I’m sure you’ve seen them.
Beekeepers who work their hives without the slightest protection. Bees buzzing all over the place. A loud hum in the air…
And not getting stung once!
How do they do it? What’s going on?
Why is it that beekeepers don’t get stung by honey bees?
Why do bees not sting beekeepers
Beekeepers avoid getting stung by honey bees by using a series of careful procedures. In addition, their knowledge of bee behavior allows them to handle bees without getting stung.
First, I should begin by putting in a good word for the bees.
The idea that honey bees are aggressive is a myth.
Bees are naturally docile creatures. They go about their “buzziness” of collecting food for the colony and are not intent on stinging people.
If a honey bee lands on you, it’s probably just tired and taking a break. Or it has mistaken you for a flower!
Bees are “defensive,” not “aggressive.”
Which means they will sting if they feel threatened. And if they believe their precious hoard of honey is endangered, they will attack an intruder.
This is why beekeepers use several tools and tactics to avoid getting stung.
Do bees sting beekeepers?
Beekeepers are affected by the risk of bee stings like everyone else. An occasional sting is a possibility. But an experienced beekeeper can get away with as little as 2 or 3 stings each season.
When a bee stings, it releases a pheromone to warn that danger is nearby. In turn, other bees emit this “alarm pheromone” to alert the rest of the colony.
Bees are extremely sensitive to smell, so guard bees arrive to fend off the threat as soon as they detect this odor.
Apparently, this unique pheromone smells like bananas! So maybe you should avoid eating bananas before visiting a beehive!
It’s not unusual for less experienced beekeepers to be stung during hive inspections. Most of the time, beekeepers wear professional bee suits like this for protection. (Amazon) But if a bee suit isn’t cleaned after use, the bee stings on the suit’s fabric continue to emit an alarm pheromone, which can provoke defensive bee behavior when revisiting the hive.
So beekeepers are not magically immune to bee stings.
Instead, beekeepers use a number of methods to lower the chances of getting stung.
Some seasoned beekeepers choose not to wear protective clothing around their bees. However, I highly recommend using a bee suit, veil, and gloves when interacting with bees. Remember… You’re not invulnerable.
Why bees don’t sting beekeepers
Honey bees are calm by nature. This is why beekeepers can approach a hive of thousands of bees without being worried about stinging. Beekeepers need to be gentle and have a calm attitude towards bees.
It should be noted that beekeeping choices help minimize the risk of stings even before you get anywhere near bees! Genetics plays a significant role in the “aggressiveness” of bees. By choosing bee races that are well known for their docility, beekeepers avoid the problem in advance.
Modern-day beekeepers also benefit from years of observation and experience in handling bees.
They adopt measures to avoid triggering defensive behavior.
They do this in many ways…
How do beekeepers avoid getting stung by bees?
It’s not voodoo magic. It just comes down to good sense and proper beekeeping practices.
Here are the main methods used by beekeepers to avert the wrath of a bunch of angry bees:
- Beekeepers use a smoker: A bee smoker like this one is the principal tool for calming bees during inspections. Actually, it’s more about confusing them! The smoke provokes a reaction in the honey bees to fill up with honey and evacuate the beehive. This is thought to be a response to a perceived threat of fire. Bees full of honey get sleepy, just like us, after a big meal! And the smoke helps mask any alarm pheromone. (Amazon link)
- Use sugar spray: A simple spray bottle filled with a solution of water and sugar is often used by keepers who prefer not to use smokers. Although this method is slightly less effective because you can easily miss some of the bees.
- Avoid vibrations and sudden movements: Bees dislike being bumped, and vibrations can make them irritated.
- Disturb the bees as little as possible during inspections: Inspections are necessary but should be quick and efficient to minimize disturbance. If someone was poking around your home, you’d probably be peeved too!
- Inspect hives when there are fewer bees inside: It makes good sense to open up a beehive with thousands of bees when there are less of them around. Bees are most active during the warmest parts of the day. This is the best time to intervene.
- Don’t disturb bees during lousy weather: Bees tend not to leave the hive during rainy weather. All your bees will be inside the hive and probably a bit grumpy! They especially dislike stormy weather.
- Avoid standing in front of the entrance to the hive: If someone was blocking your front door, you’d get upset… Right? Bees use fixed flight patterns to move in and out of the hive.
These are some of the best methods used by keepers for dodging bee stings. But as a general rule, you should also avoid wearing strong scented perfume and dark colors.
Remember, honey bees have a very advanced sense of smell. It’s been known for them to be attracted to strong scents. Removing intense odors should mean you’ll be visited by less inquisitive bees. Thereby reducing the chances of a sting!
Darker-colored clothing is also reputed to make bees curious and/or defensive. The theory is that this is a defense response to predators like raccoons or bears!
Avoid visiting a beehive if you’re dressed in something big, dark, and furry!
If you’re new to beekeeping read my comprehensive guide “how to start beekeeping”.
Why don’t bees sting when beekeepers brush them away?
Just because you need to be gentle with bees doesn’t mean you can’t manipulate them. So long as you brush them aside carefully and don’t squish any bees, brushing them away is accepted.
Soft-bristled bee brushes like this are a standard part of most keeper’s equipment. Amazon.
Do beekeepers get immune to bee stings?
Yes, studies have shown that repetitive bee stings increase the beekeeper’s tolerance to stings. This is because the immune system produces antibodies that desensitize the stings. However, the opposite is true if a beekeeper gets stung often and abundantly. In this case, another type of antibody can become overactive and cause a more significant reaction to bee stings.
Do bees remember a beekeeper’s scent?
It is unlikely that honey bees recognize a beekeeper by his smell. Even if bees have a highly developed sense of smell, it is improbable that they remember you by your odor.
If you do experience bees coming after you, it’s possible they were offended by a recent visit to their hive. Bees can remain grumpy for a few days after such an intrusion.
Alternatively, you haven’t washed your clothing to remove the pheromone from bee stingers!
Bees recognize beekeepers’ faces.
Research has shown that bees are capable of recognizing human faces!
As impressive as this seems, it is a bit far-fetched to imagine your bees recognize you each time you visit their beehive 🙂