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So, I have the opportunity to experience one of the darker sides of beekeeping. Sadly, I have been working with a couple of new beekeepers who have been doing a very good job in their first year. A couple of weeks ago, their normally easy going hive began getting more aggressive. While trouble shooting the problem trying to rule out, skunks or other varmints bothering them, queen failure or robbing we were not able to get far enough ahead of their aggressive curve. Two days ago, they were trying to work with their bees and the bees want wild and came out onto them like a hurricane. Sadly, one of their small dogs was in the yard with them and the bees immediately focused their attention on the dog. Sadly, the dog did not survive the attack and died at the vet's office. I am in the process of removing that hive from its current location and will try to see if I can calm the bees down a bit to see if they can still be worked. My first step was completely closing a bottom entrance this morning and leaving only an upper entrance using the notch in the top cover. In a couple of days, I will go back and attempt to move the hive. The bees were waiting for me this morning and when I began closing up their bottom entrance they boiled out like it was a firedrill and they weren't happy. Please, Please wear your protective gear when you work your bees as there can be many things going on, without your knowledge, which can have very negative effects on the temperment of your bees. The last time I worked those bees, they were fine and had a young new queen, scroll forward a few weeks and completely different. There were yellow jackets working like crazy trying to rob the hive this morning and I suspect they are part of the problem with the high alert status of the bees. I also know a skunk bothering the hives at night will also do it and I believe I have addressed both potential problems by closing the bottom entrance and reducing the entrance by moving them to an upper entrance. Time will tell, my heart goes out to these new beekeepers as they are likely rethinking the whole "bee thing" after losing their pet. While all of the videos of people working their bees without any protective clothing look really neat, I really recommend using it if you have it available. I have even posted a few videos of swarm activities without gear this year and I am rethinking my posts' as attitude of the bees in a swarm is not the same as the bees in a hive that is being robbed!! Also, as the season goes on, the docile bees of spring will turn into much more protective bees in the late summer and fall. Please remember, these are NOT tamed insects, they respond as insects and sometimes that doesn't work well for people or pets.
 

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Just wanted to thank you for your post. As a first year beek I've just installed my first three packages of hives and have so far done 3-4 additional inspections. Besides finding out that bees hate bee brushes (my first and only sting) I've been amazed at how docile they've been, even with no smoking. I've always worn my gear, and even had several bees within the veil, but the above is a good reminder to not get complacent. I had a quick robbing incident the other day from open feeding and was amazed at the difference in the attitude of the hives versus 1 hour earlier. You can't blame bees being bees, and the responsibility rests with the beek to keep protected and to manage the hives in such a way that pets or neighbors don't pay the consequences.
 

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I couldn't agree more Rob!! I'm glad your first year is going well and while the above example is more the "unusual" than the "usual", it does help remind us that we need to be diligent as beekeepers. I am hopeful that these bees might "calm down" once I move them, but I also don't want the psychological reminder sitting out for the owner of the dog to need to look at every day. She told me yesterday "I don't want the bees to win" and I'm sure that was her grief and hurt talking as she is very nice person with a huge heart. Her set up is currently 10 frame deeps with three supers on top and she is a very small person. I am hoping to get her set up with 8 frame mediums for the next spring, after she has had some time to recover.
 

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Attempting to grow the hive faster then you should can cause a hive to get aggressive and they are stressed. Keep in mind the queen is the main factor in temperament of the hive and may need to be pinched if you can't settle them down.
 

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I have switched to sugar water from smoke and had no problem until 2 days ago. A hive that is normally sweet went ape as soon as I took of the screen. Fortunately I always protect my upper body with bee gear. I got a sting on my leg and had to change to thicker pants and fire up the old smoker. The bees were no calmer with the smoke. I have heard that the type of nectar bees are eating can cause aggressive behavior.
 

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I would second switching to mediums. I'm so glad someone gave me that advice from the start. Even for someone strong the deeps can be to much. I hope this doesn't traumatize her to the point of leaving beekeeping. Its a very sad story though.
 

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To bad they couldn't have killed the skunk. That really stinks , if our dog was killed by the bees I think that hive would be destroyed same day ( my wife thinks it's her baby). Maybe a good rule of thumb- no pets at the apiary? Sorry to hear and makes me feel better for always wearing a full compliment of protection.
 

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I have switched to sugar water from smoke and had no problem until 2 days ago. A hive that is normally sweet went ape as soon as I took of the screen. Fortunately I always protect my upper body with bee gear. I got a sting on my leg and had to change to thicker pants and fire up the old smoker. The bees were no calmer with the smoke. I have heard that the type of nectar bees are eating can cause aggressive behavior.
No calmer because the defensive reaction is already happening vs. being able to smoke into the hive before you really even disturb it. Instead, with sugar water, you're prying into their hive and spraying water on them (which isn't going to disrupt their alarm sense). I bet 90% of the time we'd be fine working most of our bees without anything on and no smoke. By why risk it? Give them a couple puffs of smoke and make it much better for you and the bees.
 

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What you do as far as smoking or not is only one small part of how your bees will behave. A have about 40 hives at the moment (despite what my signature says) and there is a wide range of observable variation within that population. Some hives you could almost work bare - others are quite aggressive, and will start pinging you when you are still working on the other end of the stand.

Most beginners who want to use sugar water or some other smoke alternative haven't learned to keep the smoker lit. Get a beekeeper to show you how, and learn to use it. Think of your smoker and veil as safety equipment - which they are. Use them every time.

First year hives are like puppies - cute and friendly, might give you a little nip now and then - but by next year some of them will be big and aggressive. Don't think you can treat a grown wolf the same as you would a puppy. Learn to use your smoker before that point.
 

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What you do as far as smoking or not is only one small part of how your bees will behave. A have about 40 hives at the moment (despite what my signature says) and there is a wide range of observable variation within that population. Some hives you could almost work bare - others are quite aggressive, and will start pinging you when you are still working on the other end of the stand.

Most beginners who want to use sugar water or some other smoke alternative haven't learned to keep the smoker lit. Get a beekeeper to show you how, and learn to use it. Think of your smoker and veil as safety equipment - which they are. Use them every time.

First year hives are like puppies - cute and friendly, might give you a little nip now and then - but by next year some of them will be big and aggressive. Don't think you can treat a grown wolf the same as you would a puppy. Learn to use your smoker before that point.
There you have it.
I have noticed my bees getting a bit more defensive as the season progresses. The hive also seems to have different moods. A couple weeks ago I got my 1st sting when simply feeding them in the top feeder, complacently without a veil.
I learned that lesson.

I also saw within the first couple days of installing my new colony that my dog loved to chase them in the air and snap at them. Aerial sweets! He has been stung several times, I'm sure. Glad he's not allergic. He was also getting mighty curious about the boxes. I quickly put a small 8X10' dog enclosure AROUND the colony to keep the dog out. I have also noted that they get testy after he is out with me for a while near their hive. I suspect that if he ever gets inside the Bee Kennell that he would pay a big price. I now keep him in the house when I have to open the top.
 

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I would say the new queen has something to do with it. How are their food stores. Smoke works best when certain conditions exist (i.e. open nectar in the hive). Did you smoke them before screening the entrance? I always let the girls know I'm there with a light puff at the entrance. Also, I agree with you, too many people enjoy making videos without wearing a veil, I think it sends the wrong message. I can probably work every colony I have without a veil (around 25) but I do like seeing out of both eyes and not having half my face swell up from a sting more than throwing caution to the wind.
 

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Well said, David, well said. Veils and smokers are indeed safety equipment.

I sometimes won't wear a veil when I take the top cover off of an empty super that is covering a mason jar feeder. But, the jar is sitting on a inner cover that has its escape/feed hole screened over so I'm not actually "opening up" the hive. Approaching the beeyard, if I see a lot of activity with bees flying heavily among the hives I will put a veil on before entering their congested airspace. My definite rule, though, is that if I expose the top bars of the upper frames (open the hive) there is a veil covering my face/head. This past spring I started pulling a veil on to retrieve some swarms that were landing in a privet hedge thicket...it seemed that being in the "confines" of the thicket that the bees were more prone to sting than if they were out in the open. :scratch:

A good burning smoker is very important for the beekeeper's safety *and* the bees. I use little smoke BUT I always use "some". A short puff or two below the screened bottom board or in the entrance of a solid bottom board hive...another short puff under the inner cover or through the screened escape/feed holes (if they aren't propolised closed)....and then I wait a minute. I really think a short pause after the final topside smoke helps to "calm" the bees down by giving the smoke effect time to pass through the colony. Keeping the bees from being overly defensive helps save them from dieing due to stinging and helps with keeping them from being in the way while moving boxes and frames. And, of course, smoke is very helpful when your closing the hive up and need to get the bees "down" off the box edges.

As for myself, I got into the habit early on that once I'm stung I reach for the smoker to smoke the sting area...I may actually smoke it before scratching the stinger out simply to cover any pheromones there. It's only a second later that I remove the stinger (if I didn't remove it immediately... sometimes you have a frame or something in your hand...), but once I remove it I smoke both hands and go back to work...I don't think I've had multiple stings at a sting area due to alarm pheromone targeting.

Your wolf analogy is spot on....

Ed

<snip>

Most beginners who want to use sugar water or some other smoke alternative haven't learned to keep the smoker lit. Get a beekeeper to show you how, and learn to use it. Think of your smoker and veil as safety equipment - which they are. Use them every time.

First year hives are like puppies - cute and friendly, might give you a little nip now and then - but by next year some of them will be big and aggressive. Don't think you can treat a grown wolf the same as you would a puppy. Learn to use your smoker before that point.
 

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It is much easier to pay attention to them and use smoke proactively than it is to use it reactively. Once you have caused a defensive reaction, it's tough to smoke them down again.

The trick to the smoker is patience - get a good fire going in the bottom. If you want to speed the process up, get a good self-igniting propane torch. You can also use it to sterilize your hive tool between yards/hives and dispatch biting ants that colonize between covers.

Out of 60 hives with a variety of temperaments, I had one this year that was unmanageable even with smoke. They would chase you a 100 feet away. After pinching the queen, I introduced a new one. When I checked a week later for acceptance, it was immediately obvious that just the difference in queen pheromones had made them manageable.
 

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Try smoking your arms and chest/head also helps. If the hive history is nasty put some old black comb pieces in the smoker too. My dog knows if she sees the bee suit to hit the door and get her butt inside the house or truck. Also try not to wave your arms around too much while moving the frames out of the boxes. Move slow and smokem heavy if they acted up the last time you were in the hive.
 

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First year hives are like puppies - cute and friendly, might give you a little nip now and then - but by next year some of them will be big and aggressive. Don't think you can treat a grown wolf the same as you would a puppy. Learn to use your smoker before that point.
Words from a experienced bee keeper .
What a shame about the dog I feel for her very sad. my dog is like a kid to me and I would never take him in the bee yards but he does run around them they are fenced in I never work my hives with him around.
I love my bees but I know they can kick my but. And this is the time of year they get grumpy and I have already been hit over a 100 times this year and all ways have a smoker lite.
Hope things turn out :(
Good luck.
 

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I'm a first year beekeeper with 2 hives that have, until this past weekend, been very docile. I did an inspection in the evening and the first hive was as gentle as ever. The second hive didn't get opened up until after the sun went down. I'm guessing that they didn't care for that because it was the first time I've been stung since starting. Does this sound right, or did I just happen upon them in a bad mood?
 

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So, I have the opportunity to experience one of the darker sides of beekeeping. Sadly, I have been working with a couple of new beekeepers who have been doing a very good job in their first year. A couple of weeks ago, their normally easy going hive began getting more aggressive. While trouble shooting the problem trying to rule out, skunks or other varmints bothering them, queen failure or robbing we were not able to get far enough ahead of their aggressive curve. Two days ago, they were trying to work with their bees and the bees want wild and came out onto them like a hurricane. Sadly, one of their small dogs was in the yard with them and the bees immediately focused their attention on the dog. Sadly, the dog did not survive the attack and died at the vet's office. I am in the process of removing that hive from its current location and will try to see if I can calm the bees down a bit to see if they can still be worked. My first step was completely closing a bottom entrance this morning and leaving only an upper entrance using the notch in the top cover. In a couple of days, I will go back and attempt to move the hive. The bees were waiting for me this morning and when I began closing up their bottom entrance they boiled out like it was a firedrill and they weren't happy. Please, Please wear your protective gear when you work your bees as there can be many things going on, without your knowledge, which can have very negative effects on the temperment of your bees. The last time I worked those bees, they were fine and had a young new queen, scroll forward a few weeks and completely different. There were yellow jackets working like crazy trying to rob the hive this morning and I suspect they are part of the problem with the high alert status of the bees. I also know a skunk bothering the hives at night will also do it and I believe I have addressed both potential problems by closing the bottom entrance and reducing the entrance by moving them to an upper entrance. Time will tell, my heart goes out to these new beekeepers as they are likely rethinking the whole "bee thing" after losing their pet. While all of the videos of people working their bees without any protective clothing look really neat, I really recommend using it if you have it available. I have even posted a few videos of swarm activities without gear this year and I am rethinking my posts' as attitude of the bees in a swarm is not the same as the bees in a hive that is being robbed!! Also, as the season goes on, the docile bees of spring will turn into much more protective bees in the late summer and fall. Please remember, these are NOT tamed insects, they respond as insects and sometimes that doesn't work well for people or pets.
Thanks for posting this. I'm a new beek too, and a long time dog lover. It's a sobering reminder of what can happen.
 

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Once you have caused a defensive reaction, it's tough to smoke them down again.
Agreed. It does sound to me that this hive would calm down until you filled it with CO2. Killing your dog that is pretty aggressive.
If I open a hive without a veil I break the cover loose and then tip the cover up on the front side standing in the back of the hive. If twenty bees come out like a bullet I drop the cover and retreat. Typically one or two will come out and sometimes none. If the hive seems calm I will slowly remove the cover. Yes, I have heard the warning but it just doesn't make sense to me that the bees will go from the calm state to aggressive unless they were aggressive to begin with.
 
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