Colony Control: Smoke or Vape?

Happy New Year Everyone.


If you’re like me you’re attached to your old smoker. Mine is twenty years old and has been welded together several times. Lovely new green leather bellows were fitted at the end of last season and it is as good as new. Until the refurbishment, bee-buddy Cynthia was so fed up using it when the lid fell off that she contemplated buying a new one for my big birthday last June. However, she realised that I wasn’t going to give up on the old one and bought me a scented Jo Malone treat instead. Now an Apisolis vaporiser; that might have been an acceptable alternative! Or would it have been? Not for Cynthia’s pocket certainly. What is an Apisolis vaporiser you might be wondering ? Read on to find out.

The Effects of Smoke.

Smoke has been used since honey hunting and beekeeping began and we know that it is effective in calming bees during a hive inspection. Gently smoking a colony reduces the chances of getting stung though the exact way that this works is less clearly understood, even today. Smoking the hive entrance makes the guard bees retreat inside the hive and reduces natural defensiveness for 10 minutes. Experiencing smoke causes the honey bee to engorge and fill its honey crop with honey which is an evolutionary response to forest fires and the need to retreat till the fire moves through. Recent South African research1 demonstrates how Apis mellifera capensis engorge on honey and retreat to the back of their cave nests to shelter behind a protective propolis envelope. The authors explain that a heavy gravid queen cannot fly off from the nest and many colonies survive in these bush fires huddled in the back of the cave.


Engorging with honey makes the colony less likely to sting, but there is another strategy at play. Visscher et al2 demonstrated that smoke reduces the honey bee response to alarm pheromones. At the time of that study, 2-heptanone was thought to be an alarm pheromone but Johnson3 states (page 265) that there is no clear evidence for this.


So, the honey bee olfactory system is disrupted by smoke. In the experiments with detached antennae, the antennal response to smoke reduced by half after one minute and took 15 minutes to return after smoking ceased.  Alarm pheromone, isopentyl acetate (IPA) production was reduced and returned after 5 minutes from when smoking stopped.

The scientist also tested the effects of smoke on floral smells and a compound called phenylacetaldehyde (PAA). The response time to floral smells was longer than for alarm pheromone and it took more than 2 minutes after smoking to affect the antennae exposed to PAAs.

Risks Associated with Smoke.

We are more aware today of environmental pollution and human health than ever before and recently the effects of woodsmoke have been in the news. Woodburning stoves have surged in popularity but it is claimed that they are even worse for the environment than using electricity. Apparently, they cause 465 times more pollution than using gas. Woodburning stoves have been banned in London from new and refurbished houses, and it is illegal, in the UK, to burn unseasoned “green” wood which contains more moisture.

Toxic PAHs.

The problem with wood smoke is that is produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are chemicals that form small particulate matter, smaller than 2.4 microns, in the air and can be breathed into the lungs. PAHs comprise more than 100 chemicals and come from coal, crude oil, gas, wood, tobacco and any burned rubbish. They are also found in coal tar, creosote, some medicines, dyes, plastic and pesticides. Cooking food on a high heat forms PAHs and there are synthetically made PAHs such as naphthalene (“moth balls”) now banned in the UK because they are carcinogenic.

Scientific research on mice demonstrated that PAHs cause reproductive problems and infertility, increased birth defects (teratogenic effects), genetic mutations (mutagenic effects) and cancer (carcinogenic effects). PAHs are lipophilic and bind with fats making them harmful to the human lung increasing the risks of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. So, humans exposed to PAHs over a long period are at risk. Ingesting them causes stomach cancer in lab animals, and applying them to their skin causes skin cancer.

Natural disasters such as forest fires and volcanoes create PAHs. They enter the air through car exhaust fumes also, and when they reach water, they do not dissolve easily. They move readily through some soil and plants and animals have higher levels of PAHs than are found in water or soil.

Occupational Safety in the US set a limit of 0.2 mg PAHs per cubic metre (0.2 mg/3m).

Is Vaping the Answer?

French beekeeper and entrepreneur Damien Albrespy spent several years researching a better way to calm honey bee colonies for inspections in light of the growing awareness of the damage to human health from traditional smoke. After all, the trend has moved from smoking tobacco traditionally through cigarettes to vaping supposedly harmless chemicals. Why not do the same in beekeeping with vapour instead of smoke?

Apisolis Vaporiser.

The Apisolis vaporiser was designed and produced to reduce health and safety risks. I have never used one and I present it from second hand experience. They are powered by a rechargeable battery which will last through 70 colony inspections.  A vial of non-toxic liquid is inserted into the machine and heated to a safe level for vaporising through the colony. The 120 ml bottle of Apisolis Nature solution, used in this machine, has been formulated from only three plant compounds as tested though gas chromatography. This size of bottle will last for 250 visits to “non-aggressive” colonies. These essential oils give a pleasant aroma which calms the bees and can be breathed in by the beekeeper without apparent risk.

This heatless system reduces the risk of burns to the beekeeper, and creating wildfires which are common in certain parts of the world and may even be caused by some beekeepers in places like California. The Apisolis vaporiser is 100% repairable with replaceable spare parts. It is convenient and easy to use. The price reflects the years of research and they retail in the UK at £174 from one supplier. Apisolis Nature (120 ml) costs around £16.30 and there is an expiry date. I noticed a bottle on special offer for £6 but the expiry date was March 2024 and not too many beekeepers in UK will have started inspections that early.


You can watch various YouTube demonstrations of the Apisolis vaporiser but one that I found helpful was the Black Mountain Honey demonstration because the presenter spoke well, and knew exactly how all the parts fitted together. He gives a good and unbiased account of the product. However, the practical demonstration was not convincing in terms of effectiveness in moving bees because the the bees didn’t respond much to the vapour.


The Apisolis is expensive but there might be a place for it at a local association training apiary and for predictably gentle colonies, if there are such things. It will certainly prevent accidents with fires and burns to the beekeeper. I have never burnt myself but I once melted a new lightweight bee suit on a hot smoker. I patched it up. Once when I was so excited hiving a swarm in the summer gloaming that I hadn’t noticed that the smoker needed refuelling. Hot embers shot out of it spraying my other lightweight suit resulting in tiny pepperpot holes all over the front. Certainly none of that would have happened with an Apisolis.

Regarding the health and safety aspect, and considering that e-cigarettes and vaping are not all they were cracked up to be at the start, I have reservations about the Apisolis. Vaping as an alternative to smoking is proving highly addictive to young people and the chemicals used are not harmless. I am not suggesting that this product is anything like an e-cigarette but I would like to see the results of tests on human health. The Apisolis uses only three plant-based compounds but I haven’t found a record of what they are, and how the bees react to them. Perhaps they are reacting to the vapour only in which case are plant scents necessary? After all many beekeepers do not use smoke and instead spray a fine water mist on their bees. Beekeepers have an inventive tendency and try to save money so I anticipate some trying to make their own solutions concocted from essential oils without understanding their properties or the correct amounts to use. Smoke taints honey and so might scented vapour.

Not for Defensive Colonies.

The manufacturers clearly state that this product has been designed to use on colonies that are not highly defensive or aggressive so an Apisolis vaporiser can never substitute for a smoker when it comes to controlling a feisty or dangerous colony and managing the risk of stings to the beekeeper and passing public. I have not seen enough evidence to convince me that this product has been tested under a variety of conditions such as sunny weather versus poor cloudy days. There must be a research project out there waiting for someone, and I will keep an open mind.



2 P. Kirk Visscher, Richard S. Vetter, and Gene E. Robinson, (1995), Alarm Pheromone Perception in Honey Bees Is Decreased by Smoke (Hymenoptera: Apidae) Journal of Insect Behavior, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1995.

3 B. Johnson, (2023) Honey Bee Biology, Princeton University Press.

2 thoughts on “Colony Control: Smoke or Vape?”

  1. I have tried water misting, which many internet sources claimed worked as well as smoke. After many attempts I concluded it was almost ineffective, and tended to result in wet, cold, miserable bees huddling in the spot you were trying to move them from. Then I noticed that the people promoting water misting all lived in much warmer climates…

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