The following was copied and pasted from a response I gave to someone who was concerned about her neighbour’s plan to set up a beehive in a yard close to where her children play. I decided to turn my response into a post because I’ve received emails from other people with similar concerns. I also made this short video to help ease the irrational response many people have towards anything that looks like a bee.

POSTSCRIPT/PREFACE (Feb. 06/14): If you’re reading this post because you have a problem with your neighbour’s bees, whether real or perceived, and you don’t know what to do, please don’t ask me for advice (especially without even reading this post first). Whatever advice I have to give is already written in this post, and it goes something like this: Most reasonable beekeepers don’t want to upset anyone and will do what they can to calm even the most irrational fears. If you’re concerned about your neighbour’s bees, then talk to them — before you talk to me. It’s interesting how many people don’t bother doing that. (Sept. 27/14: I also recommend reading The Fear of Bees.) We now return to our regularly scheduled programming…

I’m just some guy with a blog, not a master beekeeper. I’m no longer obsessed by bees or beekeeping (at least not while I’m restricted by what I can do living in my urban neighbourhood), so whatever you get from me is a moderately informed opinion based on my limited experience. For a more informed response, you might want to repeat your question over at Honey Bee Suite.

Every person who has told me that they can’t stand bees, is afraid of bees or is allergic to bees, has never been stung or bothered by honey bees. Each and every one of them was stung by a wasp or hornet when they were young and have spent the rest of their lives hating “bees.” These are often the same people who teach their children to fear any flying insect that buzzes. No offense, but that’s why I may have a biased attitude towards “non-bee” people who tend to have irrational, uninformed reactions to anything that remotely resembles a bee. They need to get their facts straight.

Nevertheless, I understand your concern about a neighbour setting up a bee hive close to your children. Chances are, if your neighbour goes through with it, you’ll never know the bees are there. You may occasionally see bees flying around some flowers in your yard, but foraging honey bees couldn’t be more benign. Even if you see honey bees in your flowering tree, you’d have to whack at them violently with a stick before they’d ever act defensively. In my experience with bees in trees and on flowers, you can virtually stick your face right in the flower with them and they’ll ignore you.

The honey bees will only bother you if you bother them by getting too close to their hive. If you’re not in the same yard as the hive, then you’re probably out of any potential line of fire. Honey bees are docile and friendly 99% of the time. The bees need to perceive you as a serious threat to their colony before they’ll shift into any kind of defensive behaviour. Banging a ball up against it the hive, kicking it, spraying it with a hose — that kind of thing. But even then, the last thing a honey bee wants to do is sting. Most of the time, if you stay away from the hive, at least 10 or 15 feet away, the bees will stay away from you.

Don’t worry about the dog. Dogs or cats that get too close to a bee hive will get stung once and instantly learn to live peacefully with the bees by leaving them alone. (Check out Cats vs. Bees for more on this.) I can see the bees becoming a little more on guard if you have a constantly yapping or viciously barking dog close to the hives. But most dogs and cats, I think, are smart enough to keep their distance.

A swarm may sound scary, but it’s not. In my experience, the bees are in their most friendly mood after swarming. They have no reason to act defensively during a swarm because they have no hive to protect. A swarm may look and sound scary, but it’s harmless. If you happen to see a swarm and you want to play it safe, go inside for about 30 minutes. The bees will have found a place to hang out by then and you can call the beekeeper to come collect the bees if they’re in your property. Swarms might be inconvenient, but they won’t hurt anyone. Here’s a video of a swarm that demonstrates how docile they are.

If I had children, my only concerns with having a bee hive close by would be:

1) Honey bees can get a little more defensive in the fall when they’re no longer bringing in nectar. If the bees normally defend an area of 3 or 4 feet around the hive throughout the spring and summer (if they’re defensive at all), that area can expand to about 20 feet in the fall. In my experience, usually only one bee would buzz me in the head when I got within that 20 foot perimeter in the fall, but once it got a bead on me, it wouldn’t leave me alone. I never got stung, but for about a week in the fall, I couldn’t go out in my small backyard without being pestered. (The bees in most of the hives ignored me, though, even in the fall.) If your neighbour’s hive is within 20 feet of where your children play, they could be pestered by the bees in the fall. That’s less likely if your neighbour’s yard is fenced in with a solid fence.

One of my cats getting along fine with my bees.

One of my cats getting along fine with my bees.

2) Bees will act more defensively towards bad beekeepers who don’t act calmly. When I was learning how to inspect my hives, I never did it while my neighbours were outside just in case I disturbed the bees too much. (The one time I was forced to do a full inspection while my next door neighbour was around, that’s when they called the fire department on me to complain about my killer bees.)

3) Bees are attracted to pools and puddles of water. Maybe it’s the chlorine in the water that they like. I don’t know. The bees probably wouldn’t hang around if kids were splashing water everywhere because they don’t like to get wet, but you might find bees drinking at the pool’s edge when the kids aren’t around. I’ve seen bees, never in large numbers, drinking from a leaky hose on the ground, but I’ve never had to deal with them near a pool, so I can’t speak to that.

I would talk to your neighbour about your concerns. Ask them if they have a plan for dealing with potential swarms. Hopefully your neighbour knows what they’re doing and would be willing to move the hive if the bees somehow bothered anyone.

P.S. (May 05/13): However… Some hives are just full of grumpy bees. One of my hives in the country is like that and it always has been. Those bees are defensive no matter what time of the year it is. They start buzzing me in the head as soon as they see me anywhere near their hive, usually just one or two bees, but they’ll follow me wherever I go, even if I walk 50 metres away from the hive. I wouldn’t want bees like that anywhere close to my house. They may not go in for a sting but it sure feels like they’re about to. I plan to requeen that hive as soon as possible.

23 Responses to “Will My Neighbour’s Honey Bees Sting My Kids?”

  1. Phillip says:

    I added this post on May 04/13, but it was back-dated to correspond to when I wrote my original response. The video, however, was created on April 28/13, just to make it all more confusing.

  2. Emily says:

    Great videos – should be shown in schools! I’ve read that the only time swarms can become defensive and moody is if they’ve been hanging around for a few days in bad weather without choosing a new home yet – then they’ve run out of honey in their stomachs and are getting cold – I would be grumpy too!

  3. Jay Floyd says:

    It’s an open ended question because the question doesn’t address how close you are to them, but I would for sure instruct your children on beekeeping and you can absolutely use it as an educational experience. We homeschool and they get credits for “beekeeping”. I would ask your neighbor, if possible, to let you suit them up. Your local beekeeping association (google them) should have small suits you can borrow. If you instruct the kids and let them look in the hives and show them the workings of the hive, they will be a LOT less likely to go out on their own investigating, which is a good way for kids and adults to get stung. We have hives in our backyard and as stated here, if you didn’t know they were they, you would never know as they are shielded by trees and you can’t see them. Funny thing is, I’ve been stung 3 times in the last 2 weeks just hanging out in my “bee yard” and all 3 times have been in the head. Once behind my ear, once ON my ear and once right in the middle of the forehead. All 3 times, I was within 10 feet of the hives. My wife, on the other hand, has NEVER been stung and the last time I got stung, she was standing right beside me. Weird, right? As stated here, one of my hives may have bees that are a bit more aggressive than the others and I think I know which one it is and I am looking at replacing that queen as well. Just introduce them to the hive, suit them up and let them enjoy having bees as neighbors. Who knows, they may get into it and do it for a living one day. We need good responsible beekeepers to help us keep the population up. Also, if your kids have never been stung and you don’t want to have them tested for allergies… a precaution, get your Doctor to get you an epi-pen and just keep it on hand. It’s not a bad idea to have one around anyway for yellow jackets, wasps and hornets….just in case.

  4. Heather says:

    I feel I can chime in here because of our own personal experience. We’re “accidental beekeepers” of only one year, after hiving a swarm from our yard last May. We keep our bees in the corner of our gated yard, but we are right across the street from an elementary school, and all of our neighbors have little ones. Kids are ALL OVER our neighborhood.

    We also have two small children, two and four years old, neither of them have been stung yet (and they’ve gotten pretty close to our hive). I haven’t been stung yet either. Other than right around the hive entrance, and I’m talking about a few inches of space here, there is really no area on our entire lot that has a lot of bees hanging out. Kids would likely be stung if they went right up to the hive and started fooling around the entrance and bothered the bees, but other than that, there are bees all over this earth and you won’t be around any more bees than you already are every day just because a neighbor has a hive. A lot of the bees found foraging in my yard are probably from other colonies.

    All of our neighbors are incredibly wonderful and accepting of our hive, none of them have voiced any concerns (and we did check with them all before keeping the swarm, to be sure no one had objections or allergies). The school children’s parents pick their kids up from school every day and park right in front of our house, and we’ve had no problems whatsoever and I really doubt we ever will. (Unless someone tries to harass our bees, being in an urban area with lots of pedestrians around, it’s something I do worry about. But hopefully people will leave our hive alone.)

    As said above too, swarms are notoriously docile. They have nothing to protect so their defensive behaviors are practically switched off, they are not in a permanent home, and there is no honey. Last year when we hived our swarm, my husband was completely unprotected as he cut down the branch full of bees, and shook them all into the new hive. No stings. In fact, he’s the only one in our family of four (plus pets) who’s been stung, and only because a bee got trapped in his shorts!

    Your kids will probably be stung by a bee at some point in their lives because most of us are–usually from stepping on a bee or getting it caught in your hair or clothing, but any bees in your yard could easily (and more likely) be from hives that are MILES away.

    Basically, my point is, your neighbor could have a hive bursting with bees, but you’re not going to be affected by them any more than you already are. Bees are not aggressive, they don’t want to sting, but they will when provoked. Unless, of course, you upset some Africanized bees, but no one keeps those bees because they’re so vicious–nor do they even live in my state.

    Hope this helps anyone who is wondering about bees and little ones! People see a beehive and think it’s full of a swarm of angry insects, and we hear the horror stories on the news about Africanized bees, but really bees are lovely and a blessing. When your neighbors finally go to harvest some honey, hopefully they will share some with you! I know we plan to share with our wonderful neighbors.

  5. Phillip says:

    I got stung by a wasp / yellow jacket today. I had to take painkillers for the pain that even now, an hour later, feels like someone put a cigarette out on my arm. A honey bee sting seems like a mosquito bite compared to this. Just sayin’.

  6. Diana says:

    My next door neighbors has a Honey Bee Hive since July 2013. We live in a 4 plex house separated by a back yard fence between us.
    His Bee Hive is located at the end of the yard next to the fence.
    My 3 dogs yorkies have been stung numerous times in my back yard and now the bees are coming into my back door into the kitchen. I have not been stung by the bees but my dogs are now being stung inside my house….So your myth about dogs will stay away once they have been stung is just a myth. I don’t believe there is any regulations about bee keepers and how far away the hive should be set up away from your next door neighbors. I cant seem to find any help with this situation. I have spoke with the homeowners assoc. (nothing), code enforcement (nothing), and the county pest/mosquito control. All of these people cannot help with the neighbors honey bees coming into my house. I cannot enjoy my small backyard for the dogs or myself. what can be done?

    • Phillip says:

      If you’re having trouble with your neighbour’s honey bees, the first move is to tell your neighbour about it. Most reasonable beekeepers don’t want their bees bothering anyone. My next door neighbour was so unnerved by the close proximity of my bees that he couldn’t relax in his backyard. He was never stung by the bees, but I decided to move the hives off my property anyway. I legally didn’t have to do anything. My neighbour happens to be a big jerk who doesn’t deserve any favours from me, but I sacrificed most of the pleasure I got from beekeeping so he could maintain the happiness of his backyard bliss. That’s what a nice guy I am. Most sensible people are like that.

      As for your dogs getting stung, if they were getting stung around bee hives, they would quickly learn to avoid bee hives, but I suppose they won’t learn that lesson if they can’t see the hives and tell where the bees are coming from.

      You might also want to make sure it’s honey bees that are stinging your dogs and getting into your house. Wasps and yellow jackets are easily confused with honey bees (and they’re often attracted to bee hives in the late summer and fall). The next time you see what you think is a honey bee in your house, kill it and show it to your neighbour. Take a clear photo of it and send to someone who knows what a honey bee looks like.

      I don’t doubt that some kind of insects are bothering your dogs, but I think it’s a fair statement that most people who aren’t beekeepers can’t tell the difference between a honey bee and a variety of other insects that have similar markings.

      Honey bees can get defensive in the fall, but even then, they will rarely sting anyone who isn’t right next to the hive. Are your dogs barking at the hive through the fence? If the dogs are barking within 10 or 15 feet of the hive, even from behind a fence, that could be within the stinging perimeter. It’s difficult to say without seeing it myself.

  7. Phillip says:

    A video with Thomas Seeley that demonstrates how docile swarming bees are:

    Originally posted by Science Friday:

  8. Susie says:

    I water a mat outside our front door every day for honeybees who come from our neighbor’s hive to drink. I sit right by them when I water the mat. I have never in my life been stung by a bee (wasps, yes!), so I have no fear of the bees. They might buzz around me, but I figure they are just checking me out. Same for my daughter and my grandchildren. My husband, on the other hand, was attacked while mowing the lawn the other day, literally. He was stung and was chased in to the house. Now he was to wear a towel over his head when he goes outside anywhere in our yard, and won’t stay out long because they do chase him. Even when he gets in the car, they keep trying to get to him and will fly right into the closed windows, bumping against the glass trying to get to him. It’s wild. I love them. He, obviously does not anymore.

  9. Rick Reid says:

    I’ll be 51 next month and I just got stung by my 1st bee !
    Ever since I was a kid I’ve been around bees, my mom use to keep hives, 2 of them, and I’d work with them, checking in on them and the hive’s and never to the best of my knowledge got stung my one. I’ve even climbed up into trees to fetch the Qween and never had a problem, but today was my 1st “known bee sting” as I was cleaning the pool. They have one spot they seem to like and I guess I got one upset today, poor little guy. I kept an eye on the spot just to make sure I didn’t have any problems. It made a welt about a 1/4 inch wide on my arm and stung a little but in a 1/2 hour or so other than a slight sting, I couldn’t tell I’d been stung.

  10. Maureen says:

    Could you please tell us what to do about honeybees on the bird feeders knocking all the seed out in a day and the other liqiud feeders there all over and no birds will come around.Two neighbors have hives.would like to find a peaceful way of solving this.

    • Phillip says:

      Maureen, I turn your attention to what I wrote in the post: “If you’re reading this post because you have a problem with your neighbour’s bees, whether real or perceived, and you don’t know what to do, please don’t ask me for advice… Most reasonable beekeepers don’t want to upset anyone and will do what they can to calm even the most irrational fears. If you’re concerned about your neighbour’s bees, then talk to them — before you talk to me. It’s interesting how many people don’t bother doing that.”

  11. Maureen says:

    We have talk to him, last year and all we got is “I’ll have to bring over some honey”.Even showed pictures to him.
    we know there is a shortage on honeybees and we would like to do something other then bee traps.
    we have spent thousands of dollars putting in a water garden and patio and dont mind haaving some bees around but this more the enough.
    I should have said that I talk to him ,sorry.
    Didnt know if there was anything other to do, we have tried putting oit on the bird feeders and mint extract.(something we read on the internet.thanks

    • Phillip says:

      The best I can suggest is not to use bird feeders containing sweet liquid. Honey bees and many other insects are attracted to anything that gives off a sweet odor. I’ve noticed the bees are attracted to the chlorine in water as well, along with compost and fertilizers that are used in gardening.

  12. maureen says:

    Thank you, but we didnt spend over 25+ years to bring in the Birds, from Hummers to everything else, we will try again to talk to the owners, but we can not keep going like this.
    Thanks again

    • Phillip says:

      I hope it works out for you, though I’m not convinced what you’re dealing with are honey bees. Wasps, or yellow jackets, could be the problem. A variety of wasps seem identical to honey bees to the untrained eye and are more likely to behave the way you described.

      I’d like to see a clear, close-up photograph of whatever insects are causing the problem. If they’re honey bees, I’ll know right away (if it’s a clear photo). If they’re honey bees, you won’t get stung. They have no reason to sting unless you’re threatening the hive. It’s a different story, though, if they’re wasps.

      • Phillip says:

        I did some poking around. It’s not unheard of for honey bees to disturb seeds in bird feeders. This is news to me. The bees are apparently attracted to the pollen dust.

        My take on that situation: The bees must be starving. Natural sources of pollen are usually the preferred choice for honey bees. I don’t know where you live, but my guess is the bees don’t have a natural source of pollen or nectar available to them in your local climate at this time of the year. Hopefully they’ll leave your bird feeders alone once spring flowers start to bloom.

  13. Maureen says:

    thank you, we live in Minnesota and Its just starting to warm up.
    We took the feeders down for now. they are honeybees, didnt get stong once taking them down. Will talk to the neighbor again

  14. Phillip says:

    I was initially skeptical when you talked about honey bees getting
    into bird seed. I’d never heard of that before and I often hear from unreasonable people who mistake yellow and black wasps for honey bees. After some digging around I discovered that honey bees will at times forage on bird seed that contains pollen or pollen dust, usually some kind of seed mix with corn, but other grains and seeds as well. However, from what I’ve been told, the bees will abandon the feeder as soon as a natural source of pollen is available, probably later in the spring. With any luck, the same applies to sweet liquid in bird feeders.

    However, if the bees are coming from nearby hives, I’d suggest the
    beekeeper(s) feed their bees pollen patties. The bees seem to be
    short on pollen. If they had a source of pollen inside their hives,
    they might leave the feeders alone. As it is now, the seed bird feeders are probably providing the bees their only source of protein, which means they’ll keep coming back until they find something better.

    As for liquid hummingbird feeders, I did a quick Google search
    and found this (bee-proof feeders and other steps to prevent insects getting into the feeders):

    There are likely other wasp and bee proof feeders on the market.

    I plan write a more detailed and researched post on this topic if I ever get back into regular beekeeping.

  15. Kameliya says:

    Hi there,

    I am not a bee-keeper but I noticed some bees have moved in a tree trunk in my backyard (about 20 ft from the house, right on the fence between our yard and the neighboring apt building). Should I be concerned? Some people have advised to remove the bees but I wonder if it is absolute must. I have planted some native flowers which are just beginning to sprout and would welcome the bees or butterflies using them for nectar. The only issue is that I’ve seen the bees get in the trunk at ankle level, which worries me they may be too close for my comfort if I am watering my hostas and mint near that tree trunk. Are there ways to encourage them to fly up instead of straight out?


    • Phillip says:

      Kameliya, I can’t tell if the bees you’re describing are wasps, honey bees or some other kind of bee. Honey bees don’t usually nest close to the ground.

      However, if you indeed have honey bees coming and going from an ankle-level entrance, the only way I know how to encourage them to fly up instead of straight out is place a barrier in their flight path. For example, backyard urban beekeepers will often orient their hives so entrance is facing a fence or some other obstacle. The bees exit the hive, encounter the fence and go up instead of straight out.

      That usually works.

  16. Susan says:

    Hi Phillip – I came across your post because we just moved in a new house and our neighbor has a bee hive/colony on the corner where our properties meet. I have asked him about the danger to children and our 4 dogs to which he said that if we didn’t bother them, they wouldn’t bother us. We are planning to fence in a play yard for our dogs to run off leash and this area will be about 2-3 feet from the bee hive/box. Sorry I don’t know exactly what to call it. I am very worried about my dogs. They are small and yappy dogs. My fear is that the bees will attack them. I have heard of a hive attacking and killing a young pup that was penned near a hive. Thoughts? Thanks.

    • Phillip says:

      Susan, it’s difficult to say if the dogs will get stung. It’s highly unlikely they’d get stung to death unless you’re in some place like Arizona where Africanized honey bees are making the rounds. But if they do get stung, most likely they’ll quickly learn where the bees are and not go near them. I know a few beekeepers who take their dogs with them while inspecting their hives and it’s not a problem.

      If your dogs persistently bark close to the hive (within 2 or 3 feet), your neighbour’s bees could become stressed and more defensive and more likely to sting. With any luck, though, your dogs will keep their distance and you won’t even know the bees are there.

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Please keep the comments clean and civil. Most comments or links posted for promotional or commercial purposes will be deleted. The spelling and syntax of some comments may be corrected for readability from time to time. Private messages can be directed to the Mud Songs email address posted on the Contact page.