It’s surprising to know that experienced beekeepers don’t get stung often. Because of their knowledge of bee behavior and their particular hives, beekeepers can avoid being stung as much as an average person would.
Even more so, beekeepers develop a tolerance for stings after a while. However, knowing what makes a bee sting and how to avoid getting stung can help beginner beekeepers from the painful punch that bee venom can bring.
What Causes A Bee To Sting
Although many people think of bees as insects out to get humans, that’s simply not true. While some species of bees definitely tend to be aggressive, honey bees are not one of those. Honey bees have a lot of work to do in a single day and generally aren’t interested in humans.
Honey bees aren’t aggressive but, instead, defensive. Honey bees will not sting unless they feel threatened, especially given that once they sting, they die.
The following actions are ways that a honey bee often feels threatened:
- If they’re being swatted at by a human
- If they’re being pressed between two things (ex: your clothing and your skin)
- If their hive is being threatened (Usually by wasps or other insects, but can sometimes feel like their beekeepers are a threat)
- If they have no access to food
Avoiding Getting Stung
Although honey bees do have the capacity to sting, experienced beekeepers only get stung a couple of times per year. Beekeepers don’t provoke stings by learning their bee’s behavior, practicing calm movements, and wearing protecting gear.
When we evoke calm behavior around bees, they are much less likely to sting. Beekeepers have found specific movements that don’t stimulate aggression in their bees and keep the hive calm and happy.
- Moving slowly: Fast, rigid movements often feel like an attack to bees. When beekeepers move slowly & calmly, it maintains the bee’s calm behavior. Even in the occasion that bees begin to swarm, our slowness can settle them down.
- Operate in good weather: Just like humans, bees can be agitated in lousy weather. It’s best to handle our beehives in sunny, pleasant weather, so the bees don’t feel threatened in their home.
- Don’t swat: Most importantly, beekeepers should not swat at their bees. Swatting can be seen as an attack, causing bees to defend themselves.
With calm behavior and protective gear, beekeepers are as protected as possible from an unlikely sting. As beekeepers gain experience, they’ll often opt to wear less and less protective gear. However, if they interact with a new hive, they’ll probably wear it again until they understand the new colony.
- Bee suits: Bee suits are head-to-toe, white suits that have elastic at ankles and wrists. The elastic makes it unlikely that a bee can get stuck in their clothing, while white tends to calm agitated bees. When they are in a defensive state, they are less likely to approach white colors and more likely to approach darker colors.
- Masks: More important than a bee suit, beekeepers often wear masks or veils around their faces. Because our face is a more vulnerable part of our body, people are more likely to instinctively swat at bees close to their face. Therefore, to prevent a sting in a vulnerable part of their body, masks are put on.
- Gloves: Our hands are most likely to get stung as they are the body part directly interacting with the hive. Tight leather gloves are recommended so that even if a bee stings, it doesn’t puncture the skin.
- Bee Smoker: In addition to the protective clothing, it’s common for beekeepers to have smokers with them. A smoker is a small metal can that contains a smoldering fire inside. Because of the smoldering fire, smoke billows out of the top. From there, a beekeeper will angle the smoke at the hive before they begin working in there. This smoke masks the smell of the pheromone bees put out to communicate a threat to one another, hence maintaining a calm environment in the hive.
How to Take Care of Sting
Taking care of a bee sting is no big deal unless you have an allergy. Let’s see how the treatment differs depending on this crucial factor.
If You’re Allergic
The most crucial aspect to consider is if you are allergic to bee stings. If you know you are, or if you think you might be, it’s essential that you bring an EpiPen with you every time you interact with your bees to avoid a severe or fatal sting.
You can take the following steps to care for a bee sting if no allergies are present:
- Stay calm. Because of bees’ social behavior and pheromone communication, the bee that stung likely sent a signal to others of a potential threat. If you begin to react with rigid, fast movements, you are more likely to be stung by another bee. Calmly walk away from the hive while you take care of the sting.
- Remove the stinger. The stinger of a bee pierces through our skin, where it lodges venom into our body. If the stinger is still in your skin, grab your hive tool to scrape the stinger off. Never squeeze it out, as you will only release more venom into your body.
- Wash the sting. You’ll want to wash the sting out with soap and water to avoid infection.
- Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling. It’s common for swelling to occur at the site of the sting. However, if the swelling spreads to another part of your body, you may be having an allergic reaction and need to seek medical attention.
Beekeepers don’t often get stung by their bees, especially with more experience. However, even the most experienced beekeeper will still likely get 2-3 stings in a year. Moreover, beekeepers often develop a tolerance for bee stings over the years.
Following particular behavior, like remaining calm, only interacting with the hive in good weather, and not swatting, will significantly reduce the number of stings you receive. In addition, using protective gear like bee suits, masks, gloves, and a smoker can prevent the amount and severity of the stings.
In the event that you get stung, it’s important to know how to proceed and take care of the sting correctly.