Smoking doesn’t really calm the bees, it just messes up their sense of smell so they can’t tell whether there is a pheromone that signals them to attack, or not. But the smoke still won’t stop a single or several bees to attack you if you touch them not too gently or do anything else to piss them off.
It’s often perfectly safe to be around the hive without protection just for visual inspection. However, I think it’s a little silly to move and sort through them barehanded because in the confusion of thousands of bees crawling everywhere it is very likely you’ll squish one.
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