‘Can you smoke the bees out?’

I get asked this question all the time when people ring me after finding out that bees have moved into their dwelling. The answer is no, bees cannot be smoked out! But what does smoke actually do to bees?

Smoke has been used in the craft of beekeeping for millennia, and its effects upon bees are very interesting. Giving smoke to an established hive does two things. Firstly, it masks the alarm pheromones produced by guard bees when they perceive a threat, and by bees that are injured or killed. These pheromones include the chemical isopentyl acetate (also known as isoamyl acetate), which has a strong fruity odour reminiscent of both bananas and pears. This is used extensively in banana flavourings, and as a solvent for lacquers and varnishes. Intriguingly, some small molecules can have very different natural applications. Isopentyl acetate is produced by the banana plant, and is responsible for the pleasant fruity smell of ripe bananas. But it is also released from the stinger of honey bees as a signal for other bees to attack!

In an established hive, a gentle blow of cool smoke will also cause the bees to gorge themselves upon honey stores. Exactly why this happens is still not fully understood, but the theory is that the bees will fill their stomachs with honey in anticipation of abandoning the hive due to a looming bushfire. Personally, I’ve never heard of either a feral or captive hive being abandoned prior to the onset of a bushfire, as the bees nearly always seem to perish in the fire and heat. But undoubtedly, when bees consume large amounts of honey their abdomens become distended, which makes it very difficult for them to sting anything.

So if the bees have been established for a few weeks or more, ‘smoking them out’ is simply not possible. They are far more likely to be ‘smoked in’! Smoke is also of limited use with swarms, because most swarms have no reserves of honey to feed upon. In any case, it is usually not needed, as swarms are far less defensive, being absorbed with the task of locating a new home site. If a swarm has just moved into a wall cavity, the process of smoking the bees actually makes their extraction or euthanasia more complicated, as they disperse and are no longer clustered in a tight group.

Can you smoke bees out?

6 thoughts on “Can you smoke bees out?

  • June 16, 2019 at 3:17 am

    What can be done, short of exterminating a giant hive of honey bees, to get rid of them and the hive inside an enclosed area above my bedroom but not exactly in the attic of my home. The area is above the bedroom bay window in an enclosed triangular space protruding from the house. They enter under the wood shingles but there is a small hole which allows some (guards?) to actually get into the main attic.
    If smoking can’t help what about placing a new hive nearby with a pheromone lure to entice them to swarm and then remove the new hive and exterminate any stragglers???
    We live in New Jersey, USA but so far most of the local bee experts haven’t come up with any solutions short of mass extermination. Any suggestions or techniques would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    • June 16, 2019 at 9:12 pm

      Hi John,

      thank you for the message, can you send me some photos both inside and outside of where the hive is?

      Email would be great [email protected]

    • June 3, 2020 at 11:57 am

      Hi Ben, I don’t know if perhaps you could help me in the U.S., but I want to save alive this swarm of honeybees that moved into our home. Aren’t there any bee enthusiasts who would get them and their hive without charging some ridiculous amount of money? If you can, please let me know. Otherwise we’re going to have to exterminate them. Thank you, Kelly Klein

  • July 8, 2020 at 7:14 am

    Hi there,

    A colony of bees moved into a space behind my cement patio wall gate lock 4 days ago. I use the gate multiple times a day to access the yard (and with my dogs), so it’s an odd location to choose and is quite problematic for me. I have been trying to make it as undesirable a location as possible before they really get going and set up shop (with incense, sage, citronella coils, cotton balls soaked in citronella oil, mothballs), but they are persisting. I don’t want to harm them and welcome them in my yard, anywhere else… is there something I can use/do to help move them along before they get too established? My landlord will just kill them if I notify her and opening the wall (a long/high solid block) is not an option. I have contacted a number of keepers and the org’s in my area but they are all recommending demolition or euthanasia.


    • July 31, 2020 at 7:54 am

      Thank you for the message, I am not of a huge help as I am in a different country.


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