Dont touch my smoker damnit
It appears to me that the smoker to some bee keepers have a symbolic value and if removed part of the self image of being a bee keeper is also removed. I base this on the reactions we get when we are cheaky enough to question the use of smoker and when we suggest that water with fragrance such as anis or bitter almond works equally good we usually are met with a snort or snide comments.
If one google on “smoker” very strange things appear – some seem to believe that the bees are really calmed by smoke but put in all sorts of crap and proudly show that they use rubber bits, leafs, old branches pieces of cloth and so on. Hand on the hear – does anyone really think that it is good for us humans to breeth in all the smoke that the debris creates? Or that it should be good for the bees?
Some claim if you have aggressive bees then you must use the smoker to handle them but we also have killer bees at times and still we dont need the smoker – we just dress up extra carefully, takes acouple of deep breaths and get going. Not fun but it is doable.
Ther is no doubt, however, that the experience of using smoke is really old (1) since the Egyptians used smoke already 3000 years ago. Does smoke work, one might ask and sure enough the bees tries to move away from the smoke and appears to be calm which makes it possible to handle them.
The correct question, however, is not if it works it is whether the smoke is harmful for us and the bees. The answer is YES!
The follow up question is hence if there is an alternative and again the answer is YES!
But lets first see what science have to say and then it is absolutely clear why smoke works and it is equally clear why water with etheral oils also works but without stressing the bees.
Firstly – its a no brainer why smoke is bad for us just google smoke and cancer for example.
But for arguments sake – lets say we only use absolutely harmles things to burn then clearly its ok?
In the Swedish Bee journal (2) there was an article that went through newer research on howbees react to smoke and first of all most people ahve misunderstood the bees reaction to smoke. Many people beleive that the bees think it is a fores fire (correct) go down to eat honey (correct) in order to leave the hive for a new home (incorrect). Its highlyunrealistic that the bees would leave their hive in case of fire since the queen is brooding and cant fly. It takes days to be prepared to fly and if the bees would leave in minutes then the queen will not join and the hive is doomed. Secondly the bees wings are fagile and cant sustain the hot smoke and sparks and they would be destroyed instantly. How bees really react to smoke has been studied on CAPE bees (3) which are closely related to our bees. They will crawl far down in the hive and hide beneath the wax , eat as much honey they can to prepare for a long period of starvation. Our dark bee live in hollow tree trunks which are quite robust to fire and in addition the bees put a coating of propolis as extra protection so the safest place also for them is to stay and try to survive. The 2nd effect, less known, is that the smoke is stopping the bees to detect the pheromones so if one aggressive bees issending out signals to attack the other bees does not detect it.
In the bee journal (2) following is written: After they filled up their honey bellies the bees activity is reduced whcih makes they appear to be calm. The bee colony is preparing for a life threating situation with a clear risk to be suffocated ny smoke, burned by the fire or starved to death. Does this sound as a good treatment to our friends or that smoke would give calm and harmonic bees?
If water with some etheric oil is used one get exactly the same effect, the fragrance stops the pheromones in case you squeeze a bee and the water is making them move away to avoid getting wet. The difference is that water is not life threating they just move away with no stress.
Finally hear Bertha the bee’s story: It was awful – the roof blowed away and the bright light stuck in my eyes. Then the smoke, the awful smoke came and clogged my trakees and teared my eyes. I was close to suffocate while a ran down to warn my sisters to get the Queen away. We followed her down and hid as far away as we could but the terrible smoke was everywhere. Many sisters died that day whicle they protected the Queen, but suddnely it was all over. 300 of my sisters died that day – it was awful but we survived.
(2) Bitidningen Maj 2017, sid 19