Unfortunately, several variables affect this angry behavior in bees. It’s impossible to give one answer. Some colonies can calm down in less than an hour, while others need you to stay away for days or weeks. Recognizing the factors that contribute to their heightened aggression can assist in managing the situation appropriately and avoid harm to both bees and humans.
Understanding Bee Aggression: Bees Are Defensive, Not Aggressive
When we use the term aggressive, we think of animals or people spoiling for a fight. They will attack you as a show of dominance. That’s not what bees do. To paraphrase Garfield the cat, they hit you back, first. Though a stinging incident may seem unprovoked to you, walking near the hive can be perceived as threatening. With all their valuables in the hive/nest, namely brood, queen, honey, and pollen, they can’t afford to be lenient with potential invaders. When you walk within a few feet of the hive, within their line of sight, they do what they can to get you away before you find their treasure.
Causes of Defensiveness
Some of the common causes of bees’ defensive behavior include:
- Disturbance to the hive leads to a defensive reaction
- Genetic factors contributing to more aggressive traits within a colony e.g. Africanized Honey Bees (AHB) are more defensive than European Honey Bees (EHB)
- Environmental stressors such as weather, food scarcity, or disease
- Presence of a new queen bee
Aggressive behavior can vary in duration based on the cause and specific colony. Calming measures such as removing the stressor and occasionally replacing the queen can help improve the situation.
How Long Does It Take for a Colony to Calm Down?
The short answer is anywhere between an hour and two weeks. It all depends on why they are upset and what they are naturally inclined to do. For instance, AHB is known to attack people 100 meters from the hive and follow them for several kilometers. They are known to recruit 50% of the colony’s adult bees to defend the hive. In comparison, EHB only follows an offender 50 meters and then goes back to the hive. They only recruit 10% of the adult bees to defend the nest. It would take a hive with European honeybees a much shorter time to calm down than it would Africanized bees.
If it’s hot and humid, the bees will likely remain in a bad mood as long as the weather persists. If they’ve had skunks or raccoons scratching on the hives all night, they’ll be pretty irritable the next day. All you can do is if you notice that they are agitated, close up, and try either when it’s a little cooler in the day, or try a different day altogether. If the problem persists, it could be genetic. In that case, all the time in the world wouldn’t calm them down enough.
How Bees Show Anger
Stinging is a colony’s last resort. They will try to get you away from the hive without losing anyone of their own first. Initially, you’ll have two or three angry ladies buzzing angrily around your head. Then, they’ll fly into you, their version of a headbutt to get you to leave. If you don’t get the hint at that point, one of them is bound to sting you. That sting hurts and acts like a missile targetting system that tells other bees exactly where to aim their stings.
A worker bee can only sting once, as its stinger becomes dislodged after use and is pulled out of the abdomen, killing the bee, but not immediately. A bee can live for 18-114 hours after it has stung you, buzzing around your head angrily, continuing to do the colony’s bidding even in the last hours of the bee’s life.
The presence of the alarm pheromone wherever the stinger is attached will continue to agitate the bees. Make sure to clean your suit in between apiary visits to avoid getting the bees riled up before you’ve even opened the hive.
Preventing Bee Aggression
While it’s true that bees can become aggressive at times, there are ways to prevent and manage their aggression. In this section, we will discuss best practices and staying safe to minimize the chance of bee aggression.
One of the best ways to prevent bee aggression is to avoid disturbing their hives or colonies purposelessly. Open the hive only if you have a specific task to do. If you’re inspecting the hive, know beforehand what you intend to do.
If you are a beekeeper, ensure that you handle your bees gently and provide them with a suitable environment. This includes proper ventilation, adequate food sources, and protection from predators. Additionally, replacing aggressive queen bees with more docile queens can help reduce overall hive aggression.
If you encounter aggressive bees, try to stay calm and avoid swatting at them. Panicking can worsen the situation and may lead to more bee stings. Instead, keep a safe distance from the hive and quickly walk away.
Wearing a bee suit while handling bees or venturing near hives can help protect you from stings. It’s also essential to monitor any nearby nests and contact a professional beekeeper or pest control expert to help you safely remove or manage the hive if necessary.
In summary, the length of time bees remain angry depends on factors such as the reason for their defensiveness and the actions of the person provoking the bees.
Beekeepers should remain calm when working with angry bees, as panic can exacerbate the situation. If a hive remains aggressive for an extended period, beekeepers may consider replacing the queen to promote a more peaceful environment, as the new queen’s offspring will inherit her temperament.
Understanding and managing the factors contributing to bee aggression can help maintain a peaceful and productive environment for both bees and their keepers.