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Manipulating Bees

Division of Plant Industry – Apiculture
8995 East Main Street
Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068-3399


Stings should be avoided in the manipulation of the colony, since the odor of the venom greatly irritates other bees. However, a beekeeper handling bees must expect to receive an occasional sting.

A bee does not sting at random but in an effort to protect the colony. A bee away from the colony usually will not sting unless provoked. A honey bee colony is generally ‘cross” on cool, cloudy days when the bees are unable to fly and gather nectar. Bees dislike jarring of their nest and respond to sudden movements of unfamiliar objects.

Darker clothing, rough, wooly, suede or leather, horsehide or any type of hair seem to irritate bees and should not be worn when inspecting a colony. A veil should be worn to protect the head. Bees dislike animal odors. Pets should not be handled before bee inspections. It is advisable to also remove a ring or wristwatch since these objects excite guard bees to sting around them. The proper use of the smoker and the gentle handling of hive parts are the beekeeper’s best means of protection against stings. Smoke disorganizes guard bees and causes the bees to gorge themselves with honey in preparation to leave their “burning” nest. Gorged bees are less apt to sting.

Smoke is used at the entrance and over the combs to subdue the bees. Extra supers are removed and stacked upon the upturned hive cover to avoid crushing bees and dripping honey (possible spread of disease). Combs to be examined are carefully removed as to not roll or crush the bees. The combs are leaned upright when temporarily placed outside the hive body. The comb on which a queen is located is ~ placed outside.

Combs containing brood should be returned to the broodnest after inspection to prevent prolonged exposure. This is especially important if the brood is unsealed. Combs should be replaced in their original positions unless there is a specific reason for not doing so.


A comb being inspected for disease should be directed so that the sunlight illuminates the lower side walls and bottoms of the cells. This makes it possible to see any disease “scales” which might be present.

If no dead brood is found in open or uncapped cells, sunken, discolored or punctured cappings should be removed and the cell contents examined. Capped cells found scattered in an area from which young bees have recently emerged should also be uncapped and examined.

  1. Age of the brood when death occurred.
  2. Appearance of cappings.
  3. Position of dead brood in cell.
  4. Color of the dead brood.
  5. Consistency of the dead brood at various stages of decay.
  6. Type of scales, if any.
  7. Odor of the decaying brood.
  8. Type of brood affected.
Prepared by: Gordon Rudloff
State Apiarist
Ohio Department of Agriculture