger outside of the hive, it could be an indicator that they are irritable and hungry due to the lack of nectar.
  • Strange flower behavior- Hungry bees will re-check flowers that they already collected nectar from and even check flowers that they typically avoid during a nectar dearth.
  • Robbing- When bees get desperate for food, they will become aggressive and begin to rob other hives of their honey. See the Robbing section below in this article for more information.
  • Bees are more visible- Bees will become more visible during a nectar dearth because they are aggressively looking for food. You may notice bees flying low and inspecting any promising sources of food. Don’t be alarmed if you see curious bees lurking around your beekeeping supplies, candles, or any other scented products.

How do I solve this problem?

If your bees are not producing honey, there is a chance that they are not able to collect enough nectar. If that’s the case, feed your bees a sugar-water mix or bee syrup until more nectar is available. Be sure to periodically check on your bees to see how much syrup they consume. Once you observe that the bees are eating as little to no syrup from the feeder, you can stop providing the mix.  

2. Bad Weather

Bees get very crank when the weather is not ideal. They don’t like rainy, hot, or humid weather. They especially don’t like any wind or clouds. On very humid days, the worker bees in the hive can’t fan their wings fast enough to remove the moisture from collected nectar to make honey. They also have problems cooling down the hive. Bad weather can result in aggressive, unhappy bees.

How do I solve this problem?

Before conducting a hive inspection, always check the weather to ensure your bees are safe from any wind or precipitation. Choose to inspect your bees on a day with plenty of sunshine and with weather that closely resembles the conditions in the hive.  

3. Robbers & Predators

When there is a shortage of nectar in the area, bees will begin to steal it from other hives. Hive robbing will bring aggressive behavior to all honey bees involved. Robbing honey bees and the bees being robbed both become aggressive as they fight for survival.

There are several signs that robbers are in your hive:

  • Bees are fighting each other at the hive entrance
  • The ground in front of the hive is covered with dead honey bees
  • A “cloud” of bees surrounds the hive  

On top of robbers, other predators may be present and attacking your hive. If a predator is lurking around a hive, the bees will become aggressive in order to protect their honey. Predators can include skunks, mice, and raccoons.

How do I solve this problem?

If you see robbing in your hive, be sure to act quickly. When bees fight, they release an alarm pheromone. This is an odor that warns the colony that danger is close. As the fighting intensifies, so does the pheromone. If there are dead bees, they also release a pheromone that attracts other predators such as wasps and yellow jackets. It’s important to take action as soon as you notice robbers around your hive. You can stop a hive attack by reducing the size of the entrance using an entrance reducer. This will only allow one bee to enter the hive at a time.

Always inspect the surrounding of the hive for any signs of a predator lurking close by. Skunks and raccoons will attempt to get close to the hive at night during the summer. Check on your hive at night, if possible, and take proper measures to stop predators from getting too close.

When you are inspecting a hive, don’t leave it open for longer than 10 minutes. The long exposure not only riles up the bees, but the smell of honey can attract predators. Robber bees could be flying by and become aware of the honey in your hive.    

4. The Hive is Queenless

Sometimes, a queen can go missing. Either she died or a beekeeper accidentally removed her from the hive. When the colony realizes that their queen is missing, they begin to requeen the hive to bring back order. During this time, bees will be very aggressive until a new queen emerges.  

There are a few signs that indicate that a hive may have lost their queen:

  • No new brood or eggs. Because the queen is the only fertile female bee, if she is gone, the hive will have no new brood or eggs. Inspect the brood chamber often and you will be able to identify if a hive is without a queen.
  • Decreased bee population. If a queen is absent, her hive will see a drop in population very quickly. If you notice a sharp decline in the bee population, it may be because there is no queen producing new brood or eggs.
  • Increased honey. If you notice a significant increase in honey production in your hive, it may be because there is no queen. The worker bees that would normally tend to the eggs and brood will be without a job and begin foraging for nectar.
  • The hive is making a replacement queen. A queen cell is a special cell that produces a queen bee. A queenless colony will make queen cells to bring back order to the hive. These cells can be easy to identify by its unique “cave” shape.

How do I solve this problem?

If a hive is without a queen, you can requeen the hive. You can buy a new queen with good temperament and introduce her to the colony. The queen should be placed in the hive while remaining in a queen cage with a candy plug. After installing the new queen bee, give the hive about one week to adjust to her. Over that time, they will eat through the candy plug to reach her. From there, you can resume normal hive inspections.  

Remember that the queen bee sets the personality and temperament of the entire hive. If the queen is gentle, the hive will be as well. However, if the queen is aggressive, the hive will emulate her behavior. If you find that a new queen is aggressive, opt to re-queen the hive with one that has a calmer temperament.

5. Improper Hive Manipulation

Sometimes bees are not fond of someone new entering their home and poking around in their personal space. Naturally, bees become protective when a beekeeper opens their hive to perform thorough inspections. If you make fast movements or accidentally smush bees, you may be the cause of some hive aggression.  

How do I solve this problem?

If you notice that your hive is more aggressive after you conduct an inspection, there are a few changes you can make to keep your bees docile. Inspect your bees in the late morning when they are most active and forager bees are out of the hive. Be sure the weather is optimal and that there is no rain or wind.  

Tips on Handling Aggressive Bees

If your bees suddenly become aggressive, you may still need to conduct a hive inspection or manipulation. If you still need to inspect a hive of aggressive bees, consider the following tips.

Remain Calm. Staying calm is the most important thing you can do when handling aggressive bees. Many new beekeepers find it to be difficult to remain calm when they open a hive. Luckily, this is natural and will get easier to do after much practice. Remember that bees are magnificent creatures that are very intuitive to your energy. Like a dog or horse, if you approach them with fear and doubt, they will respond the same. Breathe and try to relax when you work on your hive. For more tips, see our article on alternative ways to keep bees calm.

Wear protective gear. Beekeeping suits provide full-body protection from bee stings. Wearing a beekeeping suit will give you a sense of security if your bees attack. If you opt to wear other clothing, try to wear light colors such as white or pastels. See our list of the top beekeeping suit for all levels of beekeepers.  

Use a smoker. A bee smoker is an essential tool for all beekeepers. A smoker is used to mask the pheromones that bees use with communicate to each other and to alert one another when there is a danger. A smoker also emulates a forest fire to honey bees. Bees will fill their bellies with honey and prepare to move. A full bee is a calm bee. Use a few pumps of smoker near the entrance of the hive before conducting your inspection.  

Final Thoughts

It’s natural for bees to get aggressive as the summer months come to an end. With honey stored away for the winter, it’s easy to see why they would become defensive. However, if your bees become noticeably too aggressive, it’s your job as a beekeeper to troubleshoot and fix the situation. Conducting routine inspections and taking precautions before opening a hive can be the difference between life and death of a colony.

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