Skip to content

Bad Smells in the Hive

2011 June 3
by Chelsea

This was a weird post to write. I’m sitting here on our couch, closing my eyes and trying to conjure up this smells as vividly as possible in order to describe them to you.

You’ve probably discovered by now that beekeeping isn’t always honey and magic. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it is frustrating and sometimes it breaks your heart. Well, sometimes it also stinks.

A wall splattered with bee poo

Here, from least to most disgusting, are some examples of bad-smelling things you might come across while beekeeping:

Old Comb

It seems like a bad smell, but when I really take a good sniff of old comb it smells to me kind of like molasses. It’s not super revolting, just not as lovely and fresh-smelling as new white comb. 1.5/10 on the gross scale.

Bee poo

Bee poo smells kind of chemically to me. I don’t know how else to describe it. Kind of like ammonia, maybe? You know that you’ve really joined the brother/sisterhood of beekeepers the day (in early spring) when you go out to see your bees, and return home with a permanently poo-stained bee-suit. I’m very sure that it happens to all beekeepers eventually. 3/10 grossness. 6/10 if it’s on your veil right in front of your nose.

Dead, moldy bees- dry

Kind of a musty, dusty smell. It’s only a 3 on the bad-smell scale, but it’s pretty gross when you scrape the bees off the frame and a plume of mold dust comes up at you. 3/10.

Dead, moldy bees- wet

This one is pretty bad, mainly because it can be quite strong if you have a big cluster of dead, wet bees. It smells to me like bad compost – not quite as earthy as wet, rotting leaves, not quite as disgusting as rancid meat. Somewhere in between the two. 5/10 grossness unless there are a LOT of bees, in which case 7/10.


I don’t know what American Foul Brood (AFB) smells like yet, thank goodness. But I now know just how to recognize European Foul Brood smell. To me, EFB smells like stinky feet, except sour. Stinky feet with a side order of vinegar. Pretty unpleasant, especially if it’s strong. 7/10 yucks.

Fermented sugar syrup in the feeder

Mildy alcoholic-smelling. A little yeasty, I guess. 5/10.

Fermented dead-bee-syrup-water in the feeder

This is probably the worst smell I have ever smelled in my life. It is just so rank and so strong and so very easy to accidentally spill all over yourself. If there’s a leak in the hive, or insufficient ventilation (leading to condensation that drips into the feeder) and you get water into your feeder (and then you don’t clean it out for 6 months or longer), watch out for this stuff. It smells like…rotting garbage doused in urine. 9/10 on the stinky scale, 11/10 if you spill it all down your front while trying to remove a hive from the top of a stack of pallets. gag


Well, that was a fun reflection! I bet it was just as fun to read, too! Any other stinky bee smells you can think of? Are my descriptions accurate or way off?

Have a great weekend, buddies! See you Monday.

One Response leave one →
  1. Jeff permalink
    June 4, 2011

    The. Worst. Smell. Ever.

    “Fermented dead-bee-syrup-water in the feeder” – I agree wholeheartedly. It is really splashy too, so one really needs to be mindful everytime a dead-out is moved. That stuff is one of the big reasons I am always repeating my new mantra while working as a beekeeper – “Keep your mouth closed, Jeff. Keep your mouth closed…”.

    Whether it be nasty syrup, flying bees, dead bees, hive debris, or whatever – keeping your mouth closed prevents a lot of unwanted stuff out. If you think that syrup smells bad, imagine how it tastes!

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS