Why Does Smoke Calm Bees? (Answered)

by Alex Kountry
Updated on

Have you ever wondered how beekeepers avoid getting stung by bees despite having to deal. Bees are very territorial about their hives and going near such can be disastrous.

You might have seen a beekeeper with metal contraptions that blows smoke into a hive before doing it. The reason for this is because smoke calms bees. 

Beekeepers usually use this method during hive inspections to keep both the keep bee and beekeeper safe. By using a smoker to calm them, the beekeeper is able to avoid getting stung which keeps the female bees alive because they die when they sting humans.

Does Fire Smoke Calm Bees?

Why Does Smoke Calm Bees

One important thing to know about bees is that they are near blind and they communicate with themselves through a substance known as pheromone which they release for different occasions.

If a bee senses a threat or what it feels is dangerous to the hive, it releases an alarm pheromone which alerts the other bees and makes them come out in numbers.

This can be pretty painful to the intruder.

Fire smoke calms bees because it interferes with their communication. The smoke effectively masks the bees sense of smell by reducing the response rate of the bees antennae.

This in turn inhibits them from spreading the alarm pheromones among themselves. 

They are lulled into a sense of security and the beekeeper is able to carry out his work without any casualties on both sides.

However the bees antennae often return to full use in about 10-20 minutes so the bee keeper has to be pretty fast.

Related: Here is an article I wrote on Do bees have ears?

Is It Cruel To Smoke Bees?

Using smoke to calm bees is an age old practice that has been in use even since the time of the Ancient Egyptians.

It is important to know whether smoking bees can be harmful or have deleterious effects on their health.

However there have been no detected effects of bee hive smoking on the bee’s health.

The major effect bee smoking has on the bees is to mask their sense of smell, which will go back to normal within 20minutes.

Bee smoking can be harmful to bees if the beekeeper doesn’t use them appropriately, an inexperienced beekeeper can make a few mistakes which can be harmful to the bees in the long run.

Some of the mistakes include:

  • Making Too Much Smoke

When a beekeeper uses too much smoke on the hive, the bees will go into panic mode and can get aggressive over time.

The best way to use the smoker is to blow the smoke sparingly and watch the bees reaction.

  •  Blowing Hot Smoke

Blowing hot smoke on bees will melt their wings rendering them unable to fly.

The temperature of the smoke released by the smoker is dependent on the fuel used.

Materials like wood chips or pine cones are more suitable as they would produce smoke that is the best temperature for the bees.

  • Opening The Hive Too Soon

An experienced beekeeper usually waits a minute to observe the behavior of the hive after smoking.

This is because smoking the bees and then opening the hive immediately can have an adverse effect on them and make them behave erratically. 

If these mistakes are avoided then the bees will be safe. They are not exposed to the smoke for long periods so their health is not negatively impacted.

How Does A Bee Hive Smoker Work?

A bee smoker is a hive tool which the beekeeper uses to disperse smoke and keep the bees calm during hive inspections.

Over time the hive smoker has been modified and modernized.

The most common hive smoker has three parts which includes the chamber for fuel, the nozzle which directs the smoke and the bellows that does the work of pumping air into the fuel chamber.

The first thing to do is get suitable materials to use as fuel and this mostly includes, pine, wood chips or pellets and unprocessed cotton fiber.

Put the fuel into the fuel chamber and light it to get the smoker going. 

Pump the bellows to ensure the fire gets enough oxygen to keep hot.

The fire should be strong enough to last you during the period you will work in the bee yard.

When you are close to the hive, direct the nozzle to blow the smoke on the bees and then go about your job.

Should You Smoke Bees?

Yes, as a beekeeper it is important to know the art of bee smoking.

Smoking bees makes them calm enough for the beekeeper to collect the honey from their hive.

Some experts have claimed that smoking bees gives them the illusion that there is a forest fire.

This makes them want to protect their honey so they gorge on it, and this makes them feel lethargic after. 

As a matter of fact, smoking bees is important to keep both the bees and beekeeper safe.

However it should be used cautiously to avoid negative effects on the bees.

If you are a little inexperienced with bees, there are several tips on how to smoke beehives effectively.

How Do You Calm Bees Without Smoking?

Even though smoking is the traditional way of calming bees which beekeepers have used for centuries, there are alternative methods to calm bees.

There have been questions on the negative effects smoke can have on bees in the long run and as such the use of alternative and healthier methods have been advocated.

One alternative method is the use of sugar spray. It is easier to use than bee smoking because the beekeeper doesn’t have to worry about hurting the bees.

Also it makes it easier during dryer seasons to avoid starting a fire and it’s the best alternative for people with asthma.

It is easy to prepare, all you need is to mix sugar with water and then spray it in the hive.

Bees like sugar and when they are coated with it, they get busy trying to clean themselves and the beekeeper can easily get the job done during this period.

There are several other methods to calm bees without necessarily smoking them which a beekeeper should know about.

What Is The Smoke Used To Calm Bees?

The smoke used to calm bees is essentially fire smoke. The smoke is generated when fuel for the smoker is burned in the fuel chamber.

If you use the right materials to smoke your bees, the smoke might even be beneficial to the bees.

Some of the right materials you can use for bee smoking include pine pellets, wood chips or cotton fiber and other natural materials.

These materials usually produce the best temperature for the bees.

What you should never use as fuel for your bee smoking activities include synthetic materials, plastic, gas, petrol or kerosene.

The smoke from these materials will be detrimental to the health of your bees and should be totally avoided.

Also check out this article I wrote on do bees have noses?

Do All Beekeepers Use Smoke?

Even though bee smoking is an age long tradition not all beekeepers use this method.

The use of sugar spray is a new favorite among beekeepers. 

Beekeepers are not advised to use smoking for new bees who are not yet familiar with the environment.

They might become afraid that there will always be a fire and flee the new hive.

Using sugar spray on the new bees will get them busy cleaning off themselves and you can carry out your work easily while they are too distracted to sting.

Other methods of calming bees include spraying essential oils such as spearmint and lemongrass.

They possess natural calming properties which help in settling the bees.

You can also use a bee manipulation cloth. This entails covering the entrance of the hive with a cloth.

This will keep them in the dark and unable to hover while you are doing your work. To make it easier, spray the cloth with sugar or essential oils. 

As such there are other methods to calming bees that do not entail smoking the bees as necessary as bee smoking bees as being made to be. 

What Can I Burn In My Bee Smoker?

If you are new to the beekeeping job, you might be a little confused on what materials you can use to make smoke.

Natural and organic materials are the best bet for smoking bees. It is important to avoid any materials that can be toxic to the bees.

Easily flammable materials such as gas and petroleum products should also not be burned in the smoker as it can lead to a flare.

Newspapers and kindling can also be used as starter material to get the fire in the smoker going.

You can also learn how to make your own natural bee smoke for more effective calming properties.


When harvesting honey from a bee hive you do not want a group of bees hovering over you aggressively.

It distracts your work and wastes more time.

In this article, we have been able to effectively explain how smoke can calm your bees, alternatives to the age long process of smoking and the right material to use in smoking your bees.

With this knowledge you can harvest your honey without any constraints on your part and stress to your bees.

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About the author

Alex Kountry

Alex Kountry is the founder of HayFarmGuy and has been a backyard farmer for over 10 years. Since then he has decided to write helpful articles that will help you become a better backyard farmer and know what to do. He also loves to play tennis and read books


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