Posted November 9, 2017
by Hilary


New beekeepers usually have a tough time keeping their bees calm during inspections. My students often wonder why their colony, which was so defensive when they inspected it two weeks ago, is now positively angelic work my way through it. The simple answer is that I have had much more practice, but there are other factors involved in honey bee temperament. Read on for insights into what may be agitating your hive and how to avoid it.

  1. Stay Calm
  2. This is a tough one for beginning beekeepers, but it only takes practice. Remember that your bees are animals and just like other animals they will respond to your energy. If you are nervous around horses or dogs, they respond in kind. Bees are the same way. Master yourself and try to relax when you work your hives.
  3. Don’t Crush Bees

Bees release an alarm pheromone when they are crushed that will set off other bees. It puts them on the defensive. The more bees you crush, the more of this pheromone is floating around your hive. Take care not to crush bees if you can help it. You can read some of my tips on how to crush fewer bees in this article.  If you accidentally crush some bees and want to lessen their reaction, use a little smoke to block the alarm pheromone from spreading.


Beekeepers like to joke that bees don’t like morning breath, but the truth is bees have learned to react defensively to carbon dioxide. Many of their predators breathe it out, after all! So, avoid heavy sighs and gusty exhales when working your hive. Train yourself to breather lightly though your nose.

Don’t Cause Vibrations

One of the funniest beginning beekeeping mistakes I’ve heard about came from a student of mine who was told to bang loudly on the outside of his hive before opening it. He did this to let the bees know he would be opening them and could not understand why they were always so aggressive with him. The answer is: bees do not like strong vibrations. So avoid banging things around while you inspect your bees and beware of mowing the lawn near them.

Don’t Open Them in Poor Conditions

There are certain conditions beyond the beekeeper’s control that will agitate bees. Bees dislike being opened on cool or windy days so it is best to avoid inspecting them when the weather is poor. In my experience they also tend to grouchy and more defensive when you open them too close to sunrise or too close to dark. All the forager bees will be at home during this time and they will not be happy to see you. Bees also get “hangry” and will be especially irritable during times of dearth when food stores are low. They can also be touchy during transition periods like when they are going through a supersedure or if you have moved a hive from one location to another. You have to make allowances for your bees in these circumstances. These are times of stress for the bees. However, if your bees are consistently defensive, you may need to requeen your colony.

Want to learn more about inspecting your hives, check out my online hive inspection class! It’s full of practical tips for keeping happy and healthy bees.

Photos by Deb Shields


  1. Liz Beavis

    Great post! I didn’t know that breathing was a trigger. What about how you use the smoker to keep bees calmer?

    • Hilary

      The way the smoker is used does make a difference. You want to lightly skate the smoke over the top of the open box. Not blast the bees with it. I find that some colonies react very badly to smoke. The more you smoke them, the more agitated they become. So in those cases I give it up entirely. Just try to read the behavior of your hive instead of adhering to the “rules”.

  2. quantakiran

    Hi there! I stumbled across your lovely site while googling apiculture and the work involved in it. It’s a wonderful site, very educational and the comments from fellow visitors are quite informative.

    My infatuation with bees has a sad start. Wild bees flew into my home one hot summer afternoon and started dying and I didn’t know why or what to do. I googled and discovered that they were in all likelihood thirsty (we were having a drought at the time) and I should’ve offered them water. We now have a drum of harvested rain water in the back with a mesh over it so the bees can drink but not drown.

    I have a pipe dream of one day having a hive with bees in it. I haven’t decided if I want honeybees or some other species (I saw a green species that was so pretty and had green honeycombs or maybe even bumblebees!) because I want bees doing their business in my extensive garden (also another pipe dream :D) with minimal maintenance effort from me.

    Basically they’re going to be pets because I think on a day to day basis, they’re much less labour intensive than dogs. Inspecting a hive once every month sounds a lot easier than walking and cooking for an 80 pound dog twice a day. So I’m researching up. If the time comes and I have the means, I might keep a single hive.

    Which brings me to my question; I read that honeybees produce up to 11kgs/22pounds of honey a season. However, I can see myself only using 1kg/2pounds a year. So I was wondering, can I let the honeybees keep the rest of it? If they get to keep and use their own honey, they shouldn’t be hangry or stressed because that’s what they would’ve done in the wild, right? And in theory, it would be better than feeding them sugar water, corn syrup, etc.? This would affect my decision on which species I would keep.

    If I have to harvest all that honey to ensure their survival, then it’s not worth my time and I would rather have a specimen that doesn’t produce as much honey and requires little to no harvesting (from my research, in my part of the world with very mild winters, harvesting takes up the most time).

    I’m from a tropical part of Africa so if I do get honeybees, I’ll probably get one of our local species.

    • Hilary


      I think you would benefit from watching my intro to beekeeping class online It will clear a lot up for you, I think. In answer to you question about leaving honey in the beehive, yes, you can absolutely do that. There are some situations where it is actually better for the bees to harvest honey, like when they become very weak and cannot defend all their honey, but they can usually sort things out themselves.

      • quantakiran

        Thanks! I will!

        • Reba

          Little late…but…..
          look up bumblebee homes…all you have to do, at the right time of year for your location, is make available a few potential homes, in the correct location. bumblebeeconservation dot org has info on many pollinators who need our help
          I too have been chosen as a watering station.
          I have mason bees, which are also easy/no honey produced. Maybe you have those in your area… or make the homes they use, locate them correctly, and in spring they will move in.
          Kudos for all your efforts. Every pollenator counts!!

  3. Crispin Boxhall ????????

    Hi Hilary. Just stumbled on this other website. Have a look at this….. you might recognise their blog!!!!!

    • Hilary

      Thank you! They posted that without my permission.

  4. Richard Snodgrass

    Does anyone have a beehive they can donate to me I really would like to start beekeeping but have no money for it because I’m getting married next month and all my fiances went towards the wedding. Please help me out with this thanks Richard E.

  5. JB

    Hi there,…I’m chiming in from hot SW, where wild bees have completely taken over wildlife watering holes (sunken dishes fed by drip line), harassing ALL comers…I’ve seen coyotes repeatedly stung!…There is a wild hive I’ve peacefully coexisted with 80-100 feet away…I’m pondering getting rid of those bees…Any thoughts?…Thank you!…JB in AZ

    • Hilary

      I would set up more watering holes. There’s no way to keep the bees from coming and they need water too.

  6. Di'Anna

    My husband did bees and honey for many years. He passed away suddenly on Oct 5 2021, leaving me 63yrs old with 14 hives. I have listened to his bee talk the entire time he had them. I know a lot more than I thought I did. But one thing kept puzzling me. Two of the hives maybe three are agressive, one is extremely, but I knew about them going in. But smoke just seemed to agitate them more. The couple of men that came to help(LOL /HELP = came to look at my equipment and hives, so when I fail they can get stuff cheap) they said I wasn’t doing something right. I quit using the smoker on several of the hives, it just makes them MAD. I am glad I found your site, it confirms my instincts and I will listen to my gut more often. Thank you.



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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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