A very non-aggressive bee raised in a nurturing chemical free hive, smelling the sunflowers.
Since sensationalized stories about aggressive bees seem to be hitting the news lately, I thought it would be a good idea to post about dealing with an aggressive hive. The first step is to do nothing. Refer to the previous post about observation and management. Maybe the “Mean Hive” is all in your head. Then come back and read the rest of this post.
So I have an aggressive hive and I need to do something about it. I am zen calm when I open them up under ideal conditions and they are still very defensive when I open the hive. Perhaps I have guards and field bees “protecting” the hive out to a unreasonable distance. The answer is requeening.
Requeening changes hive behavior several ways. The new queen introduces new (theoretically less aggressive) genes. Over time, the newly hatched workers replace the older more aggressive ones and the hive calms down.
Just having a new queen can calm a hive down if they are without a queen or if you have deliberately killed the existing queen, perhaps because it refocuses the hive on survival rather than defense. Queen replacement is always a precarious moment in the survival of the hive even when initiated by the hive.
Just killing a queen could end up killing the hive. Not to mention, the hive is going to be very cranky till it has a new queen. To requeen itself, the hive needs fresh eggs that can be re-purposed to make an emergency queen. Emergency queens are weaker in many ways than born queens and you should avoid having one if you can.
The best solution is to bring in queen cells from another natural hive which will hatch out into a born replacement. This means that most deliberate requeening should be in the spring when you have a supply of replacement queens from your own hives or other local natural beekeepers. The hive will not calm down until the queen hatches out, but things should improve rapidly at that point.
You could also separate a frame with queen cells into a nuc and let them form a small new hive that can be combined with the aggressive hive when you are ready. Once the new queen hatches and is producing brood, you kill the old queen and combine the hives by placing the new box on top separated by a sheet of newspaper. The bees will remove the newspaper but it takes a while and they should be adapted to the smell of the introduced workers and queen by the time the groups can begin to mix.
Bringing in mail order queens should be your last resort. They are not adapted for your environment and you may be introducing the very aggressive genes you are trying to avoid. Keep in mind most commercial queen breeders are in southern states that have at least some permanent Africanized Bee presence.
Some tips on handling an aggressive hive or cut out. Many of these come from areas of Latin America where Africanized bees are what the beekeepers manage in their hives. Also, check out the excellent advice from Bush Bees (one of the oldest links in our resources page).
- Wear as much white as possible. Hive predators like bears and skunks tend to be dark. Avoid looking like a predator.
- Get a white mesh veil instead of a black mesh one, aggressive workers can cover a dark veil to the point where it is hard to see out of your veil. The white mesh minimizes this response.
- Break the hive into separate boxes as far apart as possible and requeen each one, or combine the queenless ones with calm hives using a newspaper combine.
- Do things in stages, over multiple days if necessary. Do not let yourself be is a position of having to rush. If the hive gets too hot to handle, break off and come back another day.
- Leave an empty box on the original hive site to gather up loose workers and field bees, do a newspaper combine with this box and an existing hive or nuc to integrate the most aggressive component of the original hive into a calm hive.
- Try a sugar water or kombucha misting spray instead of smoking the hive. Misted bees are busy cleaning and grooming instead of harassing you. Try this first on a normal hive if you haven’t tried it before. You might decide to get rid of your smoker.