Why are beekeeping suits white?

I was at a beekeeping class the other day and, looking around, I had trouble finding my son. He was in a white beekeeping suit, the same as everyone else. I began to wonder, “why are all bee suits white”?

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Why are beekeeping suits white?

Beekeepers wear white beekeeping suits because white is the least attractive to an angry Honey Bee. Honey Bees become angry when they feel threatened and animals that are a threat to the hive are not white. For many centuries the bear was a big threat, and now that color is imprinted in the Honey Bee’s DNA.

Honey Bees pretty much ignore the color white and are much less likely to become agitated with a beekeeper as they are servicing their beehive.

White beekeeping suits are also much cooler than any other color choice and that will make a huge difference when you are out mid-day working with your bees.

What are bee suits made of?

The traditional beekeeping suit is made from heavy cotton canvas but more recently manufacturers are offering suits made of multi-layered mesh making them much less hot than the heavy cotton canvas suits. The multi-layered venting is made from a specially designed and produced lightweight mesh fabric.

The idea behind the vented mesh material that makes them bee sting resistant is the “layering” effect. The theory is the multi-layered mesh makes the garment set high on the beekeeper’s skin, therefore, a honey bee’s stinger cannot reach the beekeeper’s skin.

Be careful with this concept. Stretching the venting mesh tightly over the skin can cause the mesh to be mashed against the beekeeper’s skin thereby making it much less thick and more likely the honey Bee’s stinger can reach the beekeeper’s skin. Be careful about reaching beyond the suit’s ability to stay high on the skin. And, obviously, don’t lean on something with a bee between you and what you are leaning on.

Can a Honey Bee sting through a bee suit?

A Honey Bee can sting through a canvas suit. Wear clothing under the suit for extra protection. It all depends on the space between the suit surface and your skin.
Vented suits set higher on the skin making it slightly better, and much cooler. Avoid putting the mesh under tension bringing the bee stinger closer to the skin.

Be sure your beekeeping suit is a little large when you put it on. Whether or not a beekeeper is stung through a beekeeping suit depends entirely on if the Honey Bee’s stinger is long enough to reach the beekeeper’s skin. The tighter the suit and clothing is stretched against the skin the more likely the Honey Bee can sting you.

A beekeeping suit is only as good as its ability to keep bees outside of the suit, once a bee is inside the suit you are almost certain to get stung, even buy a non-angry bee. The bee, at some point, will be squashed between the skin and the suit and it will sting you. So make sure all the elastic at the ankles and wrists form a tight seal.

Some less quality suits have a gap at the hood zipper to suit interface. Be sure your suit does not allow such a gap or you will find yourself stung on the neck.

Are Honey Bees attracted to black?

Honey Bees are only attracted to black only when they are angry and looking for something to attack. The Honey Bee’s mortal enemy is the bear. A bear will completely destroy the hive to get to the honey, and bears are black to dark brown.

Over the many millions of years the Honey Bee has learned two essential things to protect the hive.

  • Big dark things like bears are the biggest threat to hive destruction and they are to be attacked anytime they are near the beehive.
  • The most effective sting-target to deter the bear is on its eyes, nose, and ears.

In humans, bee stings on the eyes, nose, or ears are far more painful than other parts of the body. That is why even the most experienced beekeepers wear at least a veil.

I must tell you though, at the beekeeping class I was attending at UC Pomona’s farm, the instructor did not wear any protective gear at all and he was stung once because he leaned on a bee. We were in the bee farm for a couple hours as we watched him service several hives as he was lecturing us on beehive inspection for Varroa mites.

What colors do honey bees see?

Bees can see light waves visible to humans from reddish-yellow all the way past human perception into the ultraviolet range.
Their color vision ends on the infrared side of yellow, therefore they can not see red.
At the ultraviolet end of the range, they can mix ultraviolet with other colors for “special colors”.

The color spectrum for humans and bees are a very small slice of the very long lightwave continuum from the far side of the ultraviolet spectrum, which would be things like X-rays, and the other end of the Spectrum which would be infrared, like microwaves and radio waves.

Honey bees have vision further into the ultraviolet range than do humans but less far into the infrared range than humans, hence Honey Bees do not see red.

This ability the Honey Bee has to mix ultraviolet light with colors in the visible spectrum allows them to see a color, not visible to humans, call “bee-purple”.

What colors are Honey Bees attracted to?

Honey Bee’s favorite color is something called “bee-purple”, a mix of yellow with an ultraviolet wavelength not visible to humans. The colors most attractive to a Honey Bee in the visible color range is violet, far more attractive than other colors, with violet, purples, and blue being high on the list also.

Many flowers are one color on the leaf bloom but as you move toward the center of the bloom their will frequently be a change in hue or color. This color change near the center of the bloom, when mixed the the Honey Bee’s ultraviolet vision will produce a color the attracts Honey Bees. This color is referred to as the “landing pad” and it will also let the Honey Bee also know the depth of the nectar in the flower’s bloom.

What color do honey bees see when the view something red?

No one knows for sure what color a Honey Bee sees when it looks at something red.
You might wonder why you occasionally see a Honey Bee on a red flower. The experts seem to think it has something to do with the Honey Bee’s ability to mix color with ultraviolet rays and sees something that is attractive to the bee.

This is the reason hummingbird feeders are red. Red does not attract Honey Bees. Some hummingbird feeder manufacturers like to dress up their hummingbird feeder by making the feeding port a yellow flower. This is a mistake. Honey Bees do like the color yellow, and they also like sugar water.

If you see Honey Bees on your Hummingbird feeder it is one of two reasons:

  • Honey Bees will find the hummingbird feeder if it is extremely hot outside. They are looking for water to take back to the hive to help them cool down the hive through wing-fanning to cause water evaporation, thereby cooling the hive down.
  • If the hummingbird feeder solution has too much sugar it it, the Honey Bees will see it as a food source and before long your hummingbird feeder will be covered in Honey Bees. The fix is finding the right ratio of sugar to water in your hummingbird solution. Keep decreasing this ratio until the Honey Bees are no longer attracted to the feeder, but the hummingbirds are still attracted.

How can I know if my Honey Bees are aggressive today?

The signs that let you know the Honey Bees are aggressive today are:

  • If you pass your hand over the top of an open hive and they point their stings up, they are agitated.
  • If you see a lot of bee faces, they are aware of your presence and keeping an eye on you, be careful.
  • If the bees begin to “bump” you, they are agitated.

You never know from day to day how agitated the bees may be, it depends on several factors:

  • Perhaps they were bothered the night before by some predator such as a skunk.
  • Maybe, if you have several hives on one hive stand, the servicing of the hive before caused enough vibration to cause them to be on the alert.
  • Or maybe they are expending a lot of energy on cooling the hive on a hot day and you just let all the air conditioning out. Never take the lid off a beehive if the temperature is above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Maybe that hive is experiencing “robbing” by other Honey Bees.

The hive’s attitude does change on a day to day bases.

The purpose of a smoker is to control the bee’s aggressiveness, so never open a hive without having a lit and functioning smoker with enough fuel to produce white smoke the entire time you will be working with your bees.

Happy BeeKeeping

Paying It Forward

Robert Donaldson

I am Elizabeth's father, a physical therapist, and someone who has completely landscaped our family home's nearly 1/2 acre lot after losing our home and landscape to the Thomas wildfire in 2017. All landscaping was done to accommodate our wildlife friends, especially the birds and bees.

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