Can bees sense fear?

Have you ever been in a situation, like going near a bee hive, when you were so afraid that you were sweating too much to the point that you thought other creatures could smell your fear? Because apparently, your hunch has a basis, and we can really release the smell of fear that other people and animals, including insects, can smell [1]

However, if your fear is from bees that are capable of sensing your fear, then you may be in for a ride. Bees, especially the solitary types, are generally peaceful creatures and are unlikely to react aggressively, but they may have some powerful sense of smell.

Bees have an incredible sense of smell that they use to communicate, coordinate, and survive [2]. Using that sense allows them to smell all sorts of stuff, but that does not directly include fear. Though bees may appear to detect when something is afraid, what bees can really smell are the pheromones that animals emit through our sweat when we are scared or stressed. Also, there is currently no conclusive scientific proof that bees can sense when humans are afraid, much less react to it.

Let us learn more about another amazing thing about bees, whether they can smell fear and how they react because of it.

Can bees smell fear?

bees landing on a beehive

Researchers found that bees have a great sense of smell compared to other types of insects like fruit flies and mosquitos, wherein honeybees have 170 odorant receptors [3]. These receptors make them capable of smelling and identifying various plants and flowers when they are foraging. They also use their keen sense of smell to communicate with other bees, which is crucial for their survival.

However, there is currently no current scientific research, studies, or experiments that conclusively report that bees can really smell fear. Though there is a possibility that they can still detect the pheromones people and animals release whenever we are afraid.

How sensitive are bees’ sense of smell?

Bees are small creatures with many incredible body features. They are also crucial to our environment and our survival because of their important contribution to pollinating many of our food sources, like many fruits and vegetables. However, another fascinating thing about bees is their incredible sense of smell.

Honeybees, in particular, were discovered to be able to smell scents from flowers and toxins miles away from the hive and can even differentiate them from other smells. Their sense of smell is also said to be up to 100 times more sensitive than human noses. Their strong ability to smell is also why bees are being trained to smell diseases and are undergoing various clinical trials for future medical uses. 

In several experiments, bees are found to be able to sniff specific compounds or scents from a small glass globe with chambers on it. Once they recognize the smell, they immediately fly toward it, indicating that they perceive the scent.

Their sense of smell is incredibly powerful that they can even distinguish compounds in the range of parts per trillion or ppt (compared to the commonly used range is only parts per million or ppm). This positive discovery may even be used to detect cancer and other diseases in the near future.

How do bees smell fear?

bees working on making honey in a beehive

Now that we established that bees, particularly the stinging honeybees, have an incredible ability to sniff scents, it is almost indicative that they can small other things as well, like fear. It is also important to note that while fear may seem an abstract concept, it can be conceptualized and measured in clinical settings.

The so-called smell of fear may sound straight from a movie, but it exists and has been studied in people and some animals. This smell indicating someone is afraid is from the pheromones that we release through our sweat, especially in our armpits and groins, whenever we are so scared or anxious. 

According to studies, the scent we release when we’re afraid is also subconsciously smelled by other humans. It is also tested in some animals, like dogs, showing they can smell these pheromones.

However, while bees have a keen sense of smell that studies say can smell up to 100 times compared to humans, there is currently no direct evidence indicating that they can smell fear. Though bees can probably detect fear from other animals through the pheromones, they release when they’re afraid. 

Once the bees smell the distinct pheromones from other species, which indicates a threat, the bees will be on high alert as they may also take it as a threat to them. However, sensing this specific pheromone does not mean the bees will immediately attack.

Do bees attack people when they smell fear?

Though it’s possible for bees to attack humans when they sense the fear pheromones that they emit when scared, however, it is not always the case. Bees are not aggressive. They are defensive. So, they will not attack unless they perceive that the nearby humans are a threat to themselves, the hive, or the colony.

On the other hand, bees can also communicate what they sense and alert other worker bees if they find the need to attack, which, more often than not, is unnecessary. They are ensuring that the colony is on high alert but unlikely to attack.

It is also important to remember that bees, especially honeybees, know that they will die immediately after they decide to use their stingers. So, unless it is absolutely necessary, bees will not attack people based on their detection of pheromones indicating fear.

However, bees are known to be attracted by sweet smells, like sweet colognes, sugared drinks and beverages, and other items with the same scent. So, it is more important to avoid wearing and drinking sweet-smelling products when it is swarming season or if you know there are beehives in the vicinity.

Why do people think that bees can smell fear?

bees working on a beehive

Many people think bees are sensitive to the smell of fear and will immediately pose aggression towards them. However, that is not the case. Some people, especially those who are afraid of bees, may have acted in a way that bees perceive as aggressive.

It is similar to when someone is afraid of dogs because they are afraid and think they will be attacked. What happens is they’re the ones who attack first, which is reciprocated.

So, it is also possible that when people who are afraid of bees see a colony or individual bees flying their way, they try to swat them or kill them, which is never a great idea. What happens is the bees will try to defend themselves and sting the human.

Can bees smell you after you’re stung?

While bees are generally not aggressive when they smell fear from people and animals, it is an entirely different scenario once a single bee attacks you. However, this will only happen if you did something to the bee that warrants its aggression and self-destructing defense mechanism

When a honeybee stings a person and dies, they release a chemical compound called the alarm pheromone. This pheromone indicates that there is a threat nearby, which is immediately perceived by nearby bees. What happens is the bees will sense the pheromone and will alert the bees to defend the colony through stinging

This pheromone is very crucial for social bees, like the honeybees, since they immediately prompt the hive and the nearby worker bees about a threat.

So if you’ve been stung by a honeybee and you see a few more bees going your way, it is important to start running as far as you can and don’t look back because there are most likely more bees going your way.

What is the fear of bees?

Fear of bees is common, especially for people allergic to them. However, the intense, even irrational, fear of the stinging insect may indicate that they have Melissophobia or apiphobia. However, a lot of people with this extreme fear are often undiagnosed, so they are unable to receive the proper treatment.

Having phobias is never a good feeling since it can cause unnecessary responses and anxiety toward the bees. So, there is a possibility that the people who say they are attacked by bees because of their fear may have acted in a way that was perceived as threatening to the bees. 


[1] – Guardian News and Media. (2008, December 4). New research reveals humans really can smell fear. The Guardian. Retrieved September 21, 2022, from 

[2] – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2006, October 27). Honey Bee Chemoreceptors Found For Smell And Taste. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 19, 2022, from

[3] – Genome Sequencing Consortium, T. H. (2006). Insights into social insects from the genome of the honeybee Apis mellifera. Nature, 443(7114), 931. 

[4] – Whitley GG. Concept analysis of fear. Nursing Diagnosis : ND : the Official Journal of the North American Nursing Diagnosis Association. 1992 Oct-Dec;3(4):155-161. DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-618x.1992.tb00531.x. PMID: 1489587.