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Whidbey Island Washington Beekeeping & Honeybees - Lavender Honey - Green Road Farm - Tim Walsh

A Very Aggressive (hostile) Apiary!

Do I have an issue with Africanized honey bees – Apis mellifera scutelatta Lepeletier- “killer Bees” ~OR~ Robbing behavior….or what?

My apiary & the surrounding 5 acres has become a VERY hostile place.

Just driving up, without even getting out of my truck, honey bees start aggressively buzzing the truck.  When I get out, they immediately start flying around my head and dive bombing me. I try to be zen, sometimes standing still for minutes, but that doesn’t work. I try swatting them, but the more I swat, the more aggressive they get. There seem to be bees that are out on patrol and when they find me they just go into attack mode…no exploring, just dive bomb me.

These bees seem to be smaller than the bees in my hives.  I wonder if they may reside nearby and have staked out their territory and are defending it.

They also seem to fly in a side to side pattern, very frenetic.

When I managed to kill one, I held it in my glove. The bees that were buzzing my head, one by one slowed down and hovered near the dead bee…taking note I guess. There definitely seemed to be an awareness that one of their comrades had fallen….and then they continued attacking me.

If this was an issue with an aggressive hive, the common thoughts are:

  1. Replace the queen
  2. Replace the queen with a mated queen with known drones. Sometimes when the queen goes out on her maiden flight she mates with African
  3. If the weather is hot and water is scarce, try watering the area…thirst can lead to aggressiveness.

But the bees in my hive are all larger than these aggressive bees. This is why I think there must be a wild hive nearby hive that has become Africanized.

The problem with that thought is that here on north Whidbey Island in Washington, we do not have Africanized honey bees….

Likely reason but not the whole story:
(Turned out not to be true)

The short answer is that one hive had a culture of robbing.

I bought two packages of bees and and two queens this year. It was an experiment to see if I could start 4 hives with two packages.

When I divided them up I accidentally gave one hive more bees than the rest. This hive grew fast and started robbing from the hive next to it which I had experimentally left too many entrances/vents open. Here is a video I made of this robbing behavior
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4piVNooN5Q

They eventually killed off that hive.

This does not explain the aggressiveness of the hive though. Typically, bees do not patrol a large area and attack anything in it. Also, if you do make a hive agitated, as soon as you walk away, 30 feet or so, the bees taper off and go back to their hive. This hive was not like this. They would continue attacking for a 100 feet. Even when I would walk under tree branches they were not discouraged.

SO bottom line…I really do not have a good explanation for this behavior….

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE WHOLE STORY – SOLVED

The short answer for such a hostile environment in my apiary were neighboring honeybees constantly robbing my hives.

The elements that created this were:

  1. I split the bee packages from 3lbs to 1.5lbs and purchased new queens.
  2. I then provided too much ventilation in the hives leaving the entire bottom entrance open as well as holes in each of the supers.
  3. The neighboring bees that were robbing my hive became used to free honey and it became there first choice over collecting nectar.
  4. The neighboring bees were also very protective of this source of honey.

The solution was to move my hives roughly 50 yards away. See this page to read about how to move a hive.

For the next few days bees kept showing up at the old location, even though I had completely changes it by cutting trees and mowing the grass etc. I thought they might be my bees, but then I realized that my bees, near my hives were peacefully going out and collecting nectar. The bees that were returning to the old location were smaller and very aggressive. Over time they stopped showing up and the apiary returned to the calm place it used to be.

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