Every beekeeper longs for the romanticized version of beekeeping. We like to imagine we have an understanding with our bees. A magical connection that keeps us from getting stung. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality. Bees have good days and bad, just like us and they aren’t always in the mood for visitors! So, what do you do when you are faced with a defensive hive?
Listen to your bees
If you crack open your hive and the bees come out stingers first, the best thing to do is take the hint and close them back up. Just come back another day and try again. Pushing through that kind of behavior and trying to perform an inspection anyway will likely be frustrating for all involved. Similarly, you are in the middle of doing an inspection and you notice your bees are getting worked up, it’s time to close the hive. Bees may lack vocal chords, but they can make their feelings known to those who will listen. Once the bees start zipping quickly around your head, bouncing off your veil or stinging your gloves it’s time to end the inspection.
Avoid the triggers
There are some conditions that will put your bees on edge and you can avoid agitating your bees in the first place if you avoid working your hives during these periods. I will list these potential scenarios below so you can avoid them.
Don’t open your hives when it is cool, windy or threatening rain.
Time of Year
Try not to inspect your bees during periods of dearth. Hungry bees are grumpy bees.
Time of Day
Don’t bother your bees too early in the morning or too late in the day. Remember, all your bees are home at this time and there will be no shortage of guards.
Try not to crush bees
They release an alarm pheromone that will put the other bees on the defensive. Check out my article How to Crush Fewer Bees for tips on how to avoid these unhappy accidents.
Working with angry bees is a very unpleasant experience. It can send some people into a panic, but as beekeepers we have to be prepared to deal with these situations. So, if your bees become unexpectedly defensive, you need to stay calm and correct the situation. Remember that you are in a bee suit. Live inside your suit and patiently ignore the angry bees outside of it as you work to close your colony up. Your bees will not calm down if you leave the hive open and exposed. If you are getting stung through your suit, step away and correct the issue, but make sure you come back and finish closing the hive.
Remember your neighbors
If the situation is really bad and your bees are roving the area ready to sting anyone in their path, you need to call your neighbors. Call them and warn them about the situation. Ask them to stay inside for an hour or two. You should also be conscious that angry bees will follow you. As you walk away from the hive take the path that avoids nearby neighbors.
Find out why
After having an defensive incident with your bees, it is important to figure out what caused it. Was it a fluke, something you did, or are they consistently moody? Can you do something to help them? Bees that are cranky because they are low on food stores might need to be fed, for example. Try to figure out what may be influencing your colony’s behavior. If the bees continue to act defensively, you may need to requeen the colony.