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5 More Reasons Bees Can Become Aggressive

5 More Reasons Bees Can Become Aggressive

A colony that is normally calm and gentle can change and become testy, cranky or downright aggressive. When this happens, it’s time to put on your detective cap and figure out what’s going on.

In our last blog post, we looked at four causes of testy or cranky bees. Today, we’ll look at five more reasons your bees may not be on their best behavior.

1. Predators Make Bees Cranky

In our previous post, we mentioned that smaller predators, such as robber bees, can put your bees on the defensive, making them more aggressive. Larger predators, such as bears, skunks and raccoons, also love the delicacies a hive has to offer. Predators, both large and small, can cause a colony to become aggressive.

Hives set low to the ground are especially susceptible to skunks who are insect eaters by nature and enjoy a nice, sweet honeybee treat. Once a skunk locates a colony, it’ll scratch at the hive’s entrance. When the guard bees come out to investigate, the skunk quickly snatches them up and eats them. The skunk will continue to visit, night after night, consuming bees to its heart’s content.

After being visited by a skunk, the bees may be a little testy the next time you approach the hive. A hive stand is a perfect detriment to skunks, raising the hive and exposing the skunk’s underbelly, giving the bees a chance to defend themselves when a skunk decides to visit.

2. Queenless Hives Are Often Testy

A queenless hive must be remedied quickly or the colony will fail. The workers know this and can become frantic when they realize the queen is failing or has died.

Why? The queen emits special pheromones that benefit the hive ... regulating hive functions and holding the colony together as a family. Without these pheromones, things get kind of chaotic, causing the bees to be more nervous and aggressive. If you suspect your hive may be queenless, these two posts may be helpful: 6 Ways to Tell If Your Beehive is Queenless and Finding the Queen.

3. Africanized Bees Tend to Be Are More Aggressive

When bees are Africanized, they become more aggressive. Fortunately, although Africanized genetics are present in many areas of the south, according to Clemson Cooperative Extension, they haven’t yet established a presence in South Carolina. If you find that you’re in areas where bees have been Africanized (check the map with the above link), care should be taken when your hives become aggressive.

One of the best things you can do to control Africanization is to make sure your hives have docile queens.

According to the Clemson Apiary Inspection Program, the closest hives to South Carolina that are known to be Africanized are located in central Florida. If you live in South Carolina and your bees become aggressive, and you suspect African genetics has been introduced into your hives, you should immediately contact the State Apiary Inspector’s office or the Clemson Apiculture and Pollinator Program. A Clemson Regulatory Services' investigator will respond to your report. The detection and removal of an Africanized colony should always be left to the professionals.

4. High Levels of Varroa Mites Can Cause Bees to Be Bad-Tempered

Any hive that is unhealthy can be testy. The presence of high levels of varroa mites is no exception. When levels are high, the ratio of mites to bees is unbalanced, resulting in bees that are unhealthy. This leads to bees who are more defensive and cranky. Use Varroa Easy Check to check mite levels. Oxalic Acid Vaporizers are available for the treatment of varroa mites when they become a problem.

5. Late Season Bees are Often on the Defensive

As winter draws closer, the dynamics in the colony begin to change. The bees sense that the foraging season is coming to a close, and winter is approaching. They know that the honey stores they've put aside are essential for their survival. The drones are no longer needed and are expelled from the hive. The colony doesn’t want to share their stores with the drones, and they don’t want to share with you either. So, when you harvest honey late in the season, expect some resistance.

General Question 

How can beekeepers protect hives from large predators like bears and raccoons?

Beekeepers can use electric fencing around the apiary to deter large predators like bears and raccoons. Securing hives with straps or weights prevents them from being knocked over.

What measures are being taken to combat Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and increase domestic honey production?

To combat CCD and boost honey production, beekeepers focus on early identification of queenless hives. Signs include decreased egg laying, increased drone production, and unrest in the colony. Regular inspections and introducing new queens promptly are key strategies.

What are the environmental impacts of transporting honey from overseas?

Transporting honey from overseas can increase carbon emissions due to long-distance shipping. It may also introduce diseases and pests that can harm local bee populations. Supporting local honey production can mitigate these environmental impacts.

What treatments are recommended for Varroa mites beyond Oxalic Acid Vaporizers?

Other treatments for Varroa mites include formic acid, which treats both bees and brood, and thymol-based natural miticides. Integrated pest management, combining chemical and mechanical methods, helps prevent mite resistance and ensures hive health.

How do seasonal changes affect bee behavior, and what actions should beekeepers take?

Seasonal changes require different beekeeping practices: expanding hive space in spring to prevent swarming, monitoring food and water in summer, ensuring honey stores and hive insulation in winter, and reducing entrances in fall to deter robbers and pests. Regular inspections and understanding bee cycles are essential.


Join us next time when we’ll look at reasons that are related more to you, the beekeeper, and things that you may be doing that may put your bees on the defensive.

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