Why Bees Are Aggressive – And What To Do

Honeybees generally have a calm temperament. Usually, they only sting in certain situations – like when they’re stood on, crushed under a hand or they feel trapped or threatened. If you’re a beekeeper, you’ve probably been stung a few times but there’s usually an obvious reason.

If your hive suddenly shows unusual signs of aggression – loud buzzing, quick movements, clustering around your head when you open the hive or stinging you out of the blue – there’s probably a good reason. Invasive pests, robbing bees and even a sick queen can all make your colony agitated and grumpy.

Fortunately, there are simple ways to help your bees get back on track – here’s what you need to know:

They’ve lost their queen

If the queen dies suddenly and your hive is queen-less, the bees may be sent into a panic. They intuitively know their hive could be in danger – and while they’re working hard to create a new queen, they may be extra-defensive and protective. This could mean a period of two or three weeks where bees seem agitated, aggressive and sensitive to interference. If there are freshly laid eggs in the hive, you can wait for them to replace the queen on their own. Otherwise, you can buy a queen from a reputable beekeeper and introduce her.

Bees can also tell when their queen is sick and about to die, so they could be panicking and acting oddly even if she is still alive.

Robbing bees are attacking

Nectar shortages are common in late summer, particularly if the weather is hot and dry, and this can lead to robbing as bees search for food. Robbing bees can be extremely aggressive, invading your hives, ripping honey cells open and even killing bees in their hunt for food. This can decimate your colony population and their winter honey stores – so it’s a serious issue.

The problem gets worse if one bee stings another – this releases an ‘alarm’ pheromone, which attracts bees from other hives. If this happens, you could end up with thousands of neighbouring bees acting aggressively around your hives, increasing the risk of stings for you, your neighbours and your pets.

If you think robbing might be the reason for your grumpy bees, act quickly – or your hives could be left with no supplies for winter.

Frequent hive disturbances

Bees feel safe and secure in their hives, and if anything disturbs that peace, it can make them feel threatened – and react aggressively. If your hives are being invaded by pests like possums or mice, bees may become agitated and start showing signs of aggression as they try to protect their honey supplies. Here’s how to identify and prevent this type of invasion.

Similarly, if you open your hives too often, the bees may feel threatened and irritated, which could cause them to act angrily. The frequency of hive inspections depends on the time of year: almost none during winter, every seven to ten days during early spring, and every three to four weeks during later spring and summer. Generally, you should try to open your hives as little as possible, so your colony can get on with its work in peace.

Using a smoker to calm bees

Some beekeepers are apprehensive about using a smoker – there’s a misconception that it makes bees sleepy or disrupts their work. In reality, the smoke simply prevents bees from spreading ‘alarm’ pheromones and getting agitated. If your bees are acting aggressively, it can be an incredibly effective way to calm them down and reduce the risk of stings while you work. Even if your bees are not particularly aggressive, a smoker can help keep things settled.

It’s a good idea to have a smoker or other calming equipment on hand whether you think you’ll need it or not – this traditional smoker works well, or our new liquid bee smoker gives you similar results without the heat.

Keep calm and carry on

If your bees have suddenly started behaving aggressively, it can be stressful – you want to figure out what’s going on, find a solution and avoid being stung in the process.

Using a smoker as part of your standard beekeeping practice is a good way to keep bees calm and protect yourself, while you find out what’s behind their behaviour. It’s a simple solution and there’s no risk to your bees.

Most of the time, there’s a reason behind an agitated hive – a lost or dying queen, invasive pests, human disruptions or robbing bees trying to steal honey supplies. If you can identify the cause, you can work out how to solve the issue and get your bees back to their normal mellow state.

Want to learn more about beekeeping? Ecrotek has lots of helpful tips and tricks, to start you off on the right foot.