Beekeeper suits are almost always exclusively white. At first, I wasn’t sure why such a fashion statement was being made. So I had to ask my beekeeper sister-in-law and neighbors: why, of all colors, are beekeeper suits white?
In general, beekeepers wear white to make it easier to see bees on them, so that bees don’t get tracked away from the hive. White is also useful in that it reflects the sun and that it’s a neutral color for bees so that they don’t see beekeepers as predators.
Ready to learn more about why beekeepers wear white – and other tips I’ve learned from spending time with my beekeeping friends and family members? Let’s do this – and have fun while we’re at it.
Why Are Beekeeper Suits White?
Beekeepers wear white because of three reasons – and those reasons all boil down to one thing: white works.
- It’s easier to keep track of bees when you’re wearing white. This way, you don’t accidentally track bees into the house. Because nobody wants bees in the house. But with a white suit, it’s easy to see if a bee is hanging onto your clothes. Just make sure you double-check your backside in a mirror before you take off your suit. That way, you don’t get stung or carry a bee inside of the house by accident.
- Bees see colors differently than people do. Colors mean things to bees. But don’t worry – we’ll go over this in just a moment. But the short version is this: scientists speculate that colors are one of the main factors that drive bees into action – or prevent them from diving into action.
- White reflects the sun and isn’t as hot as dark-colored clothing. When it’s hot outside and you have to wear a full-body suit, you want it to be as cool as possible. That’s why white is a good choice. It’ll help reflect some of that sun and heat. Now, just because it’s white doesn’t mean you won’t get sweaty. In fact, you’re still very likely to get hot and bothered inside your beekeeping suit depending on your local weather.
Now, I promised that we’d talk more about bees and colors. So let’s do that next.
Bees’ Vision and Color Perception
To properly understand the scope of bees’ vision and color perception, let’s first review how we humans see both in general and in color.
- We see color in a spectrum. Think “primary colors” of red, yellow, and blue. Then, we can see additional colors as the primary colors mix (think green, orange, and purple).
- Color is actually the reflection of light from a given object. Human eyes can only pick up certain frequencies of light – ranging within the wavelengths of 390 to 750 nanometers- and these frequencies of light are the colors we all know and like (or don’t like).
On the flip side, bees only see wavelengths ranging from 300 to 650 nanometers. In other words, bees are blind to certain colors we can see, but they can also see colors that we can’t. Pretty cool, right?
What colors do bees see?
Bees can see just fine within the blue and green parts of the visible light spectrum; i.e blue, green, and their different shades.
Moreover, they are also able to see wavelengths in the ultraviolet zone (wavelengths ranging 390 nanometers and below), consequently making them able to perceive colors we can only imagine.
Bee-purple is bees’ favorite color
Bee-purple is a mixture of yellow and ultraviolet, thus invisible to the human eye. It’s considered by far the most attractive color to bees, potentially being their all-time favorite color.
Bee-purple is followed closely by violet and blue in the bees’ favorites list, as these colors attract more bees than any other color. Though it might be a fascinating color, it’s what the color signifies that bees find the most appealing – nectar.
To get pollen, flowers release ultraviolet patterns to act as beacons (beecons if you will). Bees follow these beacons -usually painted in bee-purple to find and forage nectar.
What colors do bees not see?
The range of wavelengths above 650 to 800 nanometers tackles the color red and beyond (infrared). And because bees don’t have the required photoreceptors, they are incapable of seeing the color red – although they can see lighter shades such as orange and partial yellow mixtures.
Bees and white
From a bee’s perspective, white is an uneventful color that warrants no negative attention from it. It’s not a color that bees should be wary of since not a whole lot of honey-snatching predators are white.
Keep in mind, though, that if a bee has decided to sting you, it will sting you no matter what you’re wearing. White beekeeper suits are, after all, not a protective layer that deflects all bee hostility. Furthermore, bees are not nearly clueless enough to have complete faith in you just because you are wearing white.
White is not a color that bees feel the need to be aggressive toward – but that’s just about it. It’s also not a color that would instantly turn them into your little bee friends or minions; caution should always be practiced whenever you are dealing with a beehive, especially if your bees are triggered and angry.
Bees and bright colors
Bees are naturally attracted to colorful flowers, thus their attraction towards bright colors only makes sense.
Small flowers such zinnias, asters, and daisies -which fall in the yellow, blue, and purple gradients- are the most appealing to most bee species. As a result, bees’ fascination with these flowers automatically extends to their colors.
That being said, and despite their immense attraction towards brightly colored flowers, bees do not despise or shy away from flowers on the darker side of the color spectrum as logic would suggest (more on that below).
Bees and dark colors
Honey is delicious. We know that. Predators know that, too. Since ancient times, honey has been loved as both a delicacy and for its medicinal uses.
Spearheading these predators is the bear in all its glory, stumbling upon a beehive means the bear would feast. And as a consequence, bees have evolved to become hostile towards bears and everything that relates to the fierce predators, including their colors – namely, black, brown, and everything in between.
Then again, being hostile towards black and brown does not necessarily mean these colors are the bees’ mortal enemies. It just means that bees are more likely to target them when feeling threatened or they are looking for something to target. So as much as possible, avoid wearing black and brown in the presence of angry bees.
Or, you know. Just avoid angry bees altogether.
Are Bees Attracted to White Clothing?
It’s hard to say since bees don’t perceive colors the same as we humans do. What is known is that wearing white helps to lower the odds of being perceived as a potential stinging target – and that’s the goal, anyway.
White clothing also helps reflect the hot sun when working midday, which helps you stay productive even when it gets crazy-hot in a beekeeper suit. Again, not that you’ll want to wear the beekeeper suit all day. You’d be likely to overheat. But it will help you stay cooler than if you had a black or dark-colored beekeeping suit.
What if a beekeeper wore a non-white outfit while beekeeping?
Bees aren’t just going to attack everyone wearing dark-colored clothes. Bees aren’t crazy. And they do use their bee judgment before attacking anyone. They make their decisions based on more than just color – they also watch for intent and actions.
Expert beekeepers can maintain colonies, service hives, and extract honey in any color of clothing. White can help, yes, but it’s not a must. Honey Bees are generally docile by nature. They’ll almost never sting if their lives aren’t compromised. And as a result, expert beekeepers can go about their beekeeping duties without a beekeeping suit, much less a white one. Their secret lies in their fine skills and ample expertise.
Now, would I go tend the beehive without a white beekeeper suit on? Nope. I’m still a hobbyist. And my friends and family members who keep bees are in the same boat. But this ties back into the #1 reason why beekeeper suits are white.
If you’re wearing your regular clothes when tending the hive, it’s possible for a bee to land on you and you won’t notice it. Then, you’ve got a bee in the house (or your car or wherever else). Then you’re going to see an increased risk of a sting from a lost, confused, or angry honey bee.
And if you do find them before getting stung? That’s awesome. But then you have to deal with getting them back to the hive. And that’s assuming the other bees will let them back into the hive. They don’t know what your lost bee picked up while on their unplanned trip. I’ve seen my neighbors’ honey bees inspect, reject, or even kill bees who came home with mites.
Besides white, what other colors have similar effects?
Not everyone is a beekeeping expert. And not everyone is brave enough to wear colors known to agitate bees when caring for them – no sting is pleasant, after all. So you might be wondering, are there any colors with similar effects to white, or colors that do not attract a bee’s innate hostility/excessive friendliness? There are!
Colors such as tan, cream, gray, and light gray can act as effective replacements for white. While they don’t necessarily deter a bee’s hostility as effectively as the color white does, they still convey that you are a friendly soul looking to do business, no more and no less.
Final Thoughts on Why Beekeepers Wear White
In a final conclusion, beekeepers wear white mainly due to Honey Bees’ color preferences. Bees neither like nor dislike white. They are only indifferent to it, which makes it the best color choice for beekeepers.
Furthermore, some beekeepers prefer white due to how spottable bees are on white surfaces. Wearing white potentially lowers the chances of carrying stray bees into locations you don’t want bees to be (or bee).
Nevertheless, it should be noted that wearing white is in no way an absolute practice, it’s just the procedural one. Plenty of beekeepers are skilled enough to replicate the effects of wearing a white suit without actually wearing white – or even a full bee suit for that matter.
But if you’re just starting out as a beekeeper? Follow the standard procedures until you can develop your own standards of bee care. And find a local beekeeping mentor who can walk you through the steps. That way, your mentor can help you navigate all the weird local oddities, including weather that will impact your bee hives.
And if you live in an area that gets hot? I’d definitely stick to the white beekeeping suit. Those suits get hot fast. And while it’s probably smarter (and safer) to deal with bees during the cooler parts of the day, there will inevitably be times when you have to tend the hive during the hottest part of the day. So get the white suit. Trust me – I grew up in Arizona. White clothing is best in the summer.
It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders. 🙂
- “How Bees See And Why It Matters.” Bee Culture –, 20 May 2016, www.beeculture.com/bees-see-matters/.
- A huge thank-you to my sister-in-law and neighbors who talk to me for hours on end about bees. And who give me fresh honey in exchange for fresh eggs.