Do you know that honey bees, calm as they appear, can be aggressive? Beekeepers know this too well. Honey bees are kept for honey, and other by-products such as wax. These little insects can be fierce, especially when provoked. They are also famous for inflicting painful stings. Do you know why honey bees can be aggressive?
Honeybees tend to be aggressive when they face a threat and want to defend their colony. Additionally, when these bees are attacked or disturbed, they will get aggressive and sting. Some disturbances that may cause honey bees to be aggressive include vibrations, dark colors, and carbon dioxide.
Honey bees are generally docile unless attacked or provoked. When you approach a honey bee hive, you will notice that the bees are calm, going on their issues. You will also see one or two aggressive guard bees hovering around.
To understand why honey bees get aggressive, you need to know how honey bees operate, their nature and their character. It is noteworthy to point out that many features of the honey bee are cyclic. Honeybees can get aggressive at any time. However, there are certain things and situations that tick them off. You may also notice that these bees are more hostile during the summer and in early fall.
If you wish to know more about the nature of honeybees, then buckle up. I will tell you how to calm down these bees and also discuss why these insects are aggressive. Plus, I will talk about the type of aggressive bees and what time of day bees are most aggressive.
How Do You Calm An Aggressive Honey Bee?
The only way to deal with an aggressive honey bee is by calming it down. Aggressive bees are dangerous, and it’s advisable to find a way to calm them down as soon as possible.
Although some of the reasons why bees get aggressive are way out of your hands, there are some instances where you have control over their behavior.
Before you calm an aggressive honey bee or a whole beehive, ensure you know the cause of this hostility. Knowing the cause will help you narrow down on the specific method to use to calm them down.
Here are 8 ways you can calm aggressive honey bees.
- Feed them
A hungry person is an angry person, and this applies to bees as well. When the weather is unfavorable, bees may have a hard time finding food. This may make them hostile. To calm them down, feed them. You can use supplementary syrup to provide for them.
- Avoid Opening the Hive All the Time
Bees aren’t the biggest fans of disturbance. You disturb the environment inside the hive when you open it all the time. Opening a hive to harvest honey is stressful and can make bees defensive, hence the aggression.
The more you open the hive, the more defensive and aggressive the bees become. Only open the hive when you have to.
It is understandable if you want to do regular hive inspections. However, be careful not to overdo it. Opening the beehive frequently stresses out the bees, and they may start perceiving you as a threat.
There needs to peace and calmness in the hive for them to make quality honey. The frequent disturbance will affect the quality of the honey and make your honey bees constantly hostile. It’s best if you consult an expert beekeeper on how best you can inspect your hives without opening them so often.
- Be Calm and Collected When Visiting the Hive
Honey bees feed off your energy. Ensure you are cautious, calm, and relaxed when working with bees. Caution is necessary as any rash moves may accidentally crush a honey bee, causing them to secrete alarm pheromones, which will trigger the entire hive to be hostile and sting. Any mistake you make in the hive may cost you.
- Avoid Loud Noises near The Hive
This also includes talking loudly near the hive. Loud noises alarm the bees and may trigger them to attack and sting. It’s better if you place your hive in an area with little to no noise. Additionally, placing your hive in a location with high vibrations will make them aggressive.
Vibrations, just like noise, affect honey bees significantly, making them restless, irritable and grumpy.
Placing your hive in an area with heavy traffic is unacceptable. Cars create a lot of vibrations that disturb bees. Relocating your hives will help keep your honey bees calm.
- Dress Appropriately When Visiting the Hive
Before visiting the hive, consider the state of your dressing. For your own safety, wear protective gear. This will protect you from bee stings in case they get aggressive.
Avoid wearing bright-colored clothes as they attract bees to you. When you wear bright colors, bees liken you to flowers and would want to get closer to you. Some might even sting.
- Avoid Perfume and Any Other Weird Smells
Honey bees don’t like the smell of bananas. Bees have a heightened sense of smell, and they use it for communication. When a honey bee is threatened or feels threatened, it will release the alarm pheromone which incidentally, smells like bananas.
Therefore, anything that smells like bananas, smells like the alarm pheromone to bees, thus triggering their aggression. If you go to a beehive smelling of bananas, bees will attack you for sure.
Likewise, strong perfumes are a no-no. Bees are susceptible to smell, and strong smells will trigger their hostility.
Blowing into the hive will also trigger their aggression, as your breath has a particular smell that bees recognize. Bees recognize your breath as mammal breath. To bees, mammals are enemies and a threat as they often steal their honey. Therefore, it’s only natural that they get violent.
- Re-Queen Your Hive
A colony without a queen is chaotic and prone to aggression. Additionally, the attitude of the queen dramatically influences how the other bees behave. If the queen honey bee is aggressive and has a bad temper, the whole colony will likely be affected.
To re-queen, you will need to get rid of the existing queen bee and replace her with another one. You can also let the bees raise up another queen on their own.
To maintain calmness in the hive, bring in a calm queen honey bee. Most of the time, it is best to let the colony raise its own queen, especially if you wish to preserve the trait. However, this method may not bring calmness in the hive as the new queen raised may have the same hostile nature as its predecessor.
Even then. Re-queening your colony may not provide a solution. Sometimes, the queen is not the culprit. The drone who mated with the queen honey bee might be the one with a violent trait.
- Wash Your Bee Protective Gear Frequently
You need to wash your suit if you want your bees calm. Every time you visit the hive, you soak up some alarm pheromone on your suit. As discussed earlier, this pheromone triggers aggression in bees. Washing your bee suit frequently gets rid of this substance.
You don’t have to worry about stains on your suit, as long as the alarm pheromone is washed off, you are good to go.
Reasons Why Honey Bees Can Be Aggressive
Honey bees tend to be aggressive because of a number of reasons. Just like any other animal, a bee will do all it can to protect its property.
Furthermore, an uncomfortable environment will make the bees stressed out and irritable, leading to violence. Certain specific circumstances can make a honey bee aggressive.
Here are some of the reasons why honey bees can be aggressive.
- Bad Weather
Bees love it when it’s sunny, calm and flowers are in bloom. Extreme weather conditions affect the mood of these insects. They get stressed out when it is rainy, snowy and sometimes cloudy. Furthermore, hot and humid weather makes honey bees uncomfortable.
As a beekeeper, you know too well how rainy weather affects your bees. During such periods, honey production may reduce.
Although bees can fly in the rain, they usually choose not to since it’s dangerous for them. The rainwater will weigh down on the bee and interfere with its flight. Bees also hate it when it’s misty as this mist can accumulate on the bee’s body, slowing it down.
Water from the rain will also significantly interfere with the honey bees’ wing beats, consequently slowing it down. To make it worse, if the rain is heavy, the huge water droplets may literally knock down the bees.
Interestingly, bees are usually aggressive and hostile in the early fall and late summer. The reason for this is because winter is approaching, and they are also near the end of collecting and stashing away their honey supply. They become defensive and very protective of the beehive.
Also, the heat makes the hive very uncomfortable, making the bees easily irritated. High humidity and heat make bees cranky and grumpy. When the weather gets too hot, the hive gets too warm for comfort.
- Starvation (Nectar dearth)
Starving bees are very violent. It gets worse when they are also thirsty. A shortage of pollen and nectar is detrimental to the well-being of your honey bees. This shortage means that your bees will go hungry.
As a beekeeper, pay attention to the available pollen and nectar in your area. You can do this by checking the number of flowers in bloom. Few flowers mean less pollen and, consequently, hungry bees.
Some colonies may be overcrowded, causing a shortage of honey to feed all the bees. If you notice your bees getting aggressive, you may want to check the state of the hive. If the hive is overcrowded, you may need to decongest it.
Lack of nectar is the number cause of bee starvation. Farmers should be on the lookout for signs of nectar shortage. These signs include:
- Robbing: Hungry and desperate bees will do anything to survive. When they are hungry, you will notice your bees robbing other hives of their honey. When you see a large swarm of bees fighting each other at the hive entrance, a robbery is probably going on. A cloud of bees may also surround a hive if they plan to steal honey.
- Your bees will become noisy: hungry bees are irritable and will hover around the hive, bussing extraordinarily loudly.
- Flower behavior: You will notice bees visiting the same flowers over and over again to check for any nectar remains. They will even check flowers that they usually don’t collect nectar from.
Some honeybees are naturally violent. To illustrate, aggressive cross-breeding may be the reason why your honey bees are violent. East African lowland honey bees are famous for their hostile nature. They are sometimes referred to as killer bees.
A cross-breed between a North American bee and an East African breed, a process known as Africanization, may result in aggressive bees.
Virgin queens usually mate with any available drones in your area. That said, it is not impossible to find Africanized traits in some of these drones. This is regardless of whether you stay in an area with Africanized bees or not.
Once the drones mate with a queen, their traits and characteristics are incorporated into the genetic pool. If you notice a sudden aggressive tendency in your normally docile hive, this could be the reason.
The only remedy for this is re-queening your hive with an already mated queen. Even then, you can’t be sure that the queen mated with a calm drone.
- Absence of a Queen
A hive with no queen is chaotic. Bees value leadership and structure the same way we humans do. This is because bees become instantly very protective and defensive of the colony as they work towards raising up a new queen.
A queen bee may die, and when this happens, the other honey bees instantly start raising another queen. During this period, the hive is a no-go zone. You can help bring things back to normalcy by bringing in a new queen.
The following signs may indicate a queen-less hive:
- Reduced bee population: With no queen to produce new eggs and brood, the hive population is likely to decrease drastically. When you inspect your hive, you will notice a decline in the number of bees present.
- More honey than usual: While this may be good news for you, it may quickly turn to reason for worry because a lot of honey in the hive may indicate the absence of a queen. No queen means no eggs, therefore the worker bees will be free to collect a lot more pollen and nectar than usual. This in turn leads to production of more honey.
- No eggs: The absence of a queen automatically means that no eggs will be produced. You need to inspect the brood chamber often to keep track of the number of eggs produced/ a reduced number of eggs, or no eggs at all means that there is no queen.
Predators make honey bees stay alert as they try to protect their hive. This alertness may pass as aggressiveness. Predators such as bears, skunks, wasps, and other insects cause bees to be irritable. You may also be seen as a predator if you frequently open up the hive.
Any animal that goes to the hive to take honey (including you) is seen as a threat. For this reason, bees will always be defensive and protect their hives.
- Manipulation and Frequent Hive Inspection
Honey bees hate it when you keep opening the hive and prod and poke all over the place. They prefer peace and calmness instead. Every time you open the hive, whether to inspect or to harvest honey, you disturb the peace inside it. This makes the bees cranky and they may get defensive.
To ease up things, minimize your visits to the hive. Only open it when necessary. Also, once you open, be gentle with your moves. Avoid sudden movements as you may crash a bee.
Moreover, visit the hive at the appropriate time. Ensure the weather is good and calm as well. The best time to visit your hive is early in the morning or late in the evening. Plus, whenever you visit the hive, always carry your smoker, but only use it with caution.
- Attitude of the Queen
The queen bee’s temperament affects the overall mood of the hive. If the queen has a calm and tranquil personality, the hive will have such an ambiance as well.
Unfortunately, the reverse is true. If the queen bee is naturally aggressive and hostile, all the other bees will adopt this trait. When this happens, it’s usually very hard to calm down such a swarm. The only option left for beekeepers is to get rid of the hostile queen and replace it with a calmer one.
- Varroa Mite infestation
Varroa mites are small red-brown insects that are known to infest beehives. These mites are bad news. They not only feed on adult bees but also attack, feed, and reproduce on the bee larvae and pupa in the broods.
The result of this is malfunctioning and weakening of the bees.
Not only that, the Varroa mites also transmit a lot of viruses that are detrimental to the colony. You need to be on the lookout for Varroa mite invasion in your beehive.
The following signs indicate the presence of these parasites:
- Chewed and sunken hive capping
- Larvae remains scattered all over the hive
- Abnormal brood pattern and,
- Reduction in the overall bee population
Varroa mites have several effects on honey bees. Some of these effects include:
- Reduced life span of the bees
- Impaired flight performance of worker bees
- Crippled bees
- Reduced weight and size of worker bees
When checking out your hive, be sure to periodically conduct a thorough inspection to rule out any mite infestation. Note that these parasites are usually unevenly distributed throughout the hive, and their concentration depends on the weather.
So, it’s best if you inspect your hive frequently. This infestation makes the bees uncomfortable, leading to aggressive behaviors.
What Bees Are Very Aggressive?
While most bee breeds are generally calm unless provoked, there are some breeds that are innately hostile. Such bees are rarely calm.
The Africanized bee, for instance, is known to be very aggressive in nature. These bees closely resemble the European honeybees. They are, however, known to be the most aggressive bees than any other bee species.
The Africanized bee will attack at the slightest disturbance. Their attacks always come in huge numbers and will most likely be lethal to whatever animals they attack.
One thing that makes the Africanized bee most lethal is the numbers they attack in. Despite their aggressive nature, the Africanized bees have a less potent venom compared to other honey bees.
The main reason why the Africanized bees are very aggressive is that they are susceptible to alarm pheromone. Further studies show that the Africanized honeybees respond 2.4 times faster to alarm pheromone and 30 times faster to a moving target. This makes them very hostile.
Once the Africanized bees are stimulated, they will sting anything that is moving in their sight. They can even pursue them for up to one kilometer. Their rapid reaction to disturbance is because of their natural environment.
The tropical climate where they are often found is home to a large number of predators as well. These predators frequently attack their colonies. Africanized bees had to adapt to this kind of environment by being violent and defensive.
The Africanized bee is also referred to as the killer bee because of its hostile nature. They can pursue their victim for up to about 328 feet. This is ten times the distance honeybees follow their victims. Honeybees are known to pursue their victims for only 33 feet distance.
Their violent nature has helped with the successful defense of their colonies. The aggressiveness also favors a high evolution of rapid colony defense. Therefore, thriving hives can survive and produce more offspring that will live in future generations than those that predators kill off.
The nature and genetics surrounding the biology of Africanized bees, including their aggressive nature, best explain their prowess in successful invasion throughout the world. Africanized bees have invaded most parts of the world.
In doing so, they have and still are causing a severe problem by disrupting the native pollinator communities, especially when it comes to competition for food and nests. This is all thanks to their aggressive nature that makes them almost undefeatable.
What Time of Day Are Bees Most Aggressive?
Thankfully, honeybees aren’t aggressive all the time. Even then there is no set time that honey bees can be aggressive. It is almost impossible to say that honey bees get aggressive in the afternoon, or in the morning. These bees can get aggressive at any moment.
That said, honey bees usually get aggressive when something ticks them off. Regardless of the time of day, if you provoke a swarm of honey bees, they are likely to get violent and sting you.
Additionally, as stated before, bees dislike periods of bad weather. You are likely to encounter a swarm of aggressive bees on a hot humid afternoon, than on a calm, dry day.
You may wonder why bee farmers usually carry out hive inspections and honey harvesting late in the evening or early in the morning. This is because, bees are calmer during these times. Save for the Megalopta bee breed, most bees are inactive at night.
However, the queen bee remains active day and night, especially when she’s laying eggs, specifically in the months of April and May. It is highly unlikely to find aggressive bees at night, unless they are provoked. Even though they don’t go to sleep, they rest and don’t fly around.
Some nocturnal bees, such as the Megalopta breed, may be aggressive at night, and also during the day. Even then, it’s best not to provoke bees at whatever time of the day it is.
When provoked, honey bees take some time to be calm again. The time they will remain hostile is dependent on what caused the aggression. Nevertheless, this doesn’t apply to bees that are naturally aggressive. There is no set time as to how long they will take to calm down. The best thing to do is to leave them alone.
If the weather is the reason for their volatility, then weather changes will calm them down. This may take a long time, though.
If you are the one causing aggression, say by frequent inspecting and manipulation of the hive, bees will take a shorter time to calm down. They will calm down when you leave them alone. Fortunately, honey bees are calm most of the time, and even when they get aggressive, they calm down faster compared to other bee breeds.
As a beekeeper, aggressive bees are a fact of life. All you have to do is identify the cause of aggression and deal with it. And learn the best ways to keep them calm!