My healthiest honey bee colony, one that was always full of mean bees but has been playing extremely nice so far this year, is back to being mean. Any slight vibration on the hive and the bees come pouring out. I’m not sure what reactivated the mean gene, but these bees are definitely not playing nice anymore.Things that may have triggered the mean gene (and I’m just making this up):
1) I used smoke on them five days ago for the first time this year. Not much smoke, but I had my smoker on stand by and the bees definitely got a whiff of it. 99% of the time, I use spray mist or nothing at all on my bees. Perhaps smoke, which they haven’t tasted since sometime last year, increased the alarm level of the entire colony and once that bell is wrung, it can’t be unwrung. I don’t think that’s it, but it seems possible.
2) The bees are beginning to make honey and are defending that honey. I’ve had a medium honey super with drawn comb in place for about three weeks. They ignored it until the past few days. There’s a fair number of bees clustering inside the honey super all the time now and there’s always guard bees blocking the top entrance. Maybe. But the bees don’t usually defend the honey until they have a fair bit already stored up.
3) Bad weather. It was at least 18°C (64°F) on May 24th and the bees were loving it. It’s been cold and crappy ever since, well below 10°C (50°f) most days. The cloudy, damp days rub them the wrong way. I have my doubts about that, too, but most beekeepers avoid opening their hives on cloudy days precisely for that reason, so… maybe.
4) The cold weather attracted a mouse into the warm hive and there’s a mouse living at the bottom of the hive. The bees are stressed by it. Although I’ve seen that happen in the fall and winter, I don’t think that’s happening now.
5) The queen is injured or dead. I doubt that the most because she seemed alive and well when I inspected the hive five days ago.
6) I’ve been bothering the bees too much and I’ve put them on a constant state of alert. Possibly, but I doubt that too. I used to leave these bees alone for months and they were never happy no matter how much I ignored them. This bad mood is business as usual.
7) Small colonies, even with the mean gene, are easy to handle, but once they reach a certain critical mass, there’s always at least a few easily alarmed bees hanging around ruining it for everybody, lighting off their alarm pheromones like fireworks inside the hive. Greater numbers create a greater chance of easily alarmed bees getting in the mix. Statically, it has to happen at a certain point. Perhaps this colony reached that critical mass a few days ago. Which might also explain why the honey super has been filling with bees.
8) A nectar dearth. There isn’t an actual nectar dearth, but perhaps being stuck in the hive because of cold weather for more than two weeks has created the conditions of a nectar dearth inside the hive. The bees aren’t robbing other hives like they sometimes do during a dearth (because it’s too cold to go outside), but maybe it’s dearthy enough to agitate them. They’re hungry. Hmm… Maybe I should give them some honey in a jar feeder… I think I might.
The bottom line is I don’t know. But I plan to requeen this colony with a well mated queen as soon as possible.
I know some people claim that the bees become more defensive in the early spring. In my experience, the opposite is true. Without a doubt, the bees are more docile and friendly during the early spring, especially when they’re bringing in the first pollen of the year. The bees are usually mean in the fall after the nectar stops coming in and they have a hive full of honey to defend (if they’re defensive at all, though most don’t seem to go down that road). But bees that are mean, switch to being nice in the early spring and then go back to being mean? I suppose it makes sense. They’ve got the mean gene and that’s all there is to it. Requeen ASAP. What else can you do?
JUNE 11, 2016: The bees in this hive were recently recorded in two videos — back when they were nice. From May 21st:
From June 6th:
It was around the time of the last video that the bees began to turn on me. I hope it’s just the bad weather that’s making them mad.
JUNE 18, 2016: I just noticed a photo from same date the video was recorded that may provide a clue as to what made the bees more defensive.It was a relatively hot day. The bees were loitering around the bottom entrance for the first time this year and the top entrance later became so crowded, I decided to slide open the inner cover to relieve the congestion. Now I wonder if opening the hive and leaving it open like that put the bees on guard. Smaller entrances reduce the necessary number of guard bees. Larger entrances require more guard bees — more defensive bees. Perhaps the full opening on top triggered the guarding or defensive response to spread throughout the hive. I had the top nearly blown off one of my hives a few winters ago. I remember those bees were also very defensive a few days later when I discovered the partially opened hive.
JUNE 20, 2016: I did a full inspection of his hive yesterday and the bees are back to being nice.
JULY 28, 2016: A suddenly larger top entrance with a larger area to defensive seems to turn the bees more defensive. To slid open a hive full nice bees that became defensive only after I gave them a larger entrance to guard. There’s always alternate explanations for the bees’ behaviour, but I’m going with this one for now.