Bee suits are traditionally white because white is a neutral color that can help prevent bees from becoming aggressive. White also absorbs less heat, ensuring the beekeeper stays cool during hot days. And finally, bees are easier to see on white fabric.
Nearly 20 million Google searches are made each year, asking why are beekeeping suits white?
To the 125,000 beekeepers in the US, the answer is important when working closely with thousands of bees that can make up their apiary.
What follows are three definitive answers to your question with plenty of background.
White Causes Bees To Be Less Aggressive
No color can prevent bee stings, but is there anything to the theory that bees are less likely to sting humans wearing white beekeeping jackets or full suits?
Academic research at the University of California San Diego points out that many predators of bees, such as raccoons, skunks, and bears who love their honey, are dark in color, so the bees are fearful of attack when they see someone in dark clothing.
They become more aggressive around dark colors. Bees do not “love” white, making them see people dressed in white as friends, but they are neutral to it and less likely to sting.
You may see this first hand while wearing a bee suit for yourself. Bees will often be attracted to the zippers, patches, or lettering on the beekeeping suits.
While many bee suits are white, veils attached to beekeeping hoods or hats are often black. Studies have found that lighter veils reduce bee aggression, but black reduces sunlight reflection that can block clear vision for beekeepers.
Veils that are black on the inside and light on the outside might be helpful, but black veils are the norm.
Though the color white is the most common for bee suits, any light color will do. Tan, cream, gray, and light gray are the best replacements, but pastels are acceptable.
What Colors Do Bees See?
The bee’s perception of color differs from humans. Their incredible eyes can see wavelengths of light from 300 to 650 nanometers in contrast to the human range of 390 to 750 nanometers, which makes them blind to specific colors humans see and can see some out of our range.
Since red is viewable at 650 to 800 nanometers, bees lack the photoreceptors to see the color red, although they can see orange and yellow mixes. They regard red as a dark color.
Bees can see blues and greens on the visible light spectrum and love a shade of purple that is a mix of yellow and ultraviolet. Flowers release ultraviolet patterns that appear as “bee purple” that guide bees to their pollen.
Honey bees prefer small flowers such as zinnias, asters, and daisies which often fall in the yellow, blue, and purple gradients. Humans wearing suits in these colors will not be mistaken for flowers, as humans do not emit the same signals to bees that flowers do.
White Absorbs Less Heat
Beekeeping is busiest during the hot summer months. Since white reflects light and dark colors absorb it, light colors are a cooler temp option.
White and light colors make the most sense for beekeepers as the clothing is more comfortable in the heat. More skilled beekeepers may divert from the practice of wearing white or light colors, but the heat in many parts of the country makes wearing white a practical idea.
Bees Are More Visible On Light Clothing
Bees may land on the keeper’s clothing when a beekeeper tends to the beehives.
This is a normal phenomenon, but bees can cling to the clothing and come into the house where they might become afraid and sting someone.
White suits, jackets, beekeeping gloves, veils, and hats make it easier to spot them and ensure none come along for a ride to an area they are not welcome.
Why Clothing Color May Not Matter
Bees may become defensive and agitated even when an experienced beekeeper is handling them while wearing a white bee suit. The reasons may be a direct result of human activities such as dropping the frame, grabbing a bee who sends out a pheromone to warn other bees of danger, or sudden movements by the keeper.
Some bee agitation is due to infections in the hive, lack of a queen, low supply of nectar on hand, or more aggressive types of bees (like the Africanized honey bee).
An alert beekeeper will try to determine why the bees are agitated and alleviate the causes, if possible.
Taking precautions like wearing a color that will not provoke them and using smoke to calm them, will help ensure you remain safe while tending your hives.