Big Difference Between Anise Extract and Anise Oil

    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.

Anise extract.

Anise extract.

But today I used anise oil instead — an “essential oil,” I assume.

A dram of Anise Oil. A little dab will do you.

A dram of Anise Oil. A little dab will do you.

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.

Highly concentrated anise.  And gluten free!

Highly concentrated anise. And gluten free!

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.

Lesson learned.

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.

7 thoughts on “Big Difference Between Anise Extract and Anise Oil

  1. Essential oils are potent stuff! I make my own mosquito/tick repellent lotion with beeswax, oil, and essential oils. Unfortunately, the oils that repel mosquitoes and ticks are highly attractive to bees! So I can’t apply it at my house — have to wait until I actually get to wherever we plan to go hiking. Otherwise, just like you, I have a bee comet following me!

  2. I added some of this sugar syrup to a frame feeder in one of my hive and notice a few hours later a massive amount of bees crowding through the top entrance of the hive. I wouldn’t say the hive was being robbed out. I didn’t see any fights happening, no dead bees on the bottom board, but it looked like every single bee in the hive was crowding into the frame feeder. I’ve never seen so many bees working so frantically to get at syrup before.

  3. 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.

  4. I’ve noticed the same thing with my bees when using the anise oil. I switched from dried anise seeds to essential oil a few weeks ago and there is a remarkable difference in their behaviour and temperament. I thought they might be robbing as well. They were darting back and forth like wasps at the entrances, but there wasn’t any fighting or dead bees around. I couldn’t finish one hive inspection because there was a large number of bees hovering and bopping me, very angry and defensive. Also the population has exploded in the 2 weeks since I looked into the hives. I won’t be using anise oil anymore either. Maybe I’ll go back to using anise seeds at a later date, its more subtle, but I rather be comfortable working with the bees.

  5. I noticed my bees flying in a zig-zagging motion too, darting around like they when they’re agitated by something. I may use anise oil for swarm traps. The bees are definitely more attracted to the anise oil than the lemon grass oil. But the effect it has on them in my hives in too unpleasant. I agree, I’d rather be comfortable working with my bees and the anise oil makes them crazy.

  6. The anise oil- spiked sugar syrup is all finished up so I refilled my feeders today with regular old sugar syrup. What a difference in the bee’s behaviour – they’re back to their normal docile selves. Phew. The anise oil “bee crack ” party is over- I won’t be trying that again!

  7. I was planning to check on mine today and refill the feeders with regular syrup, but I got interrupted by humans. What I’ve noticed, though: The bees are calmer around the hives and are no longer crowding the upper entrances where the aroma of the anise would be most concentrated. I assume the feeders are completely empty now, so they’ll have to go a full day without any syrup, which I usually don’t like to do, but it can’t be helped and maybe a day without anything will settle them a little more.

    But yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ll never use anise oil in my syrup again either. I can see how perhaps a single drop in a big bucket of syrup might not be too much, but it’s too easy to spill more than a drop. It’s not worth the risk.

    Although if I ever need the bees to take down a lot of syrup in a hurry, anise does the trick. Though I’m not sure it’s worth it considering the dramatic change in behaviour.

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