When people find out I’m a beekeeper, usually the first question is, “Do you ever get stung?” I usually reply, “Only when I do something stupid”, which is pretty much the truth. Honey bees are judicious with their stings because to sting you is to die. Every now and then, though, it seems like there’s some little kamikaze out there who is just itching to get me – death be damned.
I don’t keep track of my stings like some people, but I’d say so far this season, I’ve probably been stung 10-15 times. Some of these were from my stupidity of not wearing a veil when I did my package installations, or not putting rubber bands on my pant legs to keep the bees from crawling up, but most of the stings have been on my hands when not wearing gloves (which some would say is stupid). I’ll be going along, merrily inspecting the hive when, BAM!, one little girl will get it in her mind to zap me.
I generally cover myself from head to toe, mainly because I don’t like getting stung. To paraphrase Daffy Duck, “I’m not like other people. I don’t like pain. It hurts me”. However, with gloves on, I can’t really feel whether I’m crushing bees when moving bars, and things are generally easier to manipulate without them, so I would prefer to not wear them. Earlier in the season, when the bees are concerned about building up their numbers and collecting pollen and nectar, they are not usually aggressive, so I can get by without gloves. However, at this time of year, when they have lots of honey, they are more defensive and hence more likely to sting. For example, today,the bees were very riled up and were stinging me through my gloves. Fortunately, those are more like glancing blows with just the tip of the barb making it to the skin and very little venom went in.
When a bee stings, it releases a pheromone which tells all the other bees to sting that same spot. So, when I do get stung, I usually put the gloves on to hide the sting spot. The first thing after getting stung is to get the stinger out as quickly as possible. The longer it is in there, the more venom gets pumped in. But sometimes, when you are in the midst of an inspection and depending on where you got stung, that might take a while. For remedies, I find that icing the sting spot helps keep the swelling down. The worst effect is the lingering itchiness – the pain goes away pretty quickly.
Before I started beekeeping, I had no idea whether I was allergic to bee stings or not. If you are going to take up beekeeping, it’s probably wise to find that out beforehand. I waited until after I already had bees and fortunately, am not allergic. When I first started beekeeping, I had worse reactions than I seem to have these days. My whole arm would swell up from a sting to the hand.
For most of the 27 years I’ve been married, I have rarely taken my wedding ring off. But this year, with all the stings to my hands, I’ve taken to removing my ring before inspections. The last thing I need is to have my hand swell up so badly that the ring will cause too much constriction.
In a recent post, HB over at the Backyard Bee Hive Blog brought another issue about stings to my attention – the importance of being stung. Being around bees, beekeepers (and sometimes their family members) are exposed to bee proteins which can cause a sensitivity to bee stings. By not getting stung, their bodies don’t develop a resistance to the venom and they can become allergic (as HB has unfortunately found out). The video in HB’s post (reposted here) has really changed my way of thinking about being stung. I’ve even taken to washing my own beekeeping clothes – much to the delight of my wife. It does make me worry about the kids like Duncan that are around my hives – fortunately, they are not around them too often.
So yes, I do get stung and although I don’t relish it, I guess it’s good for me.