Smokers have been used for thousands of years as a mechanism for calming bees. Calming bees is important as a beekeeper, as there are various ways to activate a bee’s defense mode accidentally.
However, in more recent years, people have been looking for softer, less pungent ways to calm their bees. Some of these ways include changing our behavior, while some include various natural mechanisms.
- What Makes Bees Sting Their Beekeepers?
- How do Smokers Keep Bees Calm?
- Why Have People Stopped Using Smokers?
- How to Calm Bees Without Smoke
- Alternatives to Smokers
- Closing Thoughts
What Makes Bees Sting Their Beekeepers?
Contrary to popular belief, most honey bees aren’t naturally aggressive. Unless genetically related to the Africanized bee, a more-aggressive relative, honey bees are generally defensive. Rather than being aggressive, bees aren’t prone to attack unless they feel it’s absolutely needed. Here are the main reasons why bees choose to sting:
Worker bees are bred to work for and protect their hive. Instinctually, they have a deep devotion to their home and queen – so much that they live, eat, breath, sleep, and die for it.
The main reason bees sting beekeepers is because they are trying to defend their home. If they detect that the beekeeper is a threat to their hive, they will sacrifice their life to keep the colony alive. More bees may come to sting after this due to the pheromone signal the first bee uses to communicate the threat.
Poor Beekeeper Behavior
In addition to defensiveness, several poor beekeeper behaviors cause their bees to become aggressive. Largely from new hobbyists, these behaviors stem from people’s instinctive fear of bees and being stung. These are the most common behaviors that get beekeepers stung:
- Moving in fast, sharp movements
- Talking loudly
- Playing music or having their cellphone ring
- Pulling frames/supers too early or quickly
Naturally Angry Queen
A queen’s job might be the most important in the hive. As she is the only bee with fully-developed ovaries and a sperm sac, she produces the colony’s entire population. Because of this, the queen bee has adapted to have a stinger that can be used multiple times. She is more naturally aggressive than other bees because of her essential role in the hive.
Poor Weather Conditions
Lastly, a big reason that bees will be more aggressive is that beekeepers choose to interact with them in bad weather. Imagine this – a huge predator-like animal opens up the roof of your house in the windy, rainy, cold weather and starts fumbling around with your food and furniture. On top of that, your only purpose in life is to protect and provide for this home. With that being said, it’s pretty reasonable why bees become more aggressive in lousy weather conditions.
How do Smokers Keep Bees Calm?
Traditionally, beekeepers use smokers to combat bees’ aggressive behavior. Smokers are an excellent way to calm bees because of what it does to their sense of communication.
Since bees primarily communicate through pheromones, they become unable to sense the fear in their fellow colony members. In addition, the strong smell of smoke leads bees to believe their hive is on fire. In response, they begin to eat a large amount of honey to prepare for the journey of finding a new home. Because of their full stomachs, they are less able to contract their abdomen and deliver the stinger into the beekeeper.
Why Have People Stopped Using Smokers?
In the recent rise of beekeeping, many have chosen to shy away from smokers. Although the reasons are countless, a few are constant throughout the community.
May Alter Honey’s Taste
The most prominent argument against using smokers is that it alters the taste of honey. Just like how smoke alters the taste of meats & vegetables, some beekeepers believe that smokers may do this as well.
Practice Natural Beekeeping
With the increase in organic and natural living, many beekeepers want to practice this as well. Natural beekeeping is an alternative approach that believes supporting your bees through holistic manners will help keep the hive healthy.
The Strong Odor
As more urban residents are getting into beekeeping, the pungent odor of smoke becomes an issue. Especially in areas where fires are regulated during seasonal droughts, the smell of smoke might put off people and their neighbors.
Allergies & Asthma
Not only has the beekeeping hobby increased recently, but so has the percentage of people with asthma. As commonly known, smoke is one of the worst agitators for asthma.
In addition, some people can be allergic to trees or charcoal that are burned in smokers.
Hot, Dry Climate
Lastly, the use of fire has been largely prohibited in areas where prolonged droughts have made the land dry and brittle in the summer. Because of the crazy increase in wildfires, beekeepers in these areas likely don’t feel safe using fire – even if smoldering – during these seasons.
How to Calm Bees Without Smoke
Because of the reasons above, many have chosen to go without smokers completely. Luckily, all hope is not lost without a smoker. There are plenty of ways to interact with your bees safely without having to interact with smoke or fire.
Choose the Right Time and Conditions to Open the Hive
As mentioned above, bees dislike lousy weather just about as much as we do. Therefore, beekeepers should always choose a sunny, dry day to interact with their hive.
In addition, it’s best to perform hive inspections and honey harvests when forager bees are out for the day, as there will be significantly fewer bees in the hive. Generally, mid-morning has the best conditions for interactions.
Stay as Calm as Possible
Since bees, like other creatures, can sense our energies, beekeepers need to stay as calm as possible when around their hive. Knowing that bees are generally curious creatures can help with being relaxed. Another way to battle our reactive instinct is interacting with other insects, such as those found at science museums, until we feel less afraid and more confident.
Lastly, it’s important to note that bees are generally attracted to the smell of sweat. Thus, bees might fly around a beekeeper’s general area in response to the scent.
One of the bee’s strongest senses is its ability to feel vibrations. For that reason, beekeepers should be as quiet as possible when interacting with their hive. Leaving the cell phone in the car or house will be better as well.
Wear Proper Clothing
Bees have strong color senses as it allows them to sense blooming flowers. In that same sense, what colors beekeepers choose to wear also affects the bees. For instance, bees are naturally wired to go towards bright colors, and in addition, they also tend to equate dark colors to predators. Thus, wearing white is the best idea as it is a calming color for bees.
Avoid Making Sudden Movements
As much as you should remain calm, beekeepers also need to avoid making sudden, sharp movements. This is because sharp, quick movements mimic predator behavior and can spark a defense by the bees.
Breathe through your nose
Bees are actually so intuitive that they respond to increased carbon dioxide in the hive. So, when beekeepers breathe heavily into the hive, bees naturally respond by defending their hive.
Alternatives to Smokers
In addition to changing our behavior around bees, there are also other, more natural alternatives to smokers.
Essential Oil Concotions
While various organizations suggest different variations of essential oils, the main components include:
- Lemon Grass Essential Oil
- Spearmint Essential Oil
- Anise Oil
Spraying the inside of the Walls
With either one of the essential oil concoctions, a sugar-water mixture, or just plain water, spraying the inside of the walls can cool, calm, and distract the bees from their beekeeper.
Mist the Bees
Gently misting the bees in a sugar-water mixture causes them to clean themselves off immediately. In turn, a beekeeper can peacefully go about their business in the hive.
Bee Manipulation Cloth
Lastly, bee manipulation cloths cover the bee boxes in your hive so that bees can’t explore up into the areas you are working. Plus, these clothes trick the bees into thinking it’s nighttime – making them calmer and more relaxed. Some people even spray the cloth with essential oil concoctions for additional relaxing scents.
Since smokers can be very pungent and dangerous in certain climates, it’s logical that some people have chosen to move away from using them. While there are many safe alternatives to smokers, the best options likely include a mixture of a couple of more.
However, when it’s all said and done, the most critical consideration is making sure our bees are calm, healthy, and safe during all of our interactions.