Why Do Beehives Become Aggressive?


bees at hive entrance

A beehive that has previously been docile but has now turned aggressive can be a frightening experience for a new or inexperienced beekeeper. Indeed, without experience of beekeeping, this seemingly sudden change can be hard to deal with. But why do beehives become aggressive? After all, there has to be a reason for this change in behavior.

Why Are My Bees Attacking Me?

Honeybees can become aggressive from time to time, but there is usually a reason they will start to fly at you when you approach the hive. You might find that bees tend to be more aggressive during late summer or early fall, for which there are very good reasons. It is because more of the conditions that are known to cause aggression exist at these times. Below are just five reasons for aggressive honeybees.

1. Hunger

Just like humans, honeybees may become angry or aggressive if there is a lack of available food. If there is an interruption in the nectar flow, honey may become scarce and more precious. When beekeepers approach the hive, the bees might become defensive and aggressive as they try to protect what remains of their stores.

Bees may even resort to aggressive robbing of other hives if they fear they will not have enough to see them through the winter. Drones might also be ejected from the hive to ensure that the rest have enough food to last through winter and into the following spring.

Bees robbing from other hives can be aggressive, but so too can the bees from hives being targeted by the robber bees. If other bees are robbing your bees, you might notice them circling the hive aggressively as they try to defend their stores.

A sure sign that robbing is occurring is when you notice bees fighting with each other at the entrance of the hive. In such situations you will probably also notice dead bees on the ground in front of the hive entrance.

2. Missing Queen

If the queen has absconded or died, the other bees start to become fearful and aggressive. It is the queen’s pheromones that calm the rest of the colony; without this, they usually become restless. Until a new queen is raised, or you as a beekeeper replace her, the bees will continue to be restless and aggressive.

3. Incorrect Smoker Use

As you probably know, beekeepers use a smoker to interrupt their bee’s alarm pheromone, which makes it easier for them to inspect their hive. However, some beekeepers, especially new or inexperienced beekeepers, use either too much or too little smoke during the process. This can lead to agitated bees.

If you have chosen not to use a smoker, you are more likely to hear a loud hum upon opening up the hive. If this is the case, take this a warning sign that your bees are not happy. Once the alarm pheromone is released and proliferates in the hive, it acts as a warning to the bees of impending danger. Moreover, the louder the hum, the quicker this pheromone travels. So if you hear a loud hum, it is best to close the hive and back away. Consider using a smoker when inspecting your hive the next time, and learn how to use it correctly if you are new or inexperienced.

4. Bad Weather

Bees do not like it when the weather is bad. Conditions such as rain, wind, and dark clouds can affect their mood, so it is best to wait until a calm, warm day before inspecting the hive. Hot and humid weather can also make them aggressive though; warm and humid conditions can affect the bees’ ability to cure their honey.

5. Predators

Towards the late summer and early fall, other insects and animals are preparing for winter and many are trying to find a source of food. This makes some beehives a prime target. It is not uncommon for rodents, skunks, raccoons, and wasps to lurk around the hive in the hopes of getting food. This naturally make the bees nervous and aggressive.

Bees at Hive Entrance

What Time of Year Are Bees Most Aggressive?

Beekeepers usually notice that their bees are more aggressive at certain times of the year. Nonetheless, even those not engaged in the hobby may also notice a change in the behavior of bees, especially towards late summer and early fall.

As natural food sources run low, bees will look for alternative ways to find foods that are high in sugar, which can cause them to land on things like soda glasses, cans, and food that is outdoors. It is also worth remembering that after a summer of foraging for food and high production within the hive, the population of bees will be extremely high, meaning that more bees are out and about looking for food. They often become more noticeable because there are more of them about. This can lead many people to (usually wrongly) assume that the bees are being aggressive as they try to source food.

Will Honeybees Attack You?

It is important to remember that honeybees are not natural aggressors and will only attack when forced to defend their hive. When a bee attacks with its sting, it will die shortly afterwards, so stinging is only done as a final resort in defense of itself or its colony.

What is considered a threat will differ from one species of honeybee to another. Some honeybees are quite docile and will allow beekeepers to approach the hive provided they are not standing directly in front of the entrance. However, other species, such as the Africanized honeybee, may be more apprehensive about the approach of a beekeeper, even from dozens of feet away.

bees at hive entrance

What to do When Bees are Chasing You

When honeybees believe their colony is under threat, they send out some guard bees to warn away the would-be attacker. Before resorting to a sting, these bees will ‘headbutt.’ If a bee exhibits this behavior with you, the best thing to do is turn around and walk away.

According to entomologist Dr Justin O. Schmidt, it is also a good idea to hold your breath while you walk away from the guard bees. He says that holding your breath is similar to making the bees blind as they use odor to navigate. You holding your breath makes it difficult for the bees to locate you.

The natural response that most people have when a bee is headbutting them is to swat it away, but according to Dr Schmidt this is not a good idea. He said that instead of making the bees go away, it will just make them more aggressive as they think they are under attack.

Conclusion

Most bee species are not aggressive by nature and will only attack when feeling under threat. It is common for bees to become more aggressive at specific times of the year, such as late summer and early fall, when there are more triggers present, such as predators or a reduced nectar flow.

Knowing what causes bees to become aggressive and being able to spot the signs of aggression in bees can help to prevent situations from getting out of control.

Anthony

Anthony is a content creator by profession but beekeeping is one of his great passions.

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