Chicken Dave experienced a rite of passage which most would choose to avoid. Dave had volunteered to help beekeeper Euan replace the pallets the beehives sit on in the orchard apiary. It is a job for spring when the winter honey stores have run low and the hives are lightest in weight. It is a job best done on a cool evening when the bees are not buzzing. Instead, Euan chose a beautiful spring evening and the bees were inquisitive! It cost Dave his first ever bee sting – times 2 in fact. Everyone seems to love bees these days except perhaps when contact is too close for comfort – stings do hurt. Euan accepts 2 or 3 stings a year as occupational hazard (but could probably exercise more caution and avoid even those).
What to know about bee (and wasp stings):
- Worker-bee stings have barbs, which means they stay in the skin with the venom-sac attached, still pulsing venom.
- A bee that stings leaves behind parts of its innards and will die soon after.
- Stings should be scraped out with a finger nail. Pulling out the sting squeezes the entire content of the venom-sac into the skin.
- Queen-bee stings aren’t barbed but are only ever used against other queen bees.
- Male-drone bees are stingless.
- Wasp stings aren’t barbed and one wasp can sting multiple times (but with decreasing venom impact).
- Bee stings are acid and should be treated with an alkali, such as baking powder.
- Wasp stings are alkali and should be treated with an acid, such as vinegar.
- Proprietary treatment creams and sprays work better than homespun remedies.
- Swelling and itching from stings lasts for 2 or 3 days but there is considerable person-to-person variation in the severity of reaction.
- People who react severely to bee stings can be desensitised by administration of tiny quantities of bee venom over a series of injections (by qualified medical practitioners).
When might bees sting?
- Move slowly near bees (or wasps). Flapping arms will panic insects.
- Don’t stand in the flight path of bees into and out of the hive.
- Don’t wear strong perfumes near bees.
- A bee caught in hair will panic and sting. A pre-emptive first strike to kill the bee is sensible, as a stinging bee will die anyway.
- If one or two bees show too much interest then walk away slowly and stand in the shade until they lose interest.
- Don’t run from bees. Bees can fly faster than Usain Bolt can run.
- Bees get bad tempered when atmospheric pressure changes before a storm.
- Bees see a different light spectrum and there is some suggestion that deep blue coloured clothing upsets them.
- Working a single field crop (such as oilseed rape) can result in bees being less calm.
- Bee colonies that are without a queen are more aggressive.
- Older worker bees can be more tetchy than young bees.
- Bees struggle to sting if they have a full stomach. Beekeepers smoke bees to encourage them to feed, in readiness to flee a fire.
It is perhaps foolish to focus a news item on bee stings when we need to embrace these fantastic, beneficial insects and besides it has been suggested that bee stings are beneficial in preventing arthritis. Don’t let the very small chance of a sting put you off the joy bees. It hasn’t put Dave off. If you see him around the farm tell him he has been very brave!