UPDATE: I’d like to give this post a new title: Why I May Never Use Anise Oil Again. See further updates at the end of this post.
I’ve always added a small drip of anise extract to my sugar syrup.But today I used anise oil instead — an “essential oil,” I assume. I meant to add only a drop or two, but more than a few drops fell from the bottle when I tipped it. I got some of it on my hands, subsequently rubbed it into my shirt, and I eventually put the bottle in my garage — with the garage door open. Holy mackerel, what a difference between anise extract and anise oil.
I’ve never seen the bees go so completely insane over an aroma. Every drop of syrup I spilled on the ground while I was filling the feeders attracted a mini-cluster of bees. I had bees following me around persistently, attracted by the anise. And the tiny bottle of anise oil that I left in my garage attracted about 20 or so bees. I went into the garage to get something about an hour later and the place sounded like the inside of a bee hive with bees bouncing off the windows trying to get out. And they were still coming through the door when I got there. The stick I used to stir the syrup mixture was left in my little outdoor bee shed, and that was full of bees too.
I’ve never had anything like that happen when I used anise extract. The next time I use highly concentrated anise oil, I’ll be careful to use only a single drop of it and then put it away in the house where the bees can’t smell it.
UPDATE (the next day): I may never use anise oil again. I was just checking up on all the hives that got the syrup spiked with anise oil. The bees in those hives have gone absolutely bonkers. Fast-moving, frantic bees. That’s something I don’t like to see under any circumstance.
A late-season nuc that got some of the syrup seems to have a lot more bees in it now than it did before. Bees from other hives robbing out the anise syrup? I’ve seen robbing before and this doesn’t look like robbing (not much fighting going on), but the bees are moving like they’ve downed a few pots of coffee.
I see a fair bit of trophallaxis going on. I know the bees use trophallaxis “to distribute information about new nectar sources or about feeding conditions inside the brood nest.” (from Honey Bee Suite). Maybe they’re talking about the motherload of anise sugar syrup that’s suddenly appeared inside the hive. “And if you make a run for it, you might be able to get in and out before anyone notices.” That’s fine if that’s what they’re saying to each other — as long as nobody hurts the queen.
As a precaution, I’m reducing the entrances on all the hives that got the syrup. And I may lay off the anise oil… forever. I just don’t like the look of this. When it comes time to refill the feeders (and it won’t be long), I’ll use plain old sugar syrup with nothing in it but sugar.
This is a new one for me.
UPDATE (5 minutes later): Well, that was fun. I got stung while trying to add an entrance reducer to one of the hives. There must be some robbers getting into the hive. The guards bees are extremely defensive all of a sudden. I created a slight vibration on the bottom board when I put the entrance reducer in place and the bees came pouring out the bottom — and wasted no time stinging me in the leg (I’m wearing shorts). Insert curse word here. This is not good. With any luck, it’s a temporary condition that will pass once the syrup spiked with anise oil is all gone. Insert another curse word here.
AUGUST 24, 2016: After reading more about robbing from Honey Bee Suite, especially this part — “Robbing bees often sway from side to side like wasps, waiting for an opportunity to enter the target hive.” — I’m fairly sure my over-use of the concentrated anise oil initiated a certain degree of robbing in all the hives that got the syrup. Not good. Even the bees that were following me around because my shirt smelled like anise were swaying from side to side — what I call flying in a nasty zig-zag motion. That’s it. I’m done with anise oil.
Also from Honey Bee Suite, some tactics to stop robbing, which includes: “Reduce entrances to a very small opening. Some beekeepers stuff grass in the entrance — a technique that keeps out the robbers but allows some airflow.” I managed to use full entrance reducers, keeping only the top entrance to the hives open. But stuffing in some grass might be better, especially during hot humid August days.