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How to Tame the Grumpy and Aggressive Bee

How to Tame the Grumpy and Aggressive Bee

As we’ve seen in the last few blog posts, bees can be temperamental little things, and when things don’t go as they’d like, they can get downright nasty. Knowing this, it’s a good idea to know what you can do to defuse the situation before it even starts.

Dealing with Aggressive Bees

Whether your bees are in the middle of a nectar dearth with its associated robbing activities or they’ve become Africanized or your suit has pheromones related to previous attacks, there are many different circumstances that affect the mood of a bee colony.

Some factors are seasonally related which means that things will calm down when the weather begins to cool off. Other issues, however, you may have some control over, where you can implement strategies to help your bees “chill out”. Let’s take a look at some of the things you can do to control the defensiveness of your bee colony.

Perform Colony Inspections When the Weather is Nice

The best times to inspect your colony is when the weather is nice. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t inspect your hive when it’s windy, cold or rainy. Your bees will cue you in on the best times by their willingness to leave the hive, so don’t perform inspections when they aren’t flying around. Click here to review other “don’ts” of colony inspections.

As a general rule, the best time for hive inspections is on warm, sunny days when the temperature is above 60 degrees. For other colony inspection tips, click here and here.

Use a Smoker with Appropriate Fuel During Hive Inspections

A smoker is a wonderful tool and should be used anytime you open a hive. Many new beekeepers don’t realize that the fuel you use in your smoker is very important as well. You want to use fuel that creates a cool, white smoke.

We offer several choices that will create a calming white smoke that will help your bees to relax. These include:

Don’t forget to use a smoker grate. Placed inside the smoker, it keeps the smoker fuel elevated above the bellows intake, giving the smoke a chance to breathe. It’s often easily lost when emptying your smoker. When was the last time you checked to make sure your smoker still has one?

Be very gentle as you move the hive bodies and frames when you perform your inspections. Check out our frame holders. They come in handy during hive inspections, providing a convenient place to put the frames so you don’t find yourself kicking them when they’ve been propped up against the hive.

Supplemental Feeding

There are times, such as during a nectar dearth, when there’s not enough food for the bees. During those times, supplemental feeding can save a hive, especially one that is struggling. You shouldn’t have to feed your bees all of the time, but when it’s needed, don’t be afraid to do so.

Watch for Robbing Activities

Keep a watch out for robbing activities and the circumstances that cause them. If a robbery is underway, you’ll want to take immediate action. You’ll also want to take steps to prevent future robbery attempts.

Be careful not to spill sugar water on or near the hive when supplemental feeding. This is a sure invite to robbers who will be drawn to its sweet scent.

Control Pests

Unhealthy colonies are likely to be unhappy and more aggressive. Therefore, take the necessary steps to control pests which may include:

Larger predators, such as bears, skunks and raccoons, can also cause honeybees to become grumpy. Even worse, they can kill bees and totally destroy the honey stores and/or hives.

Final Advice Concerning Grumpy Bees

Hive temperament can be cyclic, which means you may eventually see a pattern to each hive’s behavior.

Don’t be surprised if the hive is more temperamental and aggressive towards the end of the season. They know winter is coming and become more possessive of their food stores. It’s a survival instinct.

If, however, you notice that a hive is constantly aggressive, it may be time to replace the queen. Odds are that the new queen’s offspring will be less aggressive. (Give the hive enough time, however, to make sure that the queen is the problem.) You can increase the odds by choosing a breed of bee that is known to be easy to work with.

General Questions 

How do you identify if bees have become Africanized?

Africanized bees exhibit more aggressive behavior compared to European honeybees. They respond quicker, in larger numbers, and chase threats over longer distances. For accurate identification, consult local agricultural extensions or beekeeping associations.

What specific actions should be taken during a robbery?

During a hive robbery, quickly reduce hive entrances to make access harder for intruders. Cover the hive with a wet sheet to confuse robbers and remove any external food sources that might attract other bees.

Can you elaborate on the other 'don'ts' of colony inspections mentioned?

Avoid inspecting colonies during poor weather, such as rain, high winds, or low temperatures, as this stresses the bees. Don't use excessive smoke or handle bees roughly, as it can provoke aggression.

What are the alternatives if smoking during hive inspections isn’t possible or effective?

If smoking isn’t possible, try using a sugar water spray to distract the bees or schedule hive activities during times when bees are naturally more docile, such as early morning or late evening.

How can you safely replace a queen bee if the existing one is causing aggression?

To replace an aggressive queen, order a new queen from a reputable supplier. Remove the old queen and introduce the new one in a queen cage to allow the colony to accept her over several days. Monitor the hive to ensure a smooth transition.

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There you have it. Lot’s of great techniques to create happy and healthy bees.

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