Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lesson 83: Why Do Bee Sometimes Become Defensive?

Hello! We are David & Sheri Burns at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms in central Illinois, beekeepers helping other beekeepers. Thanks for stopping in and checking out another beekeeping lesson. We now have 83 lessons on beekeeping for you to better equip yourself to be a great beekeeper and enjoy it more, too.

I have been asked so many times why a hive that has been very gentle all year, can suddenly become more defensive. In today’s lesson we’ll look at some of the reasons why this may happen, and what you can do to be more prepared. But first let me give a few updates on what’s been going on here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms.

Sheri and I had a great time speaking to our granddaughter, Sarah's second grade class on beekeeping recently. We even took a small observation hive with a marked queen. Wow, the kids loved spotting the queen and watching the bees walk around in the hive. This is always a great opportunity to plant the seed for young people to one day keep bees.

 We are having a great response to our candy boards. We feel this is of paramount importance to place a candy board on hives by December 22 to assist the bees and possibly prevent the colony from starving to death. We even can place a pollen patty within the candy to help preserve the pollen patty until the bees eat through the candy. Our candy boards are in big demand so you should place your order immediately and expect a two week wait. We have designed a webpage that answers commonly asked questions about our candy boards. CLICK HERE TO ORDER!

LESSON 83: Why Do Bees Become Defensive?

It is not unusual for us to hear from beekeepers about their hives becoming more defensive than when they were first installed. There are many factors to consider about why this may happen, and today I want to share common reasons and what you might do to be prepared or prevent it when possible.

Install9 When a beekeeper installs a package, a 3 pound package usually contains around 10,000 bees, a small number. And that small number is very enjoyable to work with and is easily managed. As a hive grows in population, the bees can seem or appear to be more defensive. Let’s say that .03% of the hive is defensive. Out of 10,000 bees that would mean 3 bees are defensive. But later in the year, that same .03% would mean that 24 bees are defensive. So the same percentage of bees may be guarding the hive, but it is simply a larger hive now.

Also, the alarm pheromone known as isopentyl acetate is a chemical the bees produce to excite other bees to the intrusion. The more bees, the more pheromone response.
Obviously this does not mean that all large hives are defensive. It simply means that they may respond differently than a very small hive.
There are times however, when a hive does change and is more defensive.

Pioneer Queens If a colony replaces its queen and she mates with drones that have a more defensive nature, then the entire hive can become more defensive. So the gentle nature of your bees can change every time a new queen is introduced to the hive. Unless you mark your queens, you may not know if the original queen has been replaced.

If a hive is continually annoyed it can cause the colony to become defensive. For example, if a skunk is bothering the bees at night, they may become very defensive in the day.

A skunk approaches the hive at night and grabs a handful of bees and chews them, drawing out all the nutrients, and then spits out all the bees. It looks like a wad of chewing tobacco made up of bee parts. A skunk may stay at the entrance of a hive for over an hour eating bees. Skunks are insectivorous and love to eat bees straight from the hive. As a result, the bees become very annoyed and defensive even during the day. To stop skunks, raise the hive higher so skunks will have to stand to reach in and the bees will sting her tender underside.

Signs of a skunk: Grass in front of hive the is smashed down or scratched up. The entrance of the hive can show signs of being scratched as well. Wads of compacted chewed up bee parts lying around the front of the hive.

Other threats to a hive can be vandalism. Rocks thrown at a hive or hives hit with sticks can become defensive.

As a colony increases in size they will have more stored honey and more brood to protect. This usually will result in the bees being more protective of their valued resources. You want larger colonies with more resources! It just means you’ll have to use more smoke and be sure to suit up if your bees are more protective.

I’m cranky in unpleasant weather, and bees are too. During rainy days bees are generally more defensive, as well as in the evening and at night. Bees can also sting more during a dearth or a long period of extremely hot and humid weather.

The final example I want to share is Africanized bees. If you live in an area that has a high occurrence of Africanized bees, and your hive decides to replace its own queen, she could mate with Africanized drones. The disposition of the colony would be noticeably different than that of regular defensive European bees. Africanized bees (AHB) are extremely touchy, sting in higher number, and pursue the beekeeper longer.

When a colony becomes too defensive and too hot to handle, it is best to requeen the hive. Purchase a new queen from us. After 45 days all of the bees in the hive will be daughters and sons, of the new, gentle queen.
Sometimes the male drone bee is recruited to chase off intruders. Though a drone does not have a stinger, he is louder when flying and can intimidate the intruded by bumping into the intruder and buzzing loudly.
If you’ve solved all possible problems and your bees are not Africanized but they are still a bit defensive, you will simply have to conclude that bees are bees and take the follow steps:
1. Work bees during a nectar flow. There are less bees in the hive.
2. Work bees on a bright sunny day.
3. Work bees during foraging hours (10am – 3pm).
4. Wear white, not dark clothing.
5. Always use a smoker!
6. Be very gentle but determined in your movements in the hive. Work as in slow motion.

Thanks for joining us for another beekeeping lesson. Remember our main website is:
Here’s our contact information:

Phone: 217-427-2678

Address: Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
14556 N. 1020 E. Rd
Fairmount, IL 61841