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Happy Bees, Grumpy Bees

Updated: Apr 30

One day you're sweet as honey and the next day, you wish you had a stinger. Bees can be moody too. A scientist would argue that everything they do is just stimulus response and not true emotion, but the result is the same. One day your bees are content and the next day you get stung. Here's why.

Guards and Defenders

New bees first take on jobs inside the hive. When they are 2-3 weeks old, they are ready to move on to outside jobs and one of the first of these is guarding the hive.

Only about 10% of bees will work as guards and they usually only take on the job for 1 day!

Guarding and defending are two separate roles. The guards will stand at the entrance to the hive and inspect everything that passes in. They will use their antennae to quickly check whether entering bees belong to the hive or not. They will also keep an eye out for larger threats outside.

When a threat is detected, they release a pheromone that recruits the defenders. These are the ones that fly out of the hive, find the target and either pursue or sting. If you are stung, the pheromone that is released recruits even more defenders (this is the point when you want to run the heck out of there!).

We learn early on that bees die once they sting us, which is true. But it doesn't happen immediately. A bee usually lives about 18 hours after it stings, so it can still pursue and help to defend its hive. They have been found to live over 100 hours after stinging!

Happy Bees

These are the times when I find our bees to be happiest. This is when I can get away with going gloveless or wearing a t-shirt and Birkenstocks in the bee yard.

These are feelings that I LOVE, but I will tell you that it took me 3-4 years to get brave enough to first try going gloveless and I always recommend that new beekeepers start out wearing full PPE.

Over time, you will learn to predict your bees temperament and then, if you want to, you can start to experiment with less PPE.

There's also no shame in it if you never want to take those gloves off.

Grumpy Bees

These are my rules of thumb for when to glove up and make sure that veil is zipped up tight.

Keep in mind, I'm not taking about bees that are genetically grumpy. Those will always be a little spicy and you can requeen them if you want to change the trait. (Remember: since guards and defenders are 2-3 weeks old, it will take 2-3 weeks after requeening to see a difference in your hive's temperament)

I'm talking about conditions that make your happy-go-lucky hive seem like they all woke up on the wrong side of the honeycomb.

Bad days; even bees have them.

But what about bananas?

Oh, I went there even after swearing to myself that I wouldn't. You will get different answers from different beekeepers about this, but as a banana lover, I'm firmly in the "bananas don't cause aggression" camp. I even make a Tiktok about it.

Looking for more?

Looking for more beekeeping education? You can find my virtual, on-demand beginner and intermediate courses at

Or if you'd prefer a more tailored experience, you can join my mentorship group at


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