Iron fist or velvet glove?

By | July 14, 2012

There’s some obvious benefits to wearing a face covering veil when bee keeping. I’d like to quickly go over why beekeepers wear their unusual garb, its probably not why you think.

If bees feel threatened immediately around their hive, they might try to sting around the face and neck, for full impact they will go for the eyes. They can tell this area based on the increased carbon dioxide around your face as you breath.

However the bee keeping suit and gloves are a little misunderstood.
The full length suit isnt to protect the bee keeper from stings, as its usually only a thin material bees can sting through. Its actually more to present a smooth surface for bees to land on, so they dont get caught on woolly clothing and agitated, and attempt a sting. A smooth surface lets them land on the bee keeper, rest, and easily take off to continue their business.

Bee keeping is a sticky trade, all that honey, nectar, and particularly brown tacky propolis messes up and can stain your clothes. A one piece suit is easy to clean, which when done regularly reduces the transmission of disease.
A detachable veil ensures the fine mesh isnt damaged in the washing machine.

You have your hands in the bee hive alot, and unsurprisingly there are an awful lot of bees in there. It is generally frowned upon to wear thick leather gloves when inspecting a hive, in an attempt to prevent your hands getting stung. The bees are threatened by the smell of leather, the gloves are difficult to wash and can transmit disease, and you cant feel the frames well through thick gloves.

All bee keepers I’ve met wear very thin disposable medical gloves. clean gloves reduce disease transmission, protect your hands from sticky brown propolis, have a neutral smell so dont offend bees, and most importantly the bee keeper treats the colony more gently when inspecting frames, reducing the chances of them wanting to sting in the first place.

As I posted earlier, the general preferred method is to breed gentle bees, rather than protect yourself against angry bees.
In fact through North America some beekeepers dont only wear a veil, short sleeve shirt and no gloves their bees are that gentle.

The (UK) bee keepers uniform, generally consisting of gumboots (or wellingtons), full length bee keeping suit, veil, and gloves, are generally to protect against a sticky staining hive, rather than an armoury against sting prevention.


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