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Help - angry bees

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  • 24 Jan 2017 12:41 PM
    Message # 4564972
    Andrew Wootton (Administrator)

    Posted on behalf of a member:

    I had a fairly unpleasant experience while inspecting one of my hives last night. I am hoping fellow bee keepers can offer some advice and the benefit of their experience. It is a hive that I have located at a friend’s property – it is under trees but quite warm and until now it has been a relatively quiet hive. The colony  was a swarm from one of my hives that I collected immediately – it established quickly and is now thriving, although it struggled for a short while a few weeks ago and needed feeding with some sugar syrup (2 lots).

    I inspected the hive last night after reading the comments in  Beelines about stressed hives. It has been inspected regularly (and was in fact the hive that I fully examined while I was doing the Pest and Diseases course). The day was hot but by 7pm in the evening the temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up.  The smoker was going well with pine needles and lavender clippings.

    The hive is 3 boxes – the brood, of which there is plenty,  is all in the bottom box although there is no Queen excluder – there is plenty of capped and new brood. I did not see the Queen (but I usually don’t !!!) There is no sign of any pest or disease problem – there are stores around the brood in the brood frames and there is quite a lot of honey in the 2 other boxes. Most is not yet caped. It is strong but not overcrowded - in my opinion.

    All was going well with the inspection and I did not feel that I was taking overly long. The bees became progressively aggressive and started stinging me through the suit – mostly on my arm but some on my legs. Unfortunately I was a bit casual putting the suit on and did not zip it up properly so several got into the hood and I have been stung many times on the right side of my face – (looking particularly unattractive today !!) and my upper body. There was a cloud of bees buzzing around me that stayed with me when I moved. I tried sitting with the smoker on my lap, moving  well away from the hive, sitting or standing still, swishing them away with a towel – NOTHING WORKED !!! and I could not get rid of the ones inside the suit because I couldn’t take it off with the cloud around me ! – and all the time trying not to  freak out my friend who is not a bee keeper and by this stage is inside with both the glass and screen doors tightly shut.

    After about 30 minutes the cloud had not moved so I got the hose out and sprayed into the air hoping they would think it was raining and return to the hive – they cleared momentarily but as soon as the spray stopped they were back. After about an hour I was feeling a bit desperate. I backed up to the door – sprayed myself totally with the hose – ripped my suit off and jumped quickly inside – (again very unattractive !!!!!) fortunately none came in with me. However, many still buzzed around the door – a few were still around well after dark when I went out to retrieve my hive tool, brush etc and have a quick look at the hive – there were no bees outside the entrance but the few flyers were fairly aggressive.

    I have never experienced anything like this. My first thought is that I might need to re-Queen – I have also wondered if anything in the smoker excited them. I also wondered whether the end of a hot day and right on the weather change was bad timing …………………..  I would really appreciate thoughts, suggestions and advice here.

    My other 2 hives – at my place are going well and I will be extracting over the weekend – fortunately this hive will not need extracting for a while

  • 24 Jan 2017 1:19 PM
    Reply # 4565002 on 4564972
    Andrew Wootton (Administrator)

    Your bees were quite defensive, having previously been fairly docile.  I certainly don't want to patronise, having had lots of encounters that didn't quite go as planned.

    The goal is to try not to trigger the colony's alarm response.  So use smoke, wait a full minute for it to take effect and then slow and gentle movements.  Use a little more smoke if the buzz increases, but not too much.  If the bees start getting angry, back off a bit and consider finishing what you are doing and closing them up.  One of the reasons I often don't wear gloves is it makes me really sensitive to the colony's reactions (instant feedback!).  And so I vary how much protective gear I use depending on the colony, the conditions and what manipulations I am doing.

    The weather can certainly have quite a profound effect on the bees' mood.  Windy and especially thundery weather are not good.  It could also have been a bit late in the day when you inspected, I'm not so sure about this.

    Once the guard bees are bouncing off your veil, they aren't going to back off.  So I would walk under some low branches to try and shake them off and then go indoors.  I wouldn't disrobe outside, that's asking for trouble (and what led to an unfortunate incident for another member recently).  If you bring a few bees inside with you, it doesn't matter and they very soon get focused on getting out and going home.

    I doubt you need to requeen.  Something triggered off the defensive response (weather, robbing by other bees or wasps, you jarring the hive or perhaps just the dearth of food) and they got angry. The real test is whether you can normally move about the garden without them reacting. It's also preferable to have bees that are quiet on the comb when you inspect them and that don't follow you home after the inspection.  So give the bees a week to calm down and then try inspecting on a fine sunny mid-day.  

    A difficult but ultimately valuable experience.

  • 24 Jan 2017 7:38 PM
    Reply # 4565288 on 4564972
    Bruce Murchie


    I think at some stage or other we all get an experience like this and from this we need to learn a few lessons.

    For me if the wind is up I do not touch the hive and I only observe. Wait until the wind abates. I also do not inspect the hive in the evening. Heat is not an issue having worked on commercial apiary sites in 30 c+ temperature day in and out.

    As Andrew stated once they start to 'attack', pack up and back of, brush the bees off using a tree and leave the inspection for another day.

    Do they have fresh water? I have installed a water system for my bees using 'Automatic Pet Waterer'. A hive can consume several liters of water per day.

    Question: Why are you inspecting the colony? How old is the swarm colony?

    It seems strong. Is there spare capacity in the hive or to much spare capacity? No queen excluder may mean that the queen lays in the second box in the center of the box. That is not an issue and usually means more bees in the hive as you have not restricted her capacity to lay and also where.

    Enjoy the fruits of your labour and do not be discouraged :)

  • 24 Jan 2017 7:54 PM
    Reply # 4565296 on 4564972

    You are describing a feral hive that I started the season with.  Except that mine was never calm.  Eventually I broke the hive down into three splits with three new queens and left the hot queen in a box to collect the foraging bees that were yet to come home.  I requeened that remaining hive just before Christmas.  This long preamble is to say that I share the pain.

    I don't work my hives when the weather is changing.  By this I mean the barometric pressure is changing as a weather front goes through. This might be one of the problems.

    To embellish Andrew's point; I have learned to back off and have a cup of tea (or a beer on a hot day) after the guard bees have got the scent given off when her shipmates have been killed.  I smoke myself to mask the pheromones given off when a bee gets squished.  After going to war with my feral hive I used to wash my bee suit to get rid of any residual pheromones.

    Query: what type of smoke were you using, how much and was it hot?  I use pine needles, or a small pine cone if I need the smoker to last a while. 

    An old beekeeper once told me that the smoke is for the benefit of the bees, not the beekeeper. He only smokes just enough to calm the bees down, not in protection of himself.  Finally, if you have got a good smoker then when you get it all fired up you will be blowing fire out of its nozzle. You need to make sure that the smoke is cool before you use it.  I blow some up past my face to check this before putting a puff into the hive.

    I purchased an extra peice of protective kit because of the damage hot hives have done to my ankles.  If I am working a hot hive, or one that I don't know, or lots of hives, I put a pair of bushwalking gaiters over my jeans, under my bee suite. The opposite end of the spectrum from Andrew starting work with bare hands :-)

  • 24 Jan 2017 9:50 PM
    Reply # 4565380 on 4564972
    Andrew Janiak

    A wise beekeeper wrote that you will work with your bees after sunset only once in your life.  I guess that doing it in the evening is also not recommended - all older and stingy foragers are back home.  And, as others wrote here, a change of weather makes all ladies, human and insects, somewhat 'on the edge'.

    Do not declare the colony 'hot' on the basis of a single event.  A colony is hot if it is nasty every time.

    I personally am against 'inspections' without a very valid reason.  Seems that bees are of the same opinion.  And if inspecting - on calm weather, midday.

  • 24 Jan 2017 10:06 PM
    Reply # 4565388 on 4564972

    I'd tend to agree with Andrew on the re-queening view.  Wait around a week and see what the mood is at the next hive opening around midday and with some sun.  Check for eggs/larvae or a queen present.

    I have a hive that's normally very calm though becomes grumpy on days above 35 degrees :) ....and i haven't even thought about opening the hive.

    Last modified: 24 Jan 2017 10:19 PM | Matthew Whitehead
  • 24 Jan 2017 10:08 PM
    Reply # 4565392 on 4565383
    Gamble Breaux wrote:

    I only open my hive in the middle of a warm sunny day. Bee club experts and a bunch of online videos suggest this is the best way to roll with the little stingers.  With this in mind and our dislike of bee's being squished or losing their life stinging my dumb ass, we never bother our bees in the evening. They are all at home settling down for the night. All the little guys with wings and the ability to sting you are at home in the hive exchanging flower location stories.  The change in temperature would make them particularly defensive. Your well-meaning investigation of their home at this particular time of the day unwelcome. A winged defence reacts on instinct to the unsolicited lid opening. They need to snuggle up for the night to stay alive and don't have Peter Alexander Pajamas to keep them warm. The opening the roof would be a very irritating move to them. You are doing a great job. Just take a deep breath and choose the best time to check the brood. I panicked when I was worried my babies had wax moth.  I walked away when I assessed I would do more damage than good at the time of day. Hugs from the Wolfe family 

  • 24 Jan 2017 10:25 PM
    Reply # 4565411 on 4564972
    Kevin MacGibbon - VAA

    I am amazed at your resilience. I am sure I would have closed the hive up and cursed it a bit very early into the inspection. The other comments offered by the other respondents are all very relevant here  My experience is that hives are not always "hot" as has been described.  I do always mark these hives for obvious reasons  It is interesting also to note that in a commercial apiary it is not uncommon to find a hot hive at the end of the row  I have also noted over the years that guard bees seem to carry a memory of the last encounter, and in particular a memory of a particular person  A different person having a completely different experience indeed, whilst the previous person gets peppered just walking past. One shouldn't get too concerned if it is only once, however your neighbors may get a little miffed if the behaviour described continues.  I too would be inclined to break the hive down into neucs and requeen all with young quiet stock from a reputable breeder   My experience is also that finding queens in nasty hives can be an onerous task  part of your problem is to confine the queen to one box .  Place an excluder between all boxes for a few days so you can identify which one she is in by the fresh eggs.  You may also note that nasty bees tend to be difficult to introduce caged queens into  It may help to place a queen cell that is ready to hatch in instead  

  • 25 Jan 2017 8:21 AM
    Reply # 4566751 on 4564972
    Andrew Wootton (Administrator)

    Comment from a member:

    I had pretty much the same experience 2 years ago with our hive of very aggressive bees. Only I had not zipped up my head gear at all in haste to get into our hives. I ended up with bees by the hundreds inside my head gear and suit. I was in a frenzy with hitting myself and hosing etc. History repeating itself I’m afraid and we live to tell the tale.

    As said before, if the bees come inside the house they pretty quickly go for the windows and want to get out.

    It makes for a great dinner party conversation later on but at the time was pretty harrowing. I looked like a walrus the next day.

    We have since moved the hive to Cottles Bridge with the help of our wonderful mentors Sue and Ivan who helped us thru the (trying) to requeen but not successful at the time.

    We came to the decision we could not take that hive back to suburbia in Montmorency. Sue and Ivan are continuing the challenge of re queening the hive and we are so grateful for having mentors like Sue and Ivan at our Bee Club. They taught us to just walk away if things are not going well and it can be looked at another day. Our bees were nasty for days after the “event”. Even chased a gang of labourers off a building site next door and they had to run for it and leave their tools for the day.

    Needless to say a bottle of honey to all workers was very happily received by all as an apology from our little bee friends. It helped take the sting away.

    We are now experiencing the delight of 2 hives of friendly bees back in our backyard and have left the hard work to Sue and Ivan (The Bee Whisperers)

    We are all in this together and it’s all so worth it.

    You are not alone.
  • 25 Jan 2017 10:18 AM
    Reply # 4566930 on 4564972

    HI Firstly I will say I haven't read the previous comments Due to time constraints . Im sure there is lots of good advice given as many members have commented. In my ten years including commercial queen breeding this is what I have found, after 5pm bees are a no go zone particularly if the have come off a honey flow or there is no nectar or they are bothered by ants  (hot dry windy = dried up nectar) Bees can have Jekyl and Hyde personalities, bee calm and docile to work sometimes and others not. I. Usually give them the three strikes rule, try at a different time of day and different conditions if the hive is still cranky then the hive needs a new monarch. There are many variables in beekeeping, having worked bees at all hours of the day and night I have found them to be most docile to work  in early morning 5am-8am . Free mated queens usually (not always) become progressively more aggressive with each generation that is why commercial Beekeepers regularly requeen hives with stock from Breeders to keep "workable" bees. Best of Luck hope this helps.

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