Sting camouflage?

Hi. I’m a reasonably experienced long term amateur beekeeper, and generally prefer to work without gloves. Over the years my reaction to stings has reduced significantly but not to the point where I don’t care! It’s well known that other bees are attracted to sting near where a bee has already stung (on your person or at a particular part of your protective clothing) . I’ve found that blowing smoke directly at a sting site on my hand does tend to reduce the tendency of other bees to join in, and can be done immediately the sting is scraped out, but I’m wondering whether anyone on the forum has any other advice to offer on this point - perhaps a cream or spray one could carry in the tool box? Something that camouflages whatever it is the bees are attracted to.

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I am not brave enough to do what you do, but have you ever tried an unscented baby wipe? I suggest that because they will probably have the right stuff in them to remove the alarm pheromones from your hands. They may even remove some propolis too, which (avoiding the stickiness) is the main reason i wear gloves. :blush:

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Hello Andrew, I also tend to work with bare hands unless the bees are really hot to handle. I work better with the extra sense of touch and can gently touch a bee aside when needed.
That is a really good question, I don’t have an answer but will follow the thread as I sometimes get a hit or two, someone must have a secret fix to share.

Thanks for the suggestion Dawn. I bought a pack of “Fragrance Free” baby wipes today, and will take one with me in a clip lock bag on Friday. I’m expecting to assist a couple of beekeeping friends inspect four powerful hives, which were pretty aggressive last time. Will report back!

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I am very curious to hear what you find. :blush:

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@Starship @Dawn_SD And so says a lot of us that don’t mind the occasional sting but don’t want to provoke a mass attack from the guard bees.

Bleach pens work. Small and inexpensive. Masks the sting pheromone and nutrlizes the sting. It does hurt for a few seconds when applied.

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Thanks Bubba - have ordered a Bleach Pen and will give this a go too, in due course,

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Hi. Thanks Bubba and Dawn for your interest. Some results to report.
Inspections last Friday, and yesterday didn’t result in any stings, but it was a different story today when the last of four hives being brood inspected became very aggressive (cool overcast and windy morning so most foragers probably still in the five decker hive). I received a couple of stings to back of my right hand in quick succession, and although smoke dispersed immediate copycat attackers this warning would normally prompt me to don gloves.
However as I had both a baby wipe and a newly received bleach pen in my top pocket I elected to give them a go. I started with the “bleach pen” - a pen-like sprayer that outputs small amounts of hydrogen peroxide, applying several squirts to the sting site and returned to the hive, only to be immediately stung again in the same area, and on the other hand as well. I again re-applied the pen to both hands but again received further stings on both hands. I then retreated several meters and wiped both hands with a baby-wipe (carried in clip lock bag.) This did seem to temporarily halt the focused aggression, but within a minute (perhaps by when the wipe had evaporated) I was stung yet again on both hands even though I was not handling frames at the time. My companion who was doing the actual frame handling also received repeated stings to his hands, but these didn’t penetrate the rubber washing-up gloves he was wearing. He was however stung through thick socks on both ankles, and received further stings there despite my spraying the pen at the area. Puffing smoke at the area did distract the bees but not for long. So neither remedy proving effective in this case of decidedly aggressive bees.
Later that morning we put escape boards under supers in a different apiary and although these hives were relatively quiet, bees immediately stung both my hands again, so the sting-here smell was alive and well!
Next stop was to re-house a collected swarm from its initial 5 frame nucleus into an 8 frame box. I washed my hands with soap and water just before before starting work, but again the bees went for my hands even as I smoked and opened the nucleus. By this time the backs of both hands had received somewhere between 8 and 12 stings and were swelling to the point where I had difficulty getting my leather gloves on! After several hours and the hand washing the persistence of the sting-here smell surprised me.
Last stop, early afternoon was to remove a recent swarm from within the plastic boxes of a deserted worm-farm. This was a small colony, without brood, and showed no sign of aggression, but I have to say I left my gloves on!
While I found these results disappointing, I’m going to try again with the bleach pen. It didn’t seem to have any bleaching effect on dyed fabric, nor bubble (or sting) when sprayed on a wound - perhaps it was “old stock”. I have refilled the pen with 6% hydrogen peroxide and keep it with me for another experiment.


Try rinsing your hands with vinegar, this usually destroys the pherome smell.

Hi itchyvet, Thanks for the suggestion - I’ll add some sort of vinegar dispenser to my test kit, and report back in due course. May have the chance to try that and the stronger H2O2 tomorrow.

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Just a wild theory with not much behind it, but how about lemongrass?
My reasoning behind this is, it’s close to the “happy” smell put out by the bees.
You could end up with a huge cluster of bees hanging off you though :grin:

…happily stinging the hell out of you.

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Hi Brad13,
I have one of those lemongrass sprays for use with bait hives - but it is so effective at attracting flying workers, and so persistent, that I don’t think I’ll spray it on my hand for the reason you mention!

wow- you are game! All in the name of science eh? I hate getting stings on the hands especially (or the face). I find my fingers become quite stiff for a day or two after. I always wear gloves but really dislike how you lose the sense of touch and deftness. I don’t mark my queens but have been considering doing it- but really think it should be done with bare hands.

Hi Semaphore, and any others. Yes it’s a catch 22 situation. I had a queen mangled recently by someone with gloves trying to get it into a marking tube. But I’m not at brave, nor a masochist - I used to have a fairly wide area local reaction even to an individual sting, and several stings would cause my arm to swell for several days. However working gloveless forced me to be gentle and move slowly, to avoid aggravating the bees, so stings were occasional rather than routine, and if I got several stings I’d stop and put on gloves. In my case these occasional stings eventually resulted in my becoming desensitised - I feel an initial sharp prick, but only very local swelling and no itching or continuing pain. However multiple stings on my hands do still eventually lead to enough swelling to restrict movement, and as I mentioned earlier if a colony becomes aggressive I still generally put on gloves because I know one sting will lead to more in the same spot!. That’s mainly why I’m interested in finding something that hides the sting-here scent. I hope I never become complacent about wearing face and overall protection, as I’ve seen what can happen when a hive gets accidentally knocked over for example. Also commercial beekeepers have told me that sometimes after years of such practical immunity, people have sometimes suddenly found themselves having a dangerous systemic reaction - and had to stop working bees.
But back to this idea of trying to find something that will camouflage the “sting-here” smell. Nothing relevant happened yesterday as a large percentage of the colony we were to operate on, and knew was very strong, was hanging from a branch nearby when we arrived! After re-housing that in two boxes (lower with foundation frames and the upper empty as it was a physically large mass of bees), we tackled the relatively depleted colony without being stung.
I’m still interested in pursuing this project, but think rather than wait for “opportunities” with aggressive bees I’ll do some experiments with pieces of leather that I’ll get a walking bee to sting, and then present to a hive, and see how they react, and whether any of the suggested substances seem to modify the result. I have some hives at home that I can do this with. So, hopefully more to report later.


I was working in a normally aggressive hive and got absolutely hammered with 30 plus stings all around my black wrist band and through my black socks. The other hand got no attention at all… Lesson learnt, next time it is no watch and white socks. Maybe they will ignore me then. :thinking:

Hi Peter - yes I’ve noticed my black watchband attracted stings, and try to keep it hidden under the jacket sleeve cuff.The socks my mate was stung through last week were black come to think of it - he usually wears gaiters to cover the boot/trouser gap! In your case I’d guess the black watch and socks attracted the first stings and the “sting-here” smell was probably responsible for many of the rest!
Here’s a link to some basic beekeeping safety info (stings, lifting, smoker fire hazard etc) which I think covered these and other matters very well. It mentions avoiding woollen fabrics (your black socks perhaps?), although I don’t know if this is based on a characteristic smell, or just that the “woolly” surface tends to entangle bee feet! Perhaps I’m paranoid, but aggressive bees landing on my (unprotected) head often seem to instinctively burrow down looking for something firmer to sting! - but on the other hand non-aggressive bees accidentally flying into my curls seem to get entangled pretty easily too - similarly resulting in a squash-it-quick or be stung situation. Interestingly, a fingers- squashed bee doesn’t usually seem to invoke the sting-here response - presumably because moderate squashing doesn’t necessarily release any venom.

Something it doesn’t mention but is worth being aware of if one has to handle bees at night (such as closing or opening the entrances of hives for night movement) is that they don’t react to (can’t see) red light, but will often fly right at a white light. LED Head torches with a RED mode are great for this!. But in general at night bees on the ground crawl rather than fly - right up your legs and perhaps onto an unprotected face if given the chance!


I normally wear my green socks in beekeeping and they were wet from being caught out in a quick storm so just grabbed the next pair, as men do, and they were black nylon. Actually the only stings I got was in the vicinity of my black watch band and through my black socks.
I totally agree about using a red light at night when working with bees. A white light is like a beacon for them to crawl towards it.

Hi. More on this general topic. In practice aggressive behaviour that results in bees wanting to sting is what we try to avoid causing. Sometimes it’s just bees with attitude, or something sets them off that I don’t understand, but recent incidents have been the result of having a hive open too long or opening at unsuitable times when the foragers are mostly at home. So I’d been wondering how I could investigate this a little more scientifically.

My latest idea was to induce a bee to sting a small strip of leather and then place the strip on the landing board and see what happened.

If the bees reacted by stinging the leather, step 2 was going to be to repeat the experiment but apply one of the suggested masking agents to a fresh strip of leather - after it had been stung. Seems simple, but in fact I couldn’t get to step 1!

I made a little tapered tube into which I could put a bee, and force it down with a foam plunger until end of its abdomen was protruding from the bottom of the taper. (similar to how queens are confined for artificial insemination.) The bees I used were crawlers - foragers that are attempting to get back to the hives by crawling - ie at the end of their working lives.
However nothing I could do would provoke these confined bees to sting even my finger, let alone a piece of leather! So I went looking on the internet and came across this paper looking into the effects of ethanol on bees.
(add 0100894 to the above to generate a working link - the complete link seemed to want to insert the whole paper into this post!)
Apparently drunk bees lose their natural inhibition against extending their stingers - but from the details of this paper it seems the method used to induce the bee to extend its stinger is by administering a mild electric shock. The drunker the bee, the less voltage required for the stinger to be extended. I have a regulated laboratory power supply, so may look further into this, although I guess just because the stinger is protruding doesn’t mean it will actually inject!
As the paper mentions, bees presumably sometimes naturally encounter ethanol when foraging - fermented nectar . Wondering whether this could account for why some foragers react aggressively when disturbed (eg when a camera is poked close to them on a flower), whereas others don’t? Also has implications for feeding syrup to bees - I know fermentation will occur if syrup is left in the hive too long, and that this is said to be bad for the bees, but now wondering whether it might also cause them to become more aggressive?
Anyway this stinging experiment doesn’t have a high priority with me at present, so probably won’t have anything to report for a while.