Aggressive Bees and What to do About Them.


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.
Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That's how we're gonna be -- cool. Critical is fine, but if you're rude, we'll delete your stuff. Please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name and do not put your website in the comment text, as both come off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch and Tim Ferris for the inspiration)
  • Billiam1969

    Re-Queening a bee colony by humans is not natural!!! Why do folks insist that bees are aggresive when their instinctual behavior is to protect against a raid on their collective? This is shear sillyness!!! 

  • Kevin

    Hi there Billiam,
    Thank you for your comment. I think that often the blame for the aggression should be laid on the human(s) interacting with the bees. Bees are essentially a wild animal that we have developed a beneficial relationship with. There are cases where re-queening is necessary. I suspect is far less often than we think. In our attempts to assert an illusory control over something best left to manage itself, we often generate more problems.

  • Ashe Mcfionn

     Billiam 1969, we are beekeepers and there is a big difference between a hive that posts guards and a hive that comes after you as soon as you set foot in the beeyard. I have one hive that is just nasty and is going to get re queened this weekend, I don’t care if you think it is silly. I will not let one hive of nasty bees keep me out of my beeyard.

  • Kevin

    Hi Ashe, I don’t think you should let a hive keep you out of the beeyard. But I would try moving it off by itself and dealing with it separately for awhile just to see what happens. Then requeen if it is still not working out. Sometimes the bees are just trying to tell you something. Sometimes you really do have a mean hive. It is like the old saying “Even paranoids have enemies”. I never think beekeepers are silly, but I do find that many beekeepers do and believe silly things. Good luck, would love to hear how it went.

  • Cicadahaven

    Wow. This is a very interesting post to a never been a bee keeper.

  • Kevin

    Hi CicadaHaven,
    I wrote it partly for those who are unfamiliar with honeybees like yourself. Honeybees are pretty much live and let live when it comes to human beings.

  • natalie abrams

    Hi CicadaHaven,
    I wrote it partly for those who are unfamiliar with honeybees like yourself. Honeybees are pretty much live and let live when it comes to human beings.

  • BackyardEcosystem

    Hi CicadaHaven,
    I wrote it partly for those who are unfamiliar with honeybees like yourself. Honeybees are pretty much live and let live when it comes to human beings.

  • Kevin

    Billiam 1969, Did you even read the post? If you did I will refer you again to this part:
     ‘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’

  • teacher

    We have bees in our playground at school that hover around
    the kid’s food so close they are almost on it the kids can barley eat without
    eating a bee. They are stinging everyone like mad but it is out of
    control. I didn’t understand how bad it was until i went down for myself.
    I couldn’t take a bit of food because they were almost sitting on my spoon as I
    took it to my mouth. I finally went inside. What can we do to stop them from
    liking our food so much! They seem to like meat!! I’m not joking!

  • Kevin

    That doesn’t sound like honeybees, that sounds like wasps or yellowjackets, both of which are definitely attracted to meat. Perhaps it is time to do a science class on insect identification!

  • Rich

    hi teacher
    i think you might be under attack from wasps rather than
    honeybees. Bees wont eat meat but wasps have no problem
    doing so. You need to get advice from a local beekeeper.

  • new bee keeper

    I have a hive I bought as package bees and a hive that I caught as a swarm. We DO have Africanized bee colonies in my area (as well as Italian bees). As the swarm bees are settling in I am being buzzed more often. Today I got stung and I was about 4 feet out from the hive. This evening I was buzzed and forced to leave an area that was on the other side of a very large bush from their home. They are getting a new queen as soon as the post office will bring it. If that doesn’t work they will get duct tape and I don’t want to do that.

  • Bee queen

    You are an idiot! I do not care if it is a honey bee hive to a wasp if it is an aggressive hive and you have children get the dam thing removed !!!! Ass! They can be more damaging than a non aggressive hive killing the good bees

  • Kevin@BackyardEcosystem

    Does the swarm have a queen? This sounds like the queen might have failed to return after mating, or been crushed accidentally while being hived. Try giving them a frame of fresh eggs from your other hive, won’t hurt anything if they have a queen and they can make an emergency queen if they need one.

  • sandra

    This is very helpful. My hive has turned aggressive and become territorial for a large area around the hive. My mentor, a professional beekeeper, visited to do an inspection and confirmed that my queen seems to be laying a colony of aggressive bees. Groan. We probably will requeen. She is very productive, but these bees follow me about 100 feet back to my home, after just an intervention of being fed!! Thank you.

  • Jenny

    I’m not a beekeeper but since I was a child, there has been a hive outside our bathroom. my grandmother always tried to get rid of them but gave up years ago, since they always returned. I didn’t mind them, I love nature and I know they are important to the ecosystem. we learned to live with them, and strangely enough my bee allergies also dissapeared at a young age. Anyway, for some strange reason, this year they are acting different. They are extremely aggressive. a single bee will pick its target and terrorize it constantly. I’ve seen it chase the dog, my cat, and I have also been chased. This has never happened before… what can it be? and what can I do, without having to get rid of them? please help

  • K

    Since the beginning of Fall I noticed bees have become more aggressive. It doesn’t matter where I am. I have been chased/bothered by bees and have witnessed other people having the same experience. They seem to all of a sudden have no fear of humans and will land on you without provocation. I’ve never experienced such an alarming rate of this type of behavior before and it concerns me. We do have Africanized bees in the area and if this only happened at my house I would assume that an Africanized hive was close by. However, this happens wherever I go and unfortunately is almost daily occurrence. It doesn’t make sense at all unless the cooler temperature has something to do with it.

  • Landon

    In the fall season the honey bees will become more aggressive, because they are protecting the honey they have worked so hard to collect. This is actually a good thing, because it shows they have a strong hive have a reason to defend. Also, they will become more defensive if there are yellow jackets or wasps antagonizing your hive.

  • Kevin@BackyardEcosystem

    If they are that aggressive you may need to requeen them.

  • Kevin@BackyardEcosystem

    Are you sure these are honeybees? Even africanized bees should ignore you away from the hive.

  • Kevin@BackyardEcosystem

    I take it the bees are in the wall? You may have to contact a beekeeper who does cutouts to move them into a hive. How high is the entrance? Are they in the wall, the roof, or a tree?

  • Kevin@BackyardEcosystem

    Or if humans have been harassing the hive.

  • Talking With Bees

    My new bee suit has been bee tight so far. Hope this will reduce the stings.

  • Ty Kostan

    I’m new to bee keeping. I have two hives at home. One is a new swarm the entered a hive I built, and the other is a cut-out. Both are aggressive towards me. I can get within 5 or so feet, and the. The guards begin their work. Always stinging me in the face. I see them see me and do their thing. My mom has been with me, and she is not stung. I really believe that this is a scent related thing, but I’m not sure. I’m considering experimenting with body oils to see if it makes any difference. Bes are “girls” and I’m starting to believe, they may be more aggressive towards men.

    My questions are:
    Do you see that aggressive bees are more aggressive towards male humans ( or other male mammles)?
    Do ann of you have experience with testing orders to cover up the potential male pheromone/scent that trigger a guard bee response? Is be interested in what scent may cover the concerning scent.

  • Kevin@BackyardEcosystem

    No I haven’t noticed a more aggressive response toward men. I do often open hives with Natalie taking photos, or with another beekeeper who is female. I don’t get stung often. I wrote a whole post about that. I do make sure that I am very clean and scent free before opening a hive. I shower using only liquid Castile soap as a shampoo, my deodorant is made using just coconut oil and baking soda, and I brush with a baking soda and mint toothpaste. Bees definitely are scent and pheromone driven, I make sure they don’t have any excuses to be irritated at me.

  • Sharon Geiger-Igo

    * Also, why do the bees come back every year?

  • Kevin@BackyardEcosystem

    Bees don’t leave a hive during the winter, they just reduce their level of activity. On a warm day they often take short flights near the entrance even with snow on the ground.

  • Katt

    Hi.. my workplace which is in a construction site, recently been visited by a swarm of bees. They cluster around a steel beam that our workers are going to work on. How can we get rid of them or prevent them from coming back?

  • Kevin@BackyardEcosystem

    Hi Katt,
    A swarm is typically about the size and shape of a football and no comb should be visible. If this is what you have it should move on within a day or two once they find a permanent home. If you do have visible comb, then you have a relatively rare open air nest. Contact a local beekeeper who does cut outs. If you can provide a stable platform for them to work on they can have it removed in just a couple of hours. They will need to leave the new hive there until after dark and can remove it then.

  • Michelle

    Hi. I’m a new beekeeper and today was day 1. My mother found that she had bees in an irrigation box a couple of weeks ago and they were drowning from the rain. That broke my heart. I quickly researched and bought a beginners kit and suit. Each time I would visit, I would watch them only a 2 feet away standing over them with no problems. Today I pried open the irrigation box and in doing so tore their established honey comb (oops, they had been there longer than we expected). I neglected to use the smoker after seeing videos of people moving swarms with such great ease. Well, the bees were rightfully angry. I managed to get the irrigation lid into the box with some frames dabbed with lemon grass oil. There were so many bees that I inevitably squished some while trying to move the heavy lid. =( I was covered in bees and couldn’t see or think with all the buzzing, so I went to walk off the swarm around me. It was unsettling having so many bees so mad at me and trying to sting me and burrow into my clothes. They stuck around for about 2 hours even after my mom prepped the smoker and gave it to me. I did end up killing more of them that were burrowing in my boots and that got into my suit, something I really didn’t intend to occur.
    First I live in S. Nevada an area with potentially Africanized bees but from research these bees were within their normal limits of defense, but I don’t really know. Is it normal for first timers to be unsettled by the bees being so angry? Or am I a sissy and unfit to bee keep? Thoughts?

  • Michelle

    I’m so happy to report that I went back again. This time with the smoker and a spray bottle with water. I have the bees moved to their new home though I could not see the queen still. There was a heavy bunch of them on one segment of comb that was persistent through the move, else I hope she will find shelter in the new bee box I put near the open irrigation box…

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Backyard Ecosystem began as an expression of my determination to make a difference in our own backyard. Literally and metaphorically making a difference at the micro level of my yard and to operate at macro level of treating the entire planet as something I am an integral part of and whose destiny is shaped everyday by what I do in my corner of the world.

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