beekeeping equipment

Bee suit-related stress syndrome: why they drive me mad

I have real issues with bee suits. Last year, I wrote a post about why (supposedly) they are white. I did not say the need for white suits is a myth, even though I wanted to. I forgo calling something a myth unless there’s scientific evidence to support me, but regarding bee suit color I can find nothing.

So for the moment I’m going to segue from the realm of science in the province of opinion. I firmly believe the color of your clothes makes not one scintilla of difference in the behavior of bees. The idea that dark clothes makes bees think you are a (pick one or more) bear, skunk, raccoon, dog, opossum, wolf, or insectivorous bird is ridiculous. Bees are not stupid. Bees know we are living things by our breath. If you really want to see bees get riled up, open a busy hive and blow on them. Ohmygod. No matter what color you are wearing, they will fire out of the hive like they came from a Gatling gun.

But we humans, thinking we are ever so brilliant, run around in these ridiculous white suits thinking we’re pulling one over on the bees. Believe me, the bees find this amusing.

I, for one, look perfectly ridiculous in my so-called white suit, which is hardly white but stained with 15 colors of propolis and 25 shades of pollen. None of it comes out, no matter how often I wash it. And the more I wash it, the softer it gets, until I may as well not bother because the bees can sting right through it.

Recently, a few companies starting making colored bee suits, but they come in pastel shades of pink, yellow, purple, and blue. I suppose these colors are deemed light enough to “fool” the bees. But even these are no match for propolis, which is dark and brown and sticky and waterproof.

So for my next bee suit I’m going to buy dark brown or black coveralls. They will have lots of pockets, no zip-fly in the front (remind me why I need this?) . . . and they will fit.

Since I’ve never been able to find a suit that worked for me, I finally bought the jacket and pants separately. The pants I ordered in the smallest size the company made. These are pants that my adult daughter and I can share–I can get in one leg while she gets in the other. I’m not kidding. If I wear these pants (by myself) the crotch comes to a place just below my knees, so I can walk only with mincing baby steps or risk falling on my face.

While I’m thinking of it, why do zipped hoods collapse against your face? Why are hive tool pockets so short the hive tools fall out? Why do suits not have a hanging thingy on the inside where a normal jacket has one? Why is the elastic around the wrist so tight and the elastic around the ankles so loose? Why haven’t bee suit makers heard of female beekeepers?

I used to fantasize about the perfect bee suit, now just the thought of something barely serviceable gives me palpitations. Dream on.


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  • I envy beekeepers who inspect their hives with only a hat and veil, and then a t-shirt and shorts and no gloves. Those are the kind of bees I want in my backyard.

    I can understand having a white bee suit because white doesn’t get as hot in the sun as darker colours. Now if someone could only create a bee suit from a breathable fabric similar to a wicking shirt, but sting-proof, I’d pay big bucks for it.

    I was in my suit for two 15-minute stints today, full sun, 25°C heat (77°F). I would have passed out had it gone on any longer. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt underneath and got soaked to the bone in sweat both times. I’ll have to strip down to my skivvies next time.

    Note to self: Hydrate heavily before donning the human basting suit. I like my humans sweaty, but well done.

  • I agree with Phillip, bee suits are white to help with the heat. I have 80 hives and growing here in Michigan where we have lots of 90 degree days coupled with 90% humidity. I usually wear shorts, t-shirt and a veil but, there are days when the bees are upset about one thing or another and I must resort to wearing my jacket and jeans. Ugh. You make some excellent points about the pockets Rusty. Is there a bee suit producer out there that makes usable tool pockets and, maybe some hooks and loops and stuff for other odds and ends like frame grabbers?

  • I think you’re right that bee suits are designed for big male beekeepers. And gloves too.

    The best suit I’ve found so far is by a UK company called Bee Basic: I have one of their all-in-one ‘traditional’ style suits, size small. Their available suit sizes go all the way up to extra extra large, yet still the small size is baggy on me (but not big enough to fit someone else’s leg in). It’s as if beekeeping companies don’t believe a person can exist who’s as small as me!

    • Ugh, yes the gloves! The suit is bulky and hot and doesn’t fit well, but it’s the giant size “small” gloves that really get me.

      I think my suit pocket is deep enough for my hive tool, but because the crotch is so low (sounds just like yours, Rusty), the bending of my knees tips the pocket out all the time. I wish it was higher up on my thigh so it didn’t get jostled so much.

      • Chelsea,

        That’s so funny! That’s exactly the way it is. The hive tool pocket bends with my knee so the tools fall out. If the pocket was at a normal place that wouldn’t happen. You’d think they would try these things in the field before they sold them.

  • I think the big problem with dark color bee suits in the past was not the color but the smell of the dye used to make the color, especially the dark blue.

    However …. I cannot figure out why you need a bee suit in the first place. If you inspect your bees wearing some clothes that should be good enough. Bee gloves should be banned by law. They encourage the bee keeper to be clumsy and pay little attention to where they are putting their fingers.

    Here it can get hot (44C) but on average it is say 30C when you inspect bees. Bees can be playful but I have never had any issues. I do not wear a bee suit. I do not wear gloves or a veil. Three or four times a year I will wear a hat to keep the sun off. No shoes or socks, just slippers. A few stings now and again but most of the time not.

  • After I wash my suit, I leave it hanging on a fence in full sun. The sun bleaching won’t get it perfectly white, but the spots fade to almost nothing. I also added loops to the suit to hang tools from, and belt loops so that the suit isn’t so baggy.

    • Jami,

      I like the tool loop idea. I added loops to mine for hanging from a hook, but I never thought of the tool idea or the belt idea. Hmm . . . I think I will get to work on some modifications. Thanks!

  • I would guess the white bee suit provides contrast against which bees are easily seen. Just like wearing white socks in tick country. I’ve never kept a hive, so perhaps the early beekeepers were escapees from high-tech clean rooms. Or sanitariums.

    The fact that everyone has a non-breathable one-size-fits-all bad fit suit is a testament to lousy patterns and lack of competition. Should be lots of simple solutions these days; surely there is a need.

  • Hi Rusty,
    Although everything you say has logic, and you have waaaaay more experience than I do, I must say that I disagree.
    When the bees are happy and your smoker is working fine, there are no color issues, I find. This I agree with.

    However, I recently had an experience when I went out to work the bees with my wife. We were both wearing white veils, but she was wearing a white sweatshirt, and I was wearing a charcoal colored sweatshirt.

    Our smoker was all clogged up, and we were unfortunately knee deep in the hive when we realised it had stopped smoking. We continued to work to get out of there as fast as possible. We were doing a clean-up on a hive we had adopted. It wasn’t very well taken care of, and had frames missing, so you can imagine the quantity of burr comb we had to remove. You can also imagine how upset the bees became.

    Well, we had the opportunity to see first-hand the difference that color can make on pissed-off bees. They stayed away from her completely and all went for me.

    Just an anecdote. But it was enough for me to believe that color *can* make a difference under certain conditions.

    PS… we had a bee brush lying nearby on the ground (yellow bristles), as well as a normal hand-brush from a sweeper pan (black bristles). They attacked that innocent unsuspecting brush like the hive’s well-being depended on it. Once again, anecdotal evidence, but evidence nonetheless!

      • Hi Rusty, me again.
        Just an extra anecdote to this respect…

        I was just out working our little hive again with my wife. The sun was shining, the smoke was smokin’, and the bees were gentle as ever. We were both dressed in white tops, and light bluejeans. I had white tennis shoes on, and she had on black suede shoes.

        Towards the end of the session were about to close up the hive when she felt some buzzing on her foot. We looked down to see 3 bees wriggling around after stinging the leather, with their innards forever pinned to the suede.

        Once again, I witnessed what I can only gather as evidence of color preferences. Or perhaps it’s surface texture? The bees were nice as can be with the rest of our respective bodies.

  • Tip!
    I too look like an astronaut in my oversized medium with the crotch hanging by my knees, but my belt saves the day!

    Wear a belt around your actual waist – on the outside(!) of your suit! This makes for a very(!) baggy upper body look, and your crotch in place on the lower half. Think baggy top, tight bottom 80s style!

  • I found beekeeping suits for my grandchildren on eBay that come in sizes xs (45 inches to top of vail ) and up. It may not be fair but if you need a small suit that’s one place to get it.

  • Dear Rusty,

    I “inherited” bees from my grandfather, who always worked with bees in a decades old dark blue workshop overcoat. He still wears it when I am checking bees and he is checking on me 🙂 As he is 94, nowadays he rarely does so.

    Me, I opted for white early on, when we were still working together. This way, it was mostly my grandfather who was getting all the stings – he was used to it, me, in the beginning, not so much.
    But, perhaps the fact that I had fresh clothes to work with bees while he was probably wearing the same thing as the previous day had more to do with stinging than the color.

    I have some bee jackets, but I rarely use them, as they all have broad shoulders and they are too narrow around hips… no producer thinks of women keeping bees.

    I wear loose white or near white cotton or linen pants: I sew an elastic band to the legs of the pants to make them more bee proof.

    And I wear plain long-sleeve shirts with classic collar – the best I had was a second hand one made of thick silk. It looked a little weird back then: a cream silk shirt plus clear grey linen pants – not a good colour match, but it was comfortable even in the hottest weather and, somehow, no bee ever attempted to sting through the smooth silk. They didn´t even attempted to get under it. Unfortunately, I was not able to repair the tears indefinitely. I miss that shirt – now I am using a cotton one, but I am still dreaming about silk bee suit, especially when it is hot.

  • Tip for the issues with hive tools falling out of pockets: I saw a beekeeper on YouTube who had put a magnet in a pocket on his sleeve, and just stuck his hivetool to his arm when not in use.

    Looked really practical.