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Sunblock attracting Bees?

I used to use one of the Banana Boat (IIRC) sunblocks when I went camping and backpacking.  I thought I noticed an inordinate number of biting flies attracted to me, and worse yet, lots of bees buzzing around.  I recall one trip in particular, in the Trinity Alps in CA, where I felt like I must be in the bee capital of the world, judging by the number of bees buzzing around me.  On another, in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, I experienced some of then worst biting flies of my life (except for the greenheads on Plum Island in MA).  For whatever reason I didn't correlate the attraction to the sunblock at the time.

Then I switched to a different sunblock because I wanted on that was "fragrance free" for backpacking.  Unfortunately I don't remember what brand that was, but after a while I noticed that the bees weren't buzzing around me anymore.  So I think there was a correlation.

On a trip this past weekend I used a sunblock I hadn't used before ("Dermatone Z-cote"), SPF 36, from REI.  Once again I chose this one because it's "fragrance free".  On this trip I noticed several times there were bees buzzing around me.  One even landed on me!  That might not seem like a big deal to an ordinary person (lol) but it is to me...

So that sunblock is going into the hazmat bin and I'm looking for a replacement to try again.  I have really bad (horrific) memories of experiences with bees (wasps actually) as a kid and prefer to avoid them now.

Have any of you run into this?

Scented sunblock’s and perfumes can attract pollinating insects
including bees, wasps, and hornets. An unscented sunblock alone will lessen the number of insect encounters; however, brightly colored clothing, heavily
scented food, or jewelry can attract bees.

The sunblock I used last weekend was the unscented type.  My clothing consisted of brown boots, grey socks, khaki pants, and a black shirt :).

Maybe bees just like my magnetic personality (haha :), or maybe more likely, they sense the residual fear of them remaining from my childhood experiences.

Hmmm... so if I leave an open tin of Away Bug Repellant in my campsite, 99% of the mosquitoes will be gone for up to 14 days?  Really?

It certainly wasn't your clothing that brought them in. I'm just guessing here but if you have a fear of bees, you might increase your breathing releasing more CO2 triggering some type of response from the bee?

Hmm, yeah, that's a interesting idea ... I wonder...

It's a possibility but I'm no entomologist.

AWAY Bug Repellent said:

It certainly wasn't your clothing that brought them in...

Don't be so sure. 

Honey bees are attracted at a distance mainly by visuals.  The shirt may be "black" to us but bees also see in the ultraviolet spectrum.  In fact many flowers attract bees by reflecting the UV spectrum.  Usually black clothing dye reflect very little UV, but some dark dyes glow a fair amount in the UV spectrum. And and old, faded black shirt may glow if it is cotton or certain synthetics.

The UV issue might also be an issue with lotions too.  That would make for an interesting experiment.  Anyone happen to have a black light and mind seeing if various lotions glow in the UV spectrum?

For what it is worth, I use Coppertone Waterbabies sun block, Dr. Bronner's peppermint scented castile soap, and Mitchum anti-perspirant stick.  Despite my usual colorful Hawaiian shirt attire, the only place bees ever give me undue attention is in Joshua Tree NP, and thereabouts.


This (about the clothing) is certainly interesting - though it seemed like the "problem" went away when I switched sunblock.  I used something else (unfortunately no longer have the container, and it seems REI has switched to different brands) last year and didn't have the problem at all.  It happened the year before when I used (I think) Banana Boat, and now again this year with Dermatone.

I guess I need to just keep trying random non-scented ones (they don't seem common) and seeing if I get "swarmed".  I'll definitely pass on the peppermint though :), in spite of your good experience with it, I'm not taking that chance.

Why do you think the bees pay more attention to you in Joshua Tree than elsewhere?  Are they more aggressive bees?

bjeiser1 said:

Why do you think the bees pay more attention to you in Joshua Tree than elsewhere?  Are they more aggressive bees?

I have two theories, both contributing to the bee issue:

  1. This only happens during the spring bloom.  Perhaps the colony had time over the cooler period to repopulate and are more numerous, plus this is the principal pollen collecting season, so they might be more active in general.
  2. That desert is pretty harsh and dry, forcing the bees to check out any and all possible opportunities.  And there I am in an bright orchid floral pattern shirt.


August 12, 2020
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