We have always said that when it comes to bees and beekeeping then temperament trumps production. Far better to have nice calm bees that are a joy to work than a hive of aggressive bees, even if they produce a lot of honey. If you have gone out and bought a lovely colony of bees (Buckfast for example) and they are super calm it is natural to ask “if I have calm bees do I need to wear a suit?”.

The answer is YES.

Bees are animals and all animals (including ourselves) are allowed off days. So, what causes otherwise calm bees to be aggressive? There are a number of reasons:

No Queen

Every so often a bee colony will become queenless. This might be because the old queen has died or is being replaced. They will also be queenless after they have swarmed.

Lack Of Forage

Bees can get “hangry” (hungry and angry) just like the rest of us. This can happen especially if there is a big source of forage such as rape that suddenly gets turned off when the flowers set.

New Queen

A queenless hive will often be aggressive but likewise if the colony has replaced the queen she may have got in with some “bad lads” and the new queen can transmit aggressiveness to the hive even where the original one was calm.


A big infestation of varroa or, heaven forbid one of the foul brood diseases may cause the colony to become aggressive.


Like the rest of us bees don’t like bad weather. If they have been trapped inside for a long time due to rain or cold weather they might become grumpy. The other thing that seems to wind them up is thunder or “close” weather. They can often detect a thunder storm long before we do.

Perfumes & Other Smells

Never put on perfume or aftershave before inspecting your hive and also warn anyone else who is accompanying you. Bees are very sensitive to aromas and can become defensive.

There you have it then. There are circumstances where even the most placid of bees might become defensive. For the want of slipping on a suit or possibly just a jacket it’s not worth taking the risk. Calm bees are always a good idea but these are not robots that can be programmed to remain calm under all circumstances. Every animal should be allowed an off day. If any aggressive traits are shown then I allow them two inspections to settle down and if nothing improves then change the queen.

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