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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Be polite to your bees

  • Practical beekeeping
  • Holm E.
  • 2001
  • Article
  • English
  • Beekeeping & Development 60 8 Text on this website



by Eigil Holm, Gedved, Denmark


Take a moment to reflect what happens when you visit your bees.  You open up their house without warning, you take out their furniture so you can look at their behaviour, you shake them about, and then you take away their food stores.  Imagine if someone came to your home and behaved in the same way you would at least demand politeness from the intruder.  So, here are the rules of politeness for visitors to the homes of bees.


·         You need to be clean – take a wash, because a strong human smell can irritate the bees.

·         You should dress properly - wear clothes with a smooth finish, for example, cotton or nylon.  If you dress in wool, bees alighting on your clothing will become caught in it and they will fight and they will sting.

·         You need to cover your hair – wear a cap so that the bees cannot settle in it.  If they become entangled in your hair they will sting you.

·         If the bees begin to sting your clothes and your skin, then walk away, take out the stings and wash your skin.  During the attack the sting breaks off.  Attached to the sting is a gland that emits a chemical compound, a pheromone, which makes other bees attack.  Therefore if you already have some stings a lot more bees could attack. Every bee that stings dies, and consequently you will have fewer bees in your hives.

·         You can burn many things in the smoker, for example an old jute sack, dried leaves, wooden chips etc.  You should never burn anything containing chemicals such as small pieces of wood that have been protected with fungicide or insecticide.


You can see, hear and feel what the bees intend to do:

·         Bees can threaten you by opening their sting chamber showing the sting.

·         The sounds the bees make can also be a warning: the higher the pitch of the sound the more likely the bees are ready to attack (perhaps you know a similar sound?  In a war film you see and hear planes diving to attack).

·         You can feel the bump when attacking bees alight on you.


It is worth learning the different sounds the bees make whilst you work with them.  The sounds tell you what behaviour to expect.


Some bees are always defensive and will attack you.  Then you must dress so that bees cannot penetrate your clothing and perhaps work during the night.  Bees are usually sensitive to proper handling.  However, like all animals, there will always be exceptions!


You can reduce the likelihood of attack by opening only part of the hive, keeping the part you are not examining covered up.  Another preventive method is to examine the most defensive colonies last. When one colony attacks you it can alert bees in other colonies that could also participate in the attack. 


In conclusion, you are being most polite when you listen and respond to the signs from your counterpart, even if it is a colony of bees.



Pheromone  A chemical substance produced by a bee (or any animal) to convey a message to another of the same species.

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