It is not hard to believe that most insects do not respond well to smoke. In fact, tobacco is smoked by some people as an effective method of repelling mosquitoes. While some types of smoke may be less irritating than others, smoke, in general, is far from soothing. Unless, of course, the insects in question are honey bees. Surprisingly, ancient Egyption art depicts beekeepers of the time blowing smoke into beehives in order to avoid being stung. It seems that smoke was understood to be a method of soothing aggressive bees as far back as 2,500 years ago, and this method is still being used by modern beekeepers. Despite this, scientists have yet to understand exactly why bees respond to smoke in this particular way.
In an effort to understand the peculiar calming effects of smoke on aggressive bees, researchers exposed the insects to the smoke that is produced by the combustion of two different materials. The smoke released from one of these burning materials, burlap, is used by modern beekeepers, and the other, spent hops, is a recycled product of hop flowers that results from their use in beer production. Considering the fact that bees produce sugar-rich honey that is highly appetizing and sought after by many insect species, bees must be physically capable of protecting their hives from intruders looking to gorge themselves on the sweet substance. This is why some worker bees provide guard duty around the hive. When these guard bees detect a threat, they extend their stingers in defense. Since smoke seems to calm aggressive honey bees, researchers expected at least one type of smoke to prevent worker bees from extending their stinger in a defensive manner. However, this did not happen.
After disturbing the bees with electric shocks, they still extended their stingers. When the shocks became particularly intense, bee stingers released a droplet of venom, but they did not do this when hop smoke was released into the hive. This indicates that hop smoke, while not disabling a bees defensive response entirely, did, indeed, work to prevent the release of venom. A bee’s inability to release venom when exposed to hop smoke proves that hop smoke does have an overall calming effect on aggressive bees. Researchers believe that a chemical in hops known as lupulin has sedative effects on a bee’s nervous system.
Do you think that tobacco smoke could have the same sedative effect on bees?