honey bee behavior

A hive of a different color

When we started our first hive, we read that the bees home-in to certain colors. Having some hobby/craft paint around, I painted the hand-hold on the front of the hive with fluorescent yellow/green paint. “There,” I thought foolishly, “they should be able to find the hive with no trouble.”

The bees spent the entire first year scrubbing it off! I mean, they chewed, worried, worked, and had paint-scrubbing parties day after day until it was gone. After they erased this offense, they stopped hanging out on the front of the hive box and behaved entirely bee-like. Anyone ever look at why they hate some colors? They most certainly hated this one.

Has anyone else ever heard of this? I know that bees see a different portion of the color spectrum than we do, but yellow-green is clearly visible to them and is a color they are accustomed to. In fact, the entire summer world is green or yellow-green. I wonder if the fluorescent aspect of the paint was bothering them.

After I read this comment to my husband, he suggested that perhaps the bees are genetically programmed to avoid bright colors that might alert predators to the hive. In other words, maybe the bees thought the bright paint was like having a target painted over their front door. But he also pointed out that hive odor is the most distinguishing aspect of a thriving hive, and if we humans can smell a hive so easily, predators can certainly detect it at great distances. So why bother with a little problem when you have a much bigger one?

Lots of hives are painted bright colors and I’ve never heard of this before, which leads me to wonder if there is some component of fluorescent paint—not found in regular paint—that induced them to remove it. That seems reasonable except I always spray the top of my drone frames with fluorescent green paint and that paint has never been removed. The frames are in the dark, of course, so the bees wouldn’t see them glow. But if it’s an ingredient of the paint that offends them, wouldn’t they have removed it?

Has anyone else had an experience like this? Does anyone else have a theory? You can bet I will be trying this as soon as I get some paint—I am really curious.



  • I worked with a commercial beekeeper a few yrs ago and ALL his hives were white or close. He had over 100 boxes in a field and never had a problem. I subscribe to the thought that bees navigate well. No need to paint psychedelic colors to help them

  • It could be if you start them with a colored hive they will leave it that way, but to change their living quarters without their permission … well you know how that goes at your house.

  • I wonder if sunlight hitting the hives makes a component of the odor more distinctive/pronounced? A chemical engineer would know if there’s an ingredient particular to fluorescent paint that behaves differently in sunlight. I’ll ask a friend of mine.

    • But the writer of the question only painted the front hand-hold. That’s not very much fluorescent paint.

        • As a 72 year old female beekeeper, I was considering giving up the hobby because of the difficulty of handling the heavy Lang hives in my yard. Your site has given me the encouragement to carry on with my bees in this more manageable way. I am switching over to Warre hives. Thank you for your excellent site.

  • Photoluminescence is a process that produces light using light energy, of which fluorescence is one form (the other being phosphorescence). Fluorescence is the immediate release of light, where light is emitted within a fraction of a second after exposure to ultraviolet light. Bees use ultraviolet light to navigate. Perhaps the bees identified the fluorescent paint as a colony “problem” for navigation and corrected the situation by chewing the problem off. If you think about it, fluorescent paint grabs the attention of the far less sensitive human eye (which doesn’t see ultraviolet light) so imagine what it might do to the eye of a bee which survives due to its ability see and use ultraviolet light, not light energy produced by ultraviolet light (fluorescence).
    Maybe, maybe not …

    • Carol,

      Thanks for taking the time to write. Yours is the best theory yet. I never thought about the fluorescent paint interfering with navigation or, indeed, being “offensive” to the bees, but it is a very good theory. Interesting to think about . . . and I learned something about how fluorescent paint works.

  • Hi Rusty, no not sure why the bees don’t liked the fluorescent colour.

    For our drone frames we use green food colouring, if you are looking in reducing the paint inside your hives. We water it down with water and it seems to work well.

    See ya…Gary

  • There are two logical options:

    1) The bees didn’t like the paint and wanted it gone.
    2) The bees really liked the paint and wanted to eat it or otherwise make use of it.

    I think option #2 is equally likely, though I can’t begin to guess what they would use it for. It’s also possible that the paint contained a pheromone-mimic chemical that attracted the bees, and that the color had little to do with it.

  • Maybe the bees knew about marine navigation’s “red on the right when returning” and were incensed that someone used the wrong color AND put it in the middle.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.