After years of observations, beekeepers have concluded that when nature has a hard time, she lashes out -the same applies to her hard workers. As calm as bees can appear, there’s an opposite spectrum that you don’t want to see! These tiny insects can become aggressive and fierce when ticked off by specific situations or provocation.
Bees are mainly aggressive from bad weather conditions, frequent inspections, manipulation from beekeepers, clumsy keepers, poor hive placement, nectar dearth, and predators. However, a mean queen bee, the absence of the queen, or genetics and cross-breeding can produce naturally aggressive bees.
While most bee colonies are gentle and mellow, they become any beekeeper’s worst nightmare when mean and aggressive! So, why are the bees suddenly aggressive? There’s usually a good reason if your beehive suddenly shows unusual aggressive behavior– loud buzzing, clustering, zippy movements, or random stinging. So, here’s why.
Why Are Bees Aggressive And Mean?
Bees can be aggressive due to numerous reasons.
Like the famous expression: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” bees kick into action when nature’s down and under. So, when dealing with aggressive bees, the most common culprit is because the colony is experiencing some kind of hardship.
Like any other animal, bees do whatever it takes to protect their home (hive). So, an uncomfortable environment can quickly stress and irritate the bees, leading to aggressive and mean bees ready to attack. Alternatively, the colony will endure you with docile, friendly greetings in times of abundance.
However, a lack of food and hardship is not all that can set these tiny workers off; here are the most common reasons bees become aggressive and mean.
- Bad weather conditions
- Manipulation from beekeepers and frequent hive inspection
- Nectar dearth (starvation)
- A mean queen bee
- The absence of a queen bee
- Genetics, including aggressive cross-breeding
- Dirty bee-suit (covered in the alarm pheromone)
- Poor hive placement
- Clumsy beekeepers
If you’re like me and prefer the detailed overview, please continue reading for the full-scoop version on why bees become aggressive and mean.
Are Bees Usually Aggressive And Mean?
Unfortunately, a widespread deception has been going on for years, claiming that bees are always mean and aggressive insects. But these claims can’t be further from the truth.
Bees are usually docile insects minding their own business. Their “docile” strategies involve non-stinging habits and avoiding possible exposure to the predator or beekeeper. In this context, the worker bees respond to potential threats by reducing, even ceasing, outside-hive activities.
Docile behavior is mainly associated when bees have:
- Low ambient temperatures
- Low ambient humidity
- A small colony
- Honey store size
- Sufficient nectar flows in the field
Honey bees also won’t sting people without good reason. But the fact bees are friendly by nature does not mean they won’t defend their hive and themselves from possible threats.
Bees typically sting people for one of two reasons, both of which are related to feeling threatened. First, they sting people in self-defense or defend their colony and honey supply from predators.
It’s not too tricky determining bees’ behavior. When disturbed, they buzz loudly and angrily around their hive. More so, they can try to warn when feeling threatened.
If stationery, the bee tilts its body to one side slightly, raising its middle leg in the air as a defensive reaction to feeling threatened.
When threatened, the guards (a specific subset of bees) are responsible for responding to the disturbance that occurs close to the colony. These guards are highly responsive to visual clues, including movements and dark colors.
The guard bees signal potential threats to the soldier bees by releasing the sting alarm pheromone, ultimately triggering the aggressive collective response.
When the bees are stimulated by the pheromone, excitement soon unfolds. So, they fly out, harass, and sting the intruders. Unfortunately, the extreme cost of aggression explains why engaging in defensive behavior is tightly regulated to the foraging conditions, state of the colony, and the honey supply.
10 Explanations For Cranky Bees
Let’s look at the primary reasons bees become aggressive and mean.
1. Bad weather conditions
If you are a new beekeeper, you’ll quickly learn that bees are happier and more docile during calm days with abundant sunshine.
Extreme weather conditions dramatically affect the mood of bees. Tempestuous, rainy, and cloudy weather stress the bees, causing them to become moody.
Although bees can fly in rainy weather, they prefer not to as the rain poses various threats from weighing the bee down and interfering with its flight. In addition, misty weather is less than ideal as the mist tends to accumulate on the bee’s body, slowing it down.
The same applies to scorching, humid days; the heat vastly affects their temperament. The hot and humid weather makes the bees uncomfortable and irritated. More so, bees become aggressive and hostile as summer draws to an end and large harvests come to a halt.
The bees become defensive and highly protective of their hive once their food supply decreases, making it difficult to cure more honey.
I’d be cranky too if I reach the end of stashing away this delicacy, aka their honey supply.
2. Manipulation From Beekeepers And Frequent Hive Inspection
Bees thrive in a calm and docile environment with minimal disturbance. So, standing too close to their hive and manipulating it is a culprit behind arousing an aggressive and defensive response.
Bees hate it when someone continually opens their hive to prod and poke around all over the place. So, when you open their hive for a general inspection or harvest honey, you disturb the peace. As a result, the bees become cranky and defensive -who could blame them?
It is only natural for bees to become aggressive and protective of their home, especially when you fiddle around for too often or too long.
The bees can also be cranky for several days after undergoing a more thorough inspection or hive manipulation.
When manipulating the hive with a smoker, the smoke interrupts the secretion of the alarm pheromone, causing bees to become defensive. In turn, the bees are much easier to work around.
However, using too much or too little smoke can cause the bees to become agitated. The same applies to not having a smoker on hand. If you open up a hive and hear a loud hum, steer clear!
The greater the buzz, the faster the alarm pheromone will travel, signifying “defense mode.”
Aim to minimize your visits to the beehive and only the box when necessary to ease up inspections and harvests. Also, once working with bees, be gentle and calm to prevent hurting or startling the bees.
Moreover, consider the time of day when paying a visit to the hive. Optimal times are early mornings or late evenings, and of course, during good weather.
3. Nectar Dearth (Starvation)
Starving bees can become extremely violent. Are you ever “hangry?”
Well, bees experience a similar emotion when hungry. They can become totally paranoid.
A pollen and nectar shortage is detrimental to the well-being of bees. This shortage means that your bees will go hungry.
To bees, a dearth is a shortage of nectar, pollen, and nectar-producing flowers.
Few flowers equal less pollen and nectar, and consequently, hungry, irritable bees. In addition, not all flowers produce nectar easily accessible to bees.
Nectar is also limited during excessive heat, low rainfall, and less-than-ideal conditions. And some colonies might be overcrowded, causing a honey shortage to feed the whole colony.
While the most common nectar dearth occurs during the winter, several places can also experience a severe shortage in summer during hot and dry spells. So sometimes, even when the world is green, and flowers are clearly visible, bees can experience a nectar shortage.
A summer nectar death is devastating to a bee colony. Where bees have time to prepare for winter dearth by increasing their honey storage and decreasing their population, a summer dearth hits the colony when its population is at its highest.
Large numbers of active bees require lots of food. A severe summer nectar dearth can cause unwanted behavior, including aggression and irritability.
When the colonies have too many mouths to feed and too little honey stored in their pantry, the honey becomes a precious commodity they’ll dread sharing with visitors. As a result, even the idle bees get into trouble.
If you get an unfriendly welcome while visiting their hive, your bees may be aggressive from dearth period. So, consider checking the state of the beehive. If the hive is overcrowded, you may want to split the hive.
Common Sings Of Nectar Dearth
The most common signs of nectar dearth include:
- Nectar robbing: Strong colonies will rob the weaker colonies of their nectar and honey stores, stripping the weaker colony of its food supply. You’ll notice clouds of bees fighting one another at the hive’s entrance.
- Noisy bees: Bees become extra noisy when they are irritable and hungry.
- Flower behavior: If you look carefully, you’ll notice bees visiting the same flowers to check for nectar remains. They might even check flower varieties that they usually don’t pay a visit to for nectar.
Predators lurk around the beehive causing the bees to become alert and defensive.
Their aggressive behavior is a crucial element when competing for food, territory, and against predators. The defensive behavior aims to protect the nest, which contains its food, brood, and, most importantly, the only reproductive bee of the colony -the queen bee.
Predators including skunks, bears, badgers, wasps, hive beetles, and other insects can irritate bees. However, if you frequently open and interfere with the hive, you can also be seen as a predator.
Skunks are especially tricky as they eat the guard bees, and their thick fur protects them from bee stings. The hive can still be grumpy the next time you pay a visit. Using hive stands is a great way to solve this problem.
Other factors that raise bees’ alarms include motion, vibrations, and color. Bees use these three factors to identify intruders.
Have you ever wondered why bee suits are white? Bees are especially sensitive to dark colors as they resemble predators like bears, skunks, and badgers. The darker colors tend to raise a defensive response in bees.
5. A Mean Queen Bee
The queen bee’s temperament will affect the overall mood of the colony.
If the queen bee has a calm, tranquil personality, the colony tends to have a similar ambiance. But the opposite is unfortunately also true -When a queen bee is aggressive and hostile, the other bees emulate the same trait.
If you have a hive with a mean queen bee, it’ll be challenging, if not impossible, to calm down the swarm.
The only practical option is for beekeepers to replace the hostile queen with a calm, docile one.
6. The Absence Of A Queen Bee
When a bee colony loses its queen through death or other mishaps, it soon senses that she’s gone by the missing pheromone chemical that she usually produces.
A beehive without a queen is chaotic! Bees value structure and leadership, so as the worker bees strive to re-queen the hive, they become more protective and aggressive.
Normalcy arrives once the new queen emerges, reproduces, and sets the overall tone of the hive.
Common Signs Of A Queen-less Hive:
Recognizing that a colony of bees has lost its queen is a sad story. However, to the untrained eye, it may seem that everything is functioning perfectly.
You can watch a colony for weeks without realizing that something is wrong. So, here are the tell-tale signs that can help you recognize a queenless hive before it becomes a significant issue.
- A lack of brood and eggs: The queen bee is the only one capable of laying fertilized worker bee eggs in the hive. So, diminished eggs numbers are the first indication of a missing queen. In addition, a queenless colony will lack larvae and capped brood.
- Reduced bee population: Without a queen to fertilize new eggs and brood, the hive population will decrease drastically.
- Excessive honey supply: While this may sound fantastic to you, too much honey in a hive can indicate the absence of a queen. A queenless hive does not have to take care of the brood, giving the worker bees more time to collect more pollen and nectar and produce more honey.
- Temperament: Queenless bees are often cranky and listless. They tend to produce a high-pitched whine when you fiddle at the hive.
7. Genetics, Including Aggressive Cross-breeding
Some bees are naturally violent.
The queen bee is responsible for 50% of the genetics of worker bees, and some genetic pools are more defensive than others.
Aggressive cross-breeding can also be the culprit behind aggressive bees.
A cross-breed between North American bees and East African lowland breeds -known as Africanization -can result in aggressive bees. So, drones that mate with a virgin queen bee can have East African genes and inevitably incorporate their traits and characteristics into the genetic pool of the new brood.
East African honeybees are famous for their aggressive and hostile nature -they are even referred to as “killer bees.”
Africanized “Killer” Bees
Africanized “killer” bees resemble their European cousin. And while Africanized bees are much like everyday bees buzzing around in the field, they are more defensive and aggressive when alarmed.
Africanized bees tend to attack at the slightest disturbance, mostly in significant numbers. As a result, they are commonly lethal to the animals they attack. Although their venom isn’t any more potent than a regular honeybee, the danger is that “killer” bees attack in much larger numbers, usually the entire colony.
The primary reason Africanized bees are more aggressive is their susceptibility to the alarm pheromone. Studies show that the Africanized honeybees can respond up to 2.4 times faster to the alarm pheromone and around 30 times faster to a moving target. The combination of these traits makes Africanizes bees extremely hostile.
The killer can pursue a victim for around 328 feet; this is ten times the distance honeybees follow their victims.
Their violent nature helps successfully defend their colonies and favors the high evolution of rapid colony defense.
8. Dirty Bee Suit (Covered In The Alarm Pheromone)
When we talk about a dirty bee suit, we aren’t referring to actual dirt but the odorous residue that stays behind after a long day’s work.
While we all try to skip laundry day given half a chance, it’s best not to leave your protective gear for too long.
Bees are extremely sensitive to odor. Sweat and other pungent odors can negatively affect the attitude of your hive. But the alarm pheromone is the main trigger that aggravates them when wearing a dirty, odorous bee suit.
If bees previously stung your suit, the sting site will naturally be laced with pheromones. If the alarm pheromones are detectable, they may react aggressively.
9. Poor Hive Placement
New beekeepers may still be learning their way around the hives. So, they can place hives in locations solely for their convenience. However, bees enjoy living in quiet and docile environments -the less they are disturbed, the better!
Locations with lots of traffic or animals will keep the bees constantly alert.
So, when beekeepers place their hives without considering the bees’ comfort, they may become irritable and lash out at you.
Lastly, ensure to approach the hive from behind rather than the hive entrance.
10. Clumsy Beekeepers
New or clumsy beekeepers can be sloppy when working at the hive.
Staying calm during hive inspections can be challenging, especially for new beekeepers. But, then, it is vital to avoid quick movements and accidentally bang hive components together.
If you bang the hive’s frames while removing or replacing them, you can crush a few bees that, will aggravate the colony.
The fear of being stung can also cause you to make unsteady and jerky movements, causing the beekeeper to hurt the bees. In addition, the fast movements and vibrations can cause the colony to become defensive.
The worker bees release the alarm pheromone, and the guard bees respond by becoming aggressive and going into attack mode.
How To Deal With Aggressive Bees?
What is a beekeeper to do until the beehive calms down?
Follow these tips to deal with aggressive bees; hopefully, it’ll spare you from a few unruly beestings -ouch!
- Feed your bees
- Re-queen the hive
- Place the beehives in a controlled environment
- Save bee-working days for good weather
- Wear your suit and use a smoker
- Work slowly
Re-Queen The Hive
Re-queen the hive if the queen dies. You can also re-queen a hive that has Africanized bee genetics.
Try to find an already mated queen bee from a trusted breeder to avoid the risk of introducing a queen with aggressive genes.
Feed Your Bees
Consider supplying the bees with syrup if you suspect a nectar dearth.
The same applies to a significant colony in one hive. The more mouths there are to feed, the faster food supplies run dry. A supplement of syrup is sure to give them a boost when needed.
Place The Hives In A Controlled Environment
Bees are greatly affected by their environment; you can’t place their hive solely based on convenience or aesthetics.
Place the hives in a calm and docile environment away from traffic. Then, keep them lifted off the ground to prevent predators from robbing and aggravating them.
Save Bee-Working Days For Good Weather
Bees are hostile to bad weather. Therefore, exposing the colony to unpleasant climates will torment them, potentially causing a swarm.
So, save your inspection and harvesting days for calm days with warm weather and no wind.
Wear Your Bee-Suit And Use A Smoker
Bees react aggressively to predominately dark colors. Therefore, wearing your white bee suit will signal that you aren’t predator while preventing the potential bee stings from harming you.
Ensure you clean your suit periodically to prevent the old alarm pheromones from alarming and aggravating the bees.
Then, use a smoker to calm the bees during an inspection. A bee smoker is an invaluable tool for beekeepers.
Use the smoker wisely and sparingly to help you deal with aggressive bees. But then, avoid using it too often to prevent further frustrating the bees.
Bees do not like being bothered, let alone being hurt and slammed around.
If you notice the colony seems aggressive, we recommend working extra slowly. You don’t want to startle an on-edge hive.
Bees sense the emotions of a beekeeper. Slow and deliberate movements communicate that you mean no harm to the bees. In contrast, a demeanor of fear and concern replicates the same behavior in bees.
Aggression and irritable behavior are expected of bees when they feel threatened.
You’ll experience aggressive bees from time to time while beekeeping, but do not let this dissuade you. Instead, do what’s in your control by keeping them in a safe and calm environment, ensuring they’re fed, and calling it a day when the weather doesn’t want to play along. Respect the bees and safe beekeeping!