Are Bees Really Able to ‘Smell’ Fear?

honeybee in flight

When you were a child, you might have been told that bees can smell fear, and because of this an adult may then have told you that it is better to stay still around a bee than to run away screaming, flailing your arms in the air. But can bees really smell fear?

The short answer is no, bees cannot smell fear. They can, however, detect fear by smelling pheromones released when a person or animal is afraid.

How Do Bees Detect Fear?

Humans and other animals produce fear pheromones when scared. These pheromones are produced in the mouth and then transferred to the limbic system in the brain. This then triggers an appropriate fight or flight response in most cases.

In general, the fear pheromones produced by a mammal are only detected by other mammals of the same species. But bees have the ability to sense fear in other species. They can detect the pheromones that signal danger, which are then interpreted as a threat to themselves and their hive. The pheromones that we give off when afraid alert the bees to the possibility that we might become dangerous and harm them.

What Do Bees Do When They Smell Fear?

A bee that has detected the fear pheromone will quickly communicate the fact to nearby bees that there is a threat. They will emit their own pheromones that they use to communicate with each other. The hive is soon alerted that there is a danger present.

Bees use this method to put the hive into alert; the aim is not to attack unless absolutely necessary. Bees will only attack if the threat becomes higher and the threatening human or animal moves to attack the hive.

Africanized Bee in Florida
Africanized Bee in Florida

Why Do Bees Attack?

You may have heard of occasional bee attacks, which might be the reason you are afraid of bees. However, bees are actually quite docile creatures and will only attack if feeling threatened. Nevertheless, there are some species of bees, such as the Africanized honey bee (also known as the killer bee), that are extremely aggressive and have been known to chase the object of their aggression for up to a quarter of a mile. This crossbreed species of bee is quick to attack. Moreover, when they attack in a group, they can kill.

The regular honey bee, however, will only ever sting a person or animal as a last resort, and then only if it feels there is an immediate threat to itself or its colony. The honey bee knows that once it stings it will die as its barbed stinger is left behind when it tries to fly away, which results in catastrophic injury.

The important thing to remember when faced with what appears to be an angry bee is that flailing around with your arms in the air is the worst thing to do. The more you wave your arms about and try to swat a bee away, the more frightened it will become, making it more likely to sting. You can tell a bee is angry as it will dart around your face or head. If this happens, it is best to back away slowly.

Can Bees Smell if You Have Been Stung?

When a honey bee stings it releases a toxin into its victim while the stinger continues to pulsate, releasing venom after the bee has flown away. The bee also releases an alarm chemical, which alerts the other bees that danger is present. The other bees in the hive will gather and decide if they need to join the attack in order to defend the colony.


Although you may have heard that bees can smell your fear, the reality is that they are actually smelling pheromones released by you when you are scared. Unfortunately for us, fear pheromones are perceived by the bee as a threat, and they may then feel the need to attack.

Although some species of bee such as the Africanized honey bee is more prone to attack, the regular honey bee will only sting a person or animal as a last resort as it knows it will die once it stings. A bee will try to warn you off by bumping into you a few times. If it does this, it is best to back away slowly without making any sudden jerky movements. Swatting and flailing your arms will only frighten the bee and may cause it to attack. If it stings you, it will release an alarm pheromone, which could call other bees to join the attack.


Anthony is a content creator by profession but beekeeping is one of his great passions.

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