Bees, like people, can go through periods of high emotional intensity. As a beekeeper, your job is to keep the peace, to make sure the bees are not so aggressive that they become a danger to you. Nobody wants the be swarmed by bees, especially if the attacking hive is one you feel personally attached to.
Each hive is different, and not every hive will respond to the same calming methods. But if you are just learning how to approach this problem, here are some tips and tricks to calm an aggressive hive
Why Bees Get Aggressive
Before you learn how to handle aggressive hives, it would be helpful to get some background on what causes these changes in bee aggression. Although bees are naturally calm creatures, there are a number of alterations to their environment that could bring out their most temperamental behavior. Some of these include:
- The hive lost their queen — Queen loss is one of the major causes of beehive aggression. The survivability of an entire hive is determined by its queen’s health. Therefore, when a hive loses a queen, they can get confused, nervous, and eventually become hostile.
- A new queen bee is leading a change in behavior — By leading through example, queen bees can actually determine the behaviors of their hive. If a new queen is a more aggressive leader than her predecessor, those same traits may start to manifest in all her subjects.
- Nectar death — When bees have a shortage of honey, they enter a fight or flight mindset. This increases their aggression, so much so that they may find other hives to rob for their honey. Perhaps it goes without saying, but bees may also become aggressive if their hives get attacked.
- The hive is too large — Especially toward the end of the summer season, there may come a time when the colony has grown too large. During this time, the bees are working harder than ever before to get nectar and protect their food. This may make the bees more aggressive than usual. But it is important to remember that this is a passing phase. Bees will die and get replaced by new ones, continuing the cycle and limiting their aggression.
- Predators — If there are a lot of predator attacks on your hive, the bees may be on high alert. Concerned about their own safety, and especially the safety of the queen, bees could be more defensive and hostile if they had been bothered by a skunk or other pests for the past few nights.
- Poor weather — Poor weather is one of the most common reasons a beehive may get aggressive. Bees like to work in sunny, temperate conditions. When it gets cold or rainy, it may frustrate and startle the bees. Thankfully, however, this is one of the easiest issues to fix. Just wait for good weather to return, and everything should be right as rain.
- The beekeeper is poking around the hive too much — Bees can become very territorial animals. While many beekeepers feel like they have built a relationship with their hives, they should never forget that bees will turn on them if they cause too much disruption too often. After all, most humans would not like it if someone showed up at their homes unannounced night after night, even if that person was one of their oldest friends.
Now that we have explored some reasons why bees become aggressive, it is time to look over some tips and tricks to calm an aggressive hive.
Bees have evolved to recognize their predators as predominately dark-colored animals, like bears and skunks. By wearing white, you are signaling to the bees that you are not a predator. Hopefully, this will discourage them from displaying aggressive behavior toward you.
If you notice the hive seems aggressive, you should take that as a cue to avoid any sudden movements. You do not want to startle a hive that is on edge. Slow and deliberate movements will tell the bees that you mean them no harm. Bees can sense the emotions of their keepers. If you take on a demeanor of fear and concern, the bees will replicate that as well. It may feel like you are working at a snail’s pace, but working slowly and calmly is much better than being swarmed.
Do Not Open Your Hives Too Often
Much like people, bees do not like to be prodded at or bothered. More often than not, they like to be left alone to do their work. If you open and close your hive frequently, like on a daily basis, you are constantly throwing your bees into a fight-or-flight mode. Be deliberate when you decide to open your hive.
Save Your Beekeeping Work for Good Weather
Bees are hostile to bad weather. Even if it is not yet raining, bees can sense when rain will be on the way. Exposing them to that kind of climate will make the bees more antagonistic and potentially cause a swarm. Besides, it is much more pleasant to do your beekeeping work when it is nice outside.
Use the Bee Smoker
The bee smoker is an invaluable tool for a beekeeper. Using it wisely and sparingly will allow you to ease the bees from their more hostile tendencies. Do not use it too often or else you might further frustrate the bees. It might be a good idea to speak with some other beekeepers about how often they use their smokers. Ask them what methods they employ when they smoke their bees.
Know That This Is Only Temporary
It can be jarring to see your normally calm hive suddenly become aggressive. But you must keep in mind that this is only a temporary state. It should ease your mind to know that they will return to a calm disposition over time.
When it comes to our temperaments, humans and bees share a great deal in common. We are both susceptible to agitation based on changes in the weather, changes in our homes, and sudden interruptions. Beekeepers are endlessly fascinated by the personalities they see in their hives, evident by the changes in expression that come with changes in the environment. If you are interested in picking up this hobby or expanding on the beekeeping work you have already accomplished, we have excellent bee nucs for sale in Cattaraugus, NY at The B Farm.