Special to the Journal
Apiphobes are people who are terrified of bees, who see a bee and cannot contain their fear. Maybe they are truly allergic, or maybe, they were just trained from a young age to be afraid.
Most people (except perhaps those raised by beekeepers) have been conditioned to a certain degree: see a bee, think only of their capacity for stinging, not of their other less injurious attributes like making honey and pollinating many of our fruits and vegetables. Because of this almost inborn fear, beekeeping can be a challenge for many people.
Many tactics for beehive safety involve plain old common sense. Bees become defensive only when threatened in some way. They release an alarm pheromone, and when the odor gets the hive agitated, the beekeeper could be in for a bad day.
When handling bees, it’s important to remember that a hive is moody. Knowing the natural rhythms of your bees is essential for staying safe. If possible, choose a day that is bright, sunny and warm. Rainy or hot, muggy days can make bees more defensive. More bees are likely to be in the hive during a storm – meaning more hanging around with the express purpose of defending the hive.
Working the hive on a colder day can be dangerous for the bees. The way bees stay warm is to bunch together in a complex cluster. Honeybees begin to cluster if the temperature drops below about 55 degrees. Extracting the hive after the cluster has formed may cause the bees to become disorganized, and they may not get their cluster rebuilt before the temperature drops, causing the hive to be more susceptible to the cold. The optimum time for hive management is during nectar flow, when most of the bees are gone from the hive collecting nectar. This occurs when the most flowers are in bloom and producing nectar and pollen for the bees to use.
One relatively easy way to keep bees from becoming defensive is to consider what you’re wearing. The best-dressed beekeeper wears light-colored, smooth fabrics. Strong colors, especially red and black, can cause bees to become agitated. The hooks on the feet of bees can become caught in fluffy fabrics, such as sweaters, flannel and athletic socks. Human sweat can antagonize bees, so it is recommened to wear light-weight clothing on hot days.
Bees are quite resourceful and can use gaps of less than 3 millimeters to find their way into your clothing. Trousers should be tucked into boots and socks. Because scents and pheromones are so important to life in a bee colony, they can easily cause a defensive response. Avoid fragrances (hair products, perfumes, aftershave or deodorant) and other odors.