What Are Beekeepers Doing? Using A Smoker

Perhaps one of the most commonly associated pieces of beekeeping equipment used is the Smoker.  It is also one of the most misunderstood pieces of equipment that beekeepers use that non-beekeepers have questions about.

Beekeeping smoker

Most people want to know why is it that beekeepers blow smoke into bee hives on on bees.  Short answer; Beekeepers don’t want to get stung.

The long answer takes multiple things into consideration:

  • Smoke “hides” a pheromone that serves as a combines warning system and “Call in the reserves!” alarm.  Fewer bees to fend off.
  • Smoke is thought to turn bees into “preppers” who stop everything and go gorge on honey in case there’s a forest fire or something.
  • Smoke can be used to “herd” bees into directions away from the direction the smoke is blown at them.  Useful to clear spaces of lots of bodies so as to inspect.

Beekeepers don’t particularly want to stress the bees out.  TO reduce stress, beekeepers usually use things that produce a “cool” smoke that isn’t so hot as to harm the hive or bees.

Nixon lights a smoker.jpg
By StubbsguyOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Beekeepers also usually prefer to use natural things to burn so as not to send poisonous fume into the hives.  Pine needles are a major favorite among beekeepers as it is non-toxic and tends to keep the smoke cool and “thick”.  Thick because then “less is more”.

When using beekeeping smokers properly, beekeepers are better able to inspect hives to keep them free of diseases and pests.  At the same time, the beekeeper is also keeping themselves and others in the surrounding area safe by not agitating bees.  Lastly, By properly using a smoker, beekeepers are keeping bee colonies less stressed and keep aggressiveness down.  Bees that get fired up to defend aggressively can experience high death rates due to many bees going out to defend and sting.  Beekeepers don’t want that.

File:Imkerarbeit.jpg
Working bees low stress. Avenarius at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

There are some other ways to work with bee hives that don’t involve a smoker, but it is tried and true, relatively easy for beginners to use and bee successful and serves as a constant reminder to the beekeeper that going into a hive is not something to do just for fun.  It’s a serious tool meant for doing serious deeds, like keeping bees healthy and alive.

Author: Big Bear

Owner of BBE-Tech Apiary Services and professional apiarist. Beekeeping instructor at Metro Community College. Exec. Producer, Director and Host of Bee Smart beekeeping project podcast and videos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *