What's The Deal with Bees and Smoke?
You've undoubtedly seen beekeepers gracefully working their beehives, gently opening components of the hive, moving in an almost choreographed manner as they lift lids and gently apply a few puffs of thick white smoke from a silvery canister to the bees below.
Have you ever wondered why beekeepers are so fond of smoke? It's certainly not just because it looks cool (because it certainly does!) there are actually a couple of practical reasons for it.
Firstly, you need to know that honey bees communicate primarily through pheromones. Yes they also communicate by "dancing" when they do the Waggle Dance. However this method of communication is to relay directional data to other forager bees when a returning forager has found the motherload of nectar or pollen.
When honey bees communicate via pheromones it tends to be more of a hive protection matter. When a honey bee becomes stressed or disturbed in some way they will emit a pheromone known as isopentyl acetate, or more commonly known as banana oil.
As this pheromone begins wafting through the colony, it immediately triggers the other bees to go on the defensive and start attacking whatever is causing the stress to the colony. That can be anything from an invading animal such as a skunk or mouse, robbing bees, or a nosy beekeeper poking around.
So, where does the thick white smoke come into all of this? Well, the smoke is a strong enough smell that it can mask this alarm pheromone which interrupts its spread through the hive, staving off a potential coup.
The smoke also distracts the bees by causing them to move further down into the hive to attempt to fan out the invading smoke with their wings. So while the bees are doing this, they are less prone to watching and observing the working beekeeper.
Of course it needs to be said that just using smoke will not allow a beekeeper to do whatever they want and not get stung. Proper technique and working speed still has to be observed because no matter how much smoke a beekeeper uses, if they are too rough and banging equipment around the honey bees will defend their home!
So if you're planning on keeping bees, be sure you hook yourself up with a great smoker, it will BEE your best friend! Once you have your smoker, follow our tips in the video below to easily get it going and have the smoke last a long time while you work your colonies!