As a passionate beekeeper I love to share this incredible world with everyone that I meet, and it’s no surprise that most people are just as fascinated about Honey Bees as I am. One questions that I am often asked is “Do you ever get stung?” – and the answer is yes. Generally I don’t like to wear gloves when I am working with my bees as I believe it is important to be gentle with them when opening up a hive, something that is much easier to do without gloves. Usually they only sting my hands if I don’t see a bee and unknowingly press on it.
But bees do sting. Perhaps it’s what makes the honey so sweet, to know that there’s sometimes just a little bit of pain in collecting it! Based on my observations and experience bees will only sting under certain circumstances, so there are definitely some simple steps you can take to minimize the chance of being stung.
Away from the hive, it’s actually quite difficult to get a bee to sting you. I believe that bees know that if they sting you they also die, so they really reserve this as a last resort, usually only to protect the queen and the hive. Away from the hive, the time a sting most often occurs is if you step on or sit on a bee on the grass and squash it. Otherwise you can come very close to bees and they won’t be aggressive. In fact, I often find bees on flowers and pat them gently with my finger while they are collecting nectar and pollen – they love it!
Closer to a hive you should be careful not to walk within 2-3 metres of the entrance of the hive. If you cross in front of the main flight path of bees exiting the hive then you can expect that they may run into you and sting you as a reaction. As you come closer to the hive the chance of getting stung increases, particularly if you look like a bear! Bears are natural predators of Honey Bees, some beekeepers suggest wearing light coloured clothes will make it less likely that the bees will think you are a bear and sting you in self-defense.
Some people have a concern that they may be highly allergic to bee stings, perhaps even fatally. While estimates vary it seems about 0.5% (yes, half of one percent) of people are actually highly allergic to bee stings to the point of death, and potentially another 4-5% will have serious reaction that might require intervention. If you have a family history of allergies you can get yourself tested before you spend time around a hive. If you are at risk, you can carry an Epi-Pen in case of an emergency.
The other 95% of the time what you will experience is some pain and localised swelling, that may last as little as 30 minutes or until the next day or two. Every person’s body is different, but the good news is that in my experience, with every subsequent sting your body reacts less and less. It’s also worth noting that the toxin in bee stings is different to those of wasp stings.
It’s important to be aware that bees do sting, but please don’t be frightened of them because of this, remember Little Lucy isn’t anymore. Honey Bees are an incredibly important part of our natural eco-system and maintain a fragile balance within our agricultural landscape – and they need our help!