Inside: Why do beekeepers become obsessed with the scent of a busy beehive? What drives us to inhale deeply such a strange odor?
An unforgettable scent
What is the heady odor that so defines an industrious hive? It has to be a blend of beeswax, nectar, larvae, and pheromones, a mix overlaid with pollen, propolis, and wood. But the combination is unique, a bit fusty and doughy, so it sticks with us. Even if you haven’t smelled it for decades, the pleasant aroma clicks the instant it greets you.
Oddly, it doesn’t seem to matter where the bees are or what they forage on. The odor is singular and unforgettable. If you smelled it once when you were five, you would recognize it fifty years later.
Just thinking about beehives is enough
It’s also one of those odors that can be conjured up by association. If I just hear a busy hive, I can imagine the scent. Or if I only see bees darting and soaring overhead, I smell the aroma. Although the odor is alluring to beekeepers, I can imagine others finding it somewhat unsettling. A bit feral, perhaps, or gamey, and redolent of meat.
I was reminded of it several weeks ago when my husband and I were pouring over some unrelated project—broken dishwasher or the like—when he suddenly said, “You smell like a beehive.” Well, jeese, I hardly knew how to respond. So I settled on, “Thank you.”
The beehive odor is like nothing else
But when I try to describe beehive smell, I come up blank. To me, it has earthy notes. And hints of salt. Mysterious, musky, balmy. It is not sharp, tangy, or acrid but soft and round like cotton and nebulous like sea foam. It’s an odor you could stuff a pillow with.
So the next time you inhale “busy beehive” think of all the folks who never have. Think how lucky you are. Think how much fuller your life has become now that others think you smell like bugs.
Honey Bee Suite