Beekeeping requires dexterity and a gentle touch. Bees hate vibration or any sudden knocks or jarring. It frightens them, and squashing bees only instils more terror.
So good beekeepers try to be very gentle. The bees stay calm and the beekeeper doesn’t get stung.
Except we do – or a least would do if we didn’t wear protective clothing and gloves. Sure, there are folk in foreign climes who have such placid bees that they can wear shorts, T-shirt and bare hands when working with their colonies, but around here only a fool would open up a hive without protection.
Intuition would suggest the thicker the gloves the better, but the reverse is true. Nitrile gloves are very thin and perfect for fine manipulations such as picking up a queen and marking her, yet the bees never seem to sting through these gloves, unless inadvertently trapped.
Thick leather gloves are often sold to novices as providing better protection from stings. It’s true, these gloves are so thick a 2 inch nail wouldn’t get through them, but that doesn’t stop the bees from trying. Clumsy handling soon enrages the bees, which repeatedly sting the leather gauntlets, each sting releasing more alarm pheromone driving the hive into further frenzy.
At the next hive visit those sting-laden gloves covered in bits of squashed bee from the last cack-handed session cause panic in the colony the moment the crown board is lifted. Poor hapless beekeeper wonders why their bees are so aggressive, and is even more determined to keep wearing those thick leather gloves!
According to our local bee kit supplier, Cowhide Gloves are ‘tough gloves for professional beekeeepers‘. Except they’re not. The UK’s bee inspectors all use nitrile gloves and the British Beekeepers Association wants suppliers to stop selling leather gloves, especially to beginners, because they are difficult to clean, can spread disease and make for clumsy beekeeping.
So the message is clear – if you want to treat your bees with kid gloves – use nitriles!