ABOUT BEE STINGS

If there's only one bad point about being a beekeeper, then it's the fact that sometimes you will get stung by one of your ladies.  And if you do get stung, then it will probably be your fault for being careless.  Maybe you weren't wearing your protective clothing; or maybe you were being too rough when handling the bees.  Either way ... bee stings hurt!  I'll say that again ... bee stings hurt!  Here are a few things you should know about stings.  First of all, it's only the girls (workers) who are likely to sting you and their mother (the queen) will only ever use here sting against another queen.  The boys (drones) don't have a sting mechanism and so cannot sting you.  Now about pheromones ...

 

If you've annoyed one of the girls to the point where she becomes defensive, she can release an "alarm" pheromone that will alert the other bees who will also go into defensive mode.  You tend to know when they are becoming defensive as they will start "bombing" the veil of your bee suit and the general buzz of the hive goes up a notch or two.  They like to attack your face or your ankles (that's why we wear wellington boots).  You can try a little smoke to try and calm them but if they are too aggressive, just give up.  Close the hive down and leave them for another day.

Top image shows venom sac and sting left behind in the skin.

Click an image and move cursor to magnify.

 If you do get stung, another pheromone is released at the site of the sting.  This pheromone tells the other bees to attack at this position.  As this pheromone can linger on your clothing, the best way to get rid of it is by washing.  You should be doing this regularly with your bee suit anyway.  Now about the sting ... 

 

All of the honeybee workers have a barbed sting.  As a result, when she tries to remove the sting after penetration of the skin, the sting mechanism is ripped away from her body and she subsequently dies of the injury.  The bad news for you is the sting is still stuck in your skin and continues to pump venom into your system.  You need to get the sting out asap.  Remove it by scraping your fingernail up to the sting and then continue the scraping action to remove the sting.  You can use a knife edge or your hive tool to do this.  Whatever you do, don't try and pick the sting out with your fingers ... you will just squeeze the venom sac and inject more venom into yourself and make matters worse.

 

To treat the sting, get some antihistamine cream onto it immediately.  I always have a tube in the pocket of my bee suit just in case.  You can also take an antihistamine tablet.  If you do, use the Chlorphenamine Maleate ones ... they work better for insect stings.

 

After getting a sting, you can expect some reddening and swelling to develop and this can last 2 or 3 days.  And with this comes the itching that will drive you insane!  If you've been unfortunate to be stung on your ankle, don't be surprised if you can't put weight on your foot for a few days - I know that from my own experience.  Of course, if you should experience breathing difficulties after a sting, then you need to immediately seek medical attention.

 

But don't let this put you off ... it just means you need to be more careful, more gentle and "read the bees" a little better.  Getting stung is not the end of the world and is not the normal thing either!

© 2017 by Barkston Ash Beekeepers (BABKA)

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Background Photo By 

William Gray

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