One of the questions a lot of beekeepers say they get often are variations of “Do you get stung?” and “Does it hurt?”. No one has asked me yet, but I figured I would preempt it and start a sting count and discussion.
One of the nice features that WordPress.com provides is the ability to make pages in addition to posts. As posts get older, they go further down the list and get harder to find quickly. Pages will be listed at the right of the page and will be easy to find. I have a few things that I am planing to make pages for. For example, I figured that when I get around to it I would set up pages for the hive plans, the method for making top-bars, and the construction of the hives. Right now, those topics are covered in the posts, but they are spread over a a bunch of posts and aren’t organized. By making pages, they should be much easier to find. The first page however will be for stings (not counting the “About Me” page).
Ok, back to stings!
First of all, a lot of people call anything that stings a bee and because of this if they get stung they call it a bee sting. I can’t claim to know any statistics on the matter, but I would guess that many of the “bee stings” people get are actually yellowjacket stings or wasp stings. Ignoring bees kept by beekeepers, honeybees almost always build their nest in cavities and are often out of our way. I have yet to find a feral bee colony in my life. Yellowjackets however will build their nest in the ground and I found four of them within 1/2 mile of my house last year (and I wasn’t even looking for them). Three of the yellowjacket nests were within a foot or two of a well used jogging trail. Since their nests can be easily stumbled upon and they are often more interested people food than bees, I have run into yellowjackets more than any other type of flying, stinging, insect. I remember they always seemed to show up at our picnics when I was young and seemed to like lunch meat. I particularly recall watching one slice off small pieces of ham and carry them off while my family was eating lunch at a rest area while on a road trip.
Aside from two stings I got while visiting a friendly beekeeper’s apiary last year (more on that later), I remember two stinging incidents in my life. The first was with yellowjackets. The first was one summer while I was young (6 maybe?). Yellowjackets made a nest in the ground nest near some stairs in our backyard. It was discovered when I and a couple of my sibling ran down those stairs and were stung. I don’t remember it all very clearly, but I remember it hurt. My poor mother had to deal with three children with stings I think. The second incident was with what I believe may have been some type of wasp. I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, and they were building a paper nest under a trailer parked beside our house. I think this time it was me that was interested in them and probably held some of the blame for the interaction. That sting hurt too.
For the most part, honeybees stay out of peoples way and are relatively non-aggressive. A bee will sting in defense of its hive or its life. Other than that, they will generally leave you alone. I think most peoples interactions with bees are with foraging bees, away from their hive. Unless you accidentally step on one or swat at it, it will most likely ignore you completely. I don’t remember having ever been stung by one in my life until last year, and I was always the type of kid to check out any animals or bugs I could find. My first bee sting was after I became interested in beekeeping and visited another beekeepers apiary. We had opened a few hives with no incidents (I was simple wearing a spare veil, jeans, and a t-shirt). The third hive however wasn’t so happy to see us and I was stung twice on the right hand (on the back of the hand near where the thumb bone connects). I remember looking at the two stingers embedded in my hand, knowing I should remove them as soon as possible, but not knowing what to do with the camera that was in my other hand. I would describe the stings as about as painful as an injection, but not as bad as getting stuck to donate blood. The pain was pretty quick and much decreased after a few seconds. If it wasn’t for the good reasons to give blood, I would rather be stung than giving blood (I never like having to sit there with a needle in my arm). Giving blood has a purpose though, getting stung doesn’t really for me. The worst part of the bee stings came later. As is common, I had a local reaction. My hand swelled up a bit. It didn’t really hurt, but the tightened skin itched. The swelling showed up a few hours later, and took a number of days to go down completely. I have been told that such localized reactions tend to decrease the more you get stung (your body can build up a tolerance to it). A localized reaction like this is not usually threatening and isn’t really an allergic reaction. It is distinct from a systemic reaction which is much more rare, but serious. If some one is stung and has any of the following reactions, you should seek medical attention immediately!
- Hives, redness, or swelling distant from the site of the sting
- vomiting or nausea
- wheezing or difficulty breathing
If you do get stung, the first thing you should do is remove the stinger. Bee’s stingers are barbed and can remain in the skin with the venom sac still attached. It can continue to inject more venom if left in the skin. For this “feature” the bee sacrifices her life when she stings. To avoid being stung in the first place,
- Don’t pester bees near their hive (they may feel the need to defend it).
- if a bee approaches you, its probably just looking for flowers, don’t swat at it or make sudden moves. If it doesn’t leave on its own, calmly move away from it.
- Try not to accidentally step on bees (if you are going to “Tiptoe Through The Tulips”, wear shoes)
- Avoid wearing sweet or fruity smelling things if you know you will be near bees.
- Avoid wearing bright colors or flower like patterns if you know you will be near bees.
If your curious about how much a bee sting hurts, or how it compares with other insect stings, you can check out the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, created by an entomologist named Justin Schmidt. There is also a very interesting article from Discover magazine about him and stings in general you can read called “Stung: How tiny little insects get us to do exactly as they wish“.
I figure that just for the heck of it, I will try to keep a sting log and a running total in a page that should be listed at the right.