View Full Version : can bees sense fear???????

05-11-2006, 08:16 AM
Last week while working my hives a buddy of mine was on looking from about 20 feet away..I didnt have a single bee try to sting me but he got nailed in the top of the head just standing there..
yesterday after setting a funnel trap up I was talking to the guy who owned the land..(he is allergic to the stings so he stayed at the truck)
about 20 feet away again..we were standing there watching them and a bee flew right by my face and stung him on the side of the head..a few minutes later another one came by me again and lit right between his eyes...you should have seen him smacking his face with his cap..I nearly fell out :D :D ..but..I cant figure out why they flew by me to sting him...??

05-11-2006, 08:20 AM
I don't think bees can actually "sense" fear. They do however react to fearful people. If you are nervous and afraid your movements are not smooth, slow, and deliberate. Your breathing may be increased and as a result, more carbon dioxide is emitted (bees zone in on this).

05-11-2006, 08:36 AM
Whatever the science behind it, the one most afraid will be attacked first, be it by bees, dogs, or other animals.

05-11-2006, 08:37 AM
I have noticed the same thing. I can stand next to my hives and the bee ignore me completely. But the minute one of the neighbors come within 20 feet they get stung. I even mow the grass around the hive with no stings.

Jim Williamson
05-11-2006, 08:54 AM
Just the other day we were out working in the garden and I had been down to compost bin near the bees several times (sneaking a peak instead of "working" mostly). Bees paid absolutely no attention to me.

My better-half walks up and says "How are the nucs coming?".

"Fine", I said. "Take a look."

"No, I'm close enough. I don't want to get in their flight pattern."

"They won't bother you!. I've been down here all day. Besides the flow's on. Come on."

BANG! One immdiately stung her just below her short pants and another head-butted her and chased all the way to the house and buzzed around the door for a minute and a half.

That's the last time I'll ever assure anyone my bees won't bother them. Good thing she's a good sport. I'd hate to lose her.

George Fergusson
05-11-2006, 09:11 AM
Sure they can sense fear, I suspect they can smell it. Probably adrenaline has something to do with it- your whole body chemistry and hence your smell changes in an instant when your adrenal glands start pumping.

There's probably more to it than that too. Not all scared people get stung, and being fearless won't stop you from being stung either if the bees have a mind to sting.

Michael Bush
05-11-2006, 10:50 AM
My experience would indicate they can sense fear. Whether they smell it or go by motion or other things, I have no idea.

05-11-2006, 02:46 PM
I'm positive animals/insects, etc. can "sense" fear. Its definitively biological (change in electromagnetivity levels, chemistry, etc.).

My husband is scared of my parrot. Every time he goes to pick up the bird, he has to clear away the fear otherwise, I get bit (unlike humans, birds chase their mates away from danger, even biting them if need be).

Ever make someone mad and then have to sit in a car with them when you can "feel" the tension in the air?

We humans have spent so much time "evolving" and disbelieving what we can't touch, that we've turned off sections of our brain and "lowly" animals and insects use daily.


Jim Fischer
05-11-2006, 02:50 PM
Hold on, think slowly about this, and reason it out.

If bees COULD sense fear, why would they continue
to chase/sting a potential threat to their colony,
when they clearly had achieved their goal, and
"put fear into the heart" of the "intruder"?

Why would they continue to defend against an
already-intimidated foe?

It may not seem a big deal to lose less than
a dozen bees from a hive of 60,000, but these
losses are clearly something the hive wants to
limit, as non-AHB hives rarely inflict more than
a dozen stings on any one beekeeper, even under
the most inept handling.

Even the cost of head butting is high, as many
bees are stunned by the impact, and some do
not recover (I've paid great attention to these
"Kamakaz-Bees", as I have found that they will
give you fair warning that you have screwed up,
and should smoke 'em into submission or back off
and take a break.)

So, if bees COULD "smell fear", it would stand
to reason that they would break off, or at least
tone down their defense once they did "smell fear".

So, they can't. They certainly do go after a
target that moves around a lot, and their
defensive behavior certainly does get noticed
more by a person who has not been habituated to
being stung, dive-buzzed, and head-butted.

Even the CO2 "hard breathing" suggestion makes no
sense to me. If it did, I'd get more stings when
at the end of a day of hard lifting, as I assure
you that I am breathing harder than when I started
at dawn. I don't, so CO2 can't be much of a
factor in itself.

For me, it has a lot to do with having the correct
combination of style, panache, smooth moves born
of long practice, and a massive and unwarranted
sense of confidence.

Tom Chaudoir
05-11-2006, 04:38 PM
For me, it has a lot to do with having the correct combination of style, panache, smooth moves born of long practice, and a massive and unwarranted sense of confidence.Well said. I'm a beginner but am faking all that stuff and it seems to be working. I credit a lot of it to paying attention to the bees. If I watch and listen I get fair warning. Haven't been stung since my initial blundering install. No suit or veil needed so far. *knocks wood*

George Fergusson
05-11-2006, 04:38 PM
>So, if bees COULD "smell fear", it would stand
to reason that they would break off, or at least
tone down their defense once they did "smell fear".

I disagree. Using that logic, they'd attack everyone BUT the fearful folks and I don't see that happening. I think sensing fear causes them to redouble their efforts to drive the individual away and I don't think that instilling fear is the bee's goal in the first place so there's no reason for them to back off once they've got someone quaking in their shoes. In other words, I think fear to a large degree sets them off, as well it should- fearful intruders are liable to act irrationally, unpredictably, and probably violently. Fearful intruders are a threat to the hive and should be driven away. Fearful intruders should be stung smile.gif

05-11-2006, 06:58 PM
Bees do sense pheromones and when a person is afraid they do give off different pheromones. A study was done in germany that tested this and even humans were able to pick up on the pheromones of someone that was afraid. The logic behind a bee chasing someone who is afraid is not that they are trying to induce fear into the being (whether human or otherwise) but rather to eliminate the threat as best possible (whether that be chasing the threat as far away from the hive as possible or stinging the threat to death.). The person that is afraid is giving off a scent that is a signal to the bees, like waving a red flag. I'm not completely sure about this but it also might be that the pheromones given off when someone is afraid might actually be mixed up with pheromones of agression (due to the fight or flight response in animals). And as to being able to mow around the beehives without being stung I would think that the scent released from the grass clippings would have a similar effect as smoking a bee sting (that is, it masks all the other scents) and thus disorients the bees so that it is futile to attack. Anywho, this is all just speculation from what i've read and studied about in my biology courses.

05-11-2006, 07:23 PM
kyle suggest:
pheromones of agression (due to the fight or flight response in animals)

tecumseh sezs:
testosterone... maybe? interesting hypothesis I would say. will inquire with boss (aka mizz tecumseh) about details.

05-11-2006, 07:53 PM
The bees are highly sensitive to pheromones or several kinds( especially queen pheromones and 'control bee' worker pheromones) and they can definitely sence many other pheromones they encounter outside the hive. I agree that probably fear and aggression pheromones smell similarly and the bees pick up on that. Its possible, but I doubt they are reacting to visual auras, which also change according to the mood. Sometimes it could be perfume or aftershave, or just not liking strangers too. They difinately see the world differently than we do. They might see fear as clearly as we see smoke or fog. Animals with no unfreindly intentions near the hive have no reason to be afraid, but hostile enemies who are considering attack would naturally be a little afraid of all the stings they may get. So attacking fearful beasts and driving them away before they destroy the hive would certainly be evolutionarily advantageous! Just a few observations and opinions.

05-11-2006, 08:04 PM
the boss say adrenlin (flight) aand noradrenlin (fight). both products of the adrnal system. and yes my spelling is always suspect.

05-11-2006, 08:16 PM
The bees may be detecting the fear odor and targeting it because if you fear them why have you not left, then you must be up to no good to be hanging around. Maybe they give the fearful a short moment to leave, and then they send a guard bee out to move things along.

05-11-2006, 08:48 PM
well, if that is the case, noradrenaline and adrenaline are almost chemically identical. The only difference is that noradrenaline contains a NH2 as opposed to adrenaline which has a chain of Nitrogen, Hydroen and carbon instead. It could explain then why bees attack those that are actually afraid. A bee's sense of "smell" is good, but maybenot good enough to distinguish between the two

[ May 11, 2006, 10:49 PM: Message edited by: Kyle ]

05-11-2006, 09:09 PM
it may be something very simple like quick darting movements. In my suit and veil some movements are hidden - while a bystander's movements are out for all bees to see. This thing about them sensing fear I ain't buyin. Social mammals, like canines, yes. insects - no.

05-12-2006, 06:50 AM
Come on, of course they can sense the least amount of fear and exploit it to their best ability. They are females after all.

05-12-2006, 09:30 AM

George Fergusson
05-12-2006, 09:50 AM

About the only thing I can conclude from that article is that if you wear a suit and veil to avoid stings, then you're a bee-haver.

Michael Bush
05-12-2006, 10:35 AM
I already know I'm a beehaver. I let the bees raise their own queens, and that's another attribute of a beehaver. AND I wear a jacket and a veil and (gasp) gloves.

George Fergusson
05-12-2006, 12:15 PM
>and (gasp) gloves.

You really ought to try some Epiphany for Beehavers smile.gif

Jim Fischer
05-12-2006, 06:19 PM
> if you wear a suit and veil to avoid stings,
> then you're a bee-haver.

The "article" reads like the work of my drinking
buddy George Imrie. The EXCESSIVE use of
CAPITALIZATION is a dead give-away. smile.gif

Much of what George said/says in his "Pink Pages"
newsletter has to be taken with a very large
bag of salt. Yes, gloves and suits can keep
some beekeepers from realizing that he is
fumbling and stirring up his bees needlessly,
but it is only the beekeeper who requeens his
"uppity" hives that can work in tee-shirt and
shorts at all times.

My question would be "How would you dress
your Mom to help you work that hive?".
My Mother helps my father work his half-dozen
hives, and while she takes the occasional sting,
she has both a "no-suit-required" veil and a
full suit. She knows that she wants to likely
wear the suit by default in fall.

And yeah, requeening can get a tad expensive
when you replace a perfectly productive queen
just because her progeny are a tad more
defensive than you'd like, but one has a
different set of priorities when the hives are
being worked by a couple in their 70s who
spent years feeding, clothing, and bailing me
out of jail. smile.gif

So, I swap some of my most gentle queens with
their most uppity, as my tolerance for uppity
bees is slightly higher than theirs.

And I promise - one of these days, I will buy
a bee suit for myself. I might need it someday.

05-13-2006, 10:23 AM
Hey Blondeone,

I'm blonde too and with a 38+ year old Amazon Parrot. He is the sweetest parrot, but not to anyone else. I think the confidence thing has a lot to do with this and flying creatures all seem to have a common feature (haven't quite figured out exactly what that feature is called) however, they are very similar. Yardbird will bite the crap out of anyone who is fearful of him and he will even try to entice you to pet him just so he can have an opportunity to bite you!! Me, I have no fear of this bird. Once you cross over that fear threshold, I think you have a unique understanding about nature and how to deal with it. I still haven't mastered this with my bees yet....like when a parrot bites you, you just ignore it - even if you have blood streaming from your hand...you ignore it and don't give them any attention. (Don't worry you'll only have to do this one time in your life, because after that, the parrot will know that you are not scared and you are the boss) If only I could of done this with such *grace* the other day while my gloves were being attacked then I will have my bees trained in no time, :D

I seriously think this mostly has something to do with the way they survive in the wild and their instictive skills as far as being predatory animals...I think I said that right, but I mean that parrots are predated upon by other large birds such as hawks and such and they are birds that live in colonies too, whereas bees are also always somewhat defensive of their colonies to some degree, just like parrots and other types of birds. My experience of being a parrot survivor for 15 years, I can't really see any difference in bees and parrots with the exception of size and the types of food they eat...although, it wouldn't surprise me to see a honeybee sucking a thrown out banana and peel on the side of the road. When I see one crack open a nut, then I'll have my answer for sure, :D

One more thing, when you have thousands of pissed off bees vs. a couple of hundred of pissed off parrots...I'll take the parrots any day over the pissed off bees.

What an interesting topic.

[ May 13, 2006, 12:32 PM: Message edited by: Cyndi ]

05-13-2006, 03:25 PM
Interesting subject...but you guys over simplify bee behavior for every situation...And I don't believe that the "smell of fear" is what causes bees to sting in every situtation....

I had a friend who was 20 feet away while I showed him some frames from the hive....I dropped the frame. the grip slipped ... and I got nailed 4 times over in the same ankle....

In another instance, my daughter, fearfully afraid of bees, got one in her hair, and she froze while the bee buzzed like crazy, but she didn't get stung...and she was 20 feet away from the hive.

My wife, was washing the dogs with a dog shampoo, and she got nailed by a bee, and was troubled by a couple of others, and she was over 40 feet away from the nearest hive... We figured that it was the dog shampoo that cause them to trouble her...

George Fergusson
05-14-2006, 04:01 AM
>she froze while the bee buzzed like crazy

That's not the typical behavior of someone who's afraid of bees.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that if your afraid you'll get stung and if you're not afraid you won't. I'm not suggesting that. If you're a beekeeper, you're going to get stung. Goes with the territory. If you're a scared beekeeper you're probably going to get stung more but not necessarily because you're afraid, more likely because you'll be clumsy, distracted, in a hurry, and not present.

Bees react to what they perceive as threats by becoming more defensive but they're not by nature particularly aggressive creatures. Aggressive behavior is usually associated with stressful conditions around the hive- skunks bothering them, no nectar available, cold and rainy weather, etc. Sometimes there's no obvious reason for them to act up, but they do. That's the primary reason I wear a veil, even on nice days when the bees are placid and mild mannered. You just never know. Gloves are another matter, I keep mine in the truck but I haven't put them on yet this year.

That bees can "smell" isn't in question. They have an acute sense of smell. That people give off odors isn't in question either. It's also clear to me at least that our odor varies with our emotional state as well as being affected by what we eat and drink and what we wash with. So it's obvious to me at least that bees can smell us and can smell the difference between a scared person and a confident relaxed person. How they react to our smell I think depends on the circumstances.

05-14-2006, 06:57 AM
It all in the movements...quick movements. When someone is fearful, usually these people are not steady and unpredictible, which is what causes the sting or Bites with parrots and birds. One of the recommendations when we used to place parrots in homes were about children. Parrots love children. They act like children, BUT, when turned loose with a child, a parrot is terrified of their movements. So, I would venture to say that bees are absolutely the same way...and I really believe bees have a good memory. For instance,

Yesterday I was working in my garden where my hive is. Daughter was helping, and she was standing in the middle of the flight path. I actually observed this particular bee fly around her and totally check her out and fly away. 5 minutes later daughter was stung on the chin. I'm like why her and not me too?? She's only 13 and can be very clumsy at times and not that it is her fault, it is where she is at in her development. What was even more so interesting was the fact that this happened when we first got out in the yard to do our work. In fact, they were all buzzing us and checking us out. After I had been working for an hour, things settled down and they completely ignored us and went about their business. Funny, first time daughter offered to do all the laundry and clean the kitchen, just to get inside, smile.gif Later on in another area, I found a yellow jackets nest under one of my whiskey barrels. Same thing, but after they got used to me, they left me alone. So, I suppose we have to treat our bees like pets and let them get acclimated to us, what do you think??

BTW, I know some of you guys probably think I've lost my mind. But, after dealing with parrots, birds and animals of all kinds all my life. This is how I relate to them and everybody stays happy. As a parrot behaviorist, I have to get inside the parrot's mind and I have to know and understand why they do what they do and make that connection. Not that I want to get that close with my bees, but there is such a thing as understanding their behavior and working with that, which is what I think most people are doing, some more extreme than others...yea, I know it sounds kinda airy fairy, but hey....I'm not normal, :D

As for other environmental reasons bees act the way they do, such as skunks, predators, weather, etc. With all these things going on plus having to deal with us humans...it's no wonder our bees haven't killed us yet, Just kidding!!

[ May 14, 2006, 09:10 AM: Message edited by: Cyndi ]