As a beekeeper, you are most likely familiar with the occasional sting that comes along with the job.
One beekeeper I know would often say, “You’re not a real beekeeper if you haven’t been stung at least once in your life!”
While these stings can be painful and uncomfortable, they also come with a host of benefits that you may not be aware of.
And some even better news? There are many ways you can avoid them!
In this blog post, we will discuss the benefits and risks of bee stings for beekeepers and some tips on how to manage them.
Bee Sting For Beekeepers: Why Do They Sting Us?
As you may know, bees are usually docile creatures but can become aggressive when they feel threatened.
This applies to both honeybees and bumblebees.
When bees perceive a threat to their hive or themselves, they release a chemical alarm to alert other bees that there’s danger nearby.
This can cause other bees to become agitated and more likely to sting.
The anatomy of a bee sting is also worth exploring.
A bee sting comprises three parts: the stinger, the venom sac, and the pheromones.
The stinger is a modified egg-laying organ, which is why only female bees can sting.
When a bee stings, the venom sac is attached to the stinger, and some of the bee’s pheromones are released.
Removing the stinger can be tricky, as squeezing it can release more venom.
Instead, use a flat surface (like a credit card) to scrape the stinger out (more on this later).
Are Beekeepers More Likely to Be Allergic to Bees?
Beekeepers are more likely to be allergic to bees as they’re more exposed and susceptible to bee stings.
A study conducted by the National Institute of Health found that beekeepers have greater risk of developing systemic reactions from multiple bee stings compared to the general public, even those with history of prior bee stings.
This is because a beekeeper’s immune system is constantly exposed to bee venom, which can trigger a more serious allergic reaction or even anaphylaxis in some cases.
However, not all beekeepers will develop allergies or serious reactions.
There are some who have been working with bees for decades that didn’t experience severe allergic reactions to bee stings.
It all depends on each individual’s immune system and reaction to bee venom.
How Do Beekeepers Avoid Being Stung?
Beekeeping can be a rewarding hobby that not only provides delicious honey but also helps to pollinate plants.
However, one of the biggest concerns for beekeepers is getting stung by their busy little bees.
While getting stung is a natural part of the job, there are a few things you can do to minimize the chances of it happening
Here are some tips.
1. Wear Personal Protective Equipment
One of the most effective ways to avoid getting stung is to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).
The PPE includes a bee suit, gloves, and a veil. Make sure your bee suit velcro tabs seal properly and check for any tears or holes before putting it on.
Also, wear gloves that fit without any space between them and your sleeves.
The veil should be attached to your bee suit, and you should ensure that it adequately covers your neck and face.
2. Use a Smoker
Using a smoker while working with bees is a common practice among beekeepers.
Just make sure that it is not too hot and the smoke being produced is white, thick, and cool, as it helps calm the bees down.
We’ll discuss this further in the next section.
3. Keep Good Genetics
Another way beekeepers avoid getting stung is by keeping honeybee colonies with good genetics.
Bees with aggressive behavior and tendency to sting can cause problems, making it tough for beekeepers to work and manage the hive.
Keep bee colonies with good genetics to improve overall hive health and reduce the risk of getting stung.
You can achieve this by purchasing bees from reputable breeders or by breeding queens that exhibit good temperaments and genetics.
4. Inspect Bee Under the Right Conditions
Inspecting your bees when it’s warm and dry outside is the best course of action, as the bees will be less aggressive during such weather.
Working bees during a rainy or cloudy day, for example, will make them more aggressive as they are unable to leave the hive.
5. Avoid Tight, Light-Colored Clothing
When going to tend your bees, this makes it easier for bees to sting you.
Instead, wear light-colored clothes, particularly white.
6. Avoid Dark Sunglasses, Watches, or Other Accessories
Avoid dark-colored sunglasses as they can make you look menacing. The same goes for dark clothes and watches.
Be sure to remove any jewelry, too, because bees are more likely to attack if you’re wearing metallic objects or anything shiny.
7. Don’t Wear Clothes You Just Wore Around Other Animals
Beekeepers should avoid wearing clothes that have the scent of other animals or chemicals.
The smell of pets, laundry detergent, and fabric softener can attract bees and trigger defensive behavior.
It’s best to wear fresh, clean clothes that have no scent before approaching the hive.
8. Avoid Perfumes and Deodorants
Bees are attracted to strong scents, including perfumes, after-shave lotions, and deodorants.
Beekeepers should avoid wearing these products when working around bees.
The smell can cause bees to become distracted and aggressive, leading to stinging incidents.
9. Learn How to Handle Your Bees Without Gloves
Many beekeepers work with bees barehanded because they believe it allows them to have a better feel for what is happening inside the hive.
It also allows them to handle bees more gently, reducing the risk of aggressive behavior.
However, working with bees barehanded is not for everyone, and it takes some practice.
Many beekeepers use gloves that are thin and tactile, allowing them to feel what is happening inside the hive while maintaining protection.
10. Shake Bees Off Combs Before You Replace Them
When you’re working on the hive, you need to remove the frames to check on the bees and collect honey.
But before you replace a frame, you need to make sure there are no bees on it.
To do this, gently shake the frame over the hive to let the bees fall off and return to the hive.
This will prevent them from being crushed between the frames or under the hive cover.
If you accidentally kill a bee, this releases a chemical that signals other bees to attack you.
11. Work With Your Hives Regularly
The more you work with your bees, the more they get used to your presence, and they become less likely to sting.
Check your hives at least once a week, and make sure to handle the bees gently.
12. Don’t Block the Entrance to a Hive or Flight Path Into Entrance While Inspecting
One of the most important things to keep in mind when inspecting your beehive is to avoid blocking the entrance to the hive.
Bees use this entrance to enter and exit the hive, and if it’s blocked, they may become agitated.
Also, it’s important to avoid blocking the flight path into the hive, as bees need space to fly in and out of the entrance.
If you’re working near the entrance, make sure to stay to the side and avoid obstructing the bees’ path.
13. Take a Beekeeping Course
Taking a beekeeping course is a must for all new beekeepers.
Not only will it teach you the basics of beekeeping, but it will also help you understand the behavior of bees.
This knowledge will come in handy when you’re trying to avoid being stung.
You’ll learn things like how to read the bees’ body language and signs that they’re becoming agitated.
A beekeeping course will also teach you proper handling techniques and other important safety measures.
14. Position Your Hives in the Sun
Bees love the sun!
Positioning your hives in a sunny spot will keep your bees happy and calm.
The warmth from the sun helps the bees regulate their body temperature and keeps them active.
It also helps to dry out any moisture and prevent diseases from spreading in the hive.
If possible, try to position the hives so that the entrance faces the sunrise, as bees prefer to start their day facing the sun.
15. Stay Calm and Don’t Swat
Bees are sensitive to movement and sound.
If you start swatting at them or making quick movements, they may become alarmed and agitated.
Instead, stay calm and move slowly.
If a bee lands on you, resist the urge to swat it away. Instead, blow on it gently, and it will fly away.
Remember, bees are not naturally aggressive creatures, so if you remain calm, they are less likely to become agitated.
How to Use Smoke When Opening a Hive
One of the most important things you will need to learn as a beekeeper is how to open a hive. And a smoker is one of the tools that will come handy.
Using a smoker helps calm bees down and prevent them from getting agitated and aggressive.
It also distracts them from flying, which becomes an opportunity for the beekeeper to open the hive.
But before doing so, make sure you have prepared everything you need.
Gather your beekeeping equipment and review the procedures on how to open the hive.
Light up the smoker before opening the hive, and make sure that you have enough fuel for it.
You want to have enough smoke to last throughout the process of inspecting the hive.
Move the smoker towards the entrance of the hive and puff a small bit of smoke.
A small amount of smoke is enough to initiate calmness in the bees, as they will begin to think that there is a fire nearby.
Wait for about 30 seconds before applying more smoke. A few puffs should be enough to calm them down.
Repeat the smoke application every few minutes.
Don’t overdo it, as this can trigger the bees to show aggression.
Remember that the objective is not to make the bees lethargic but to make sure they are safe and at ease.
Also, try to get the smoke in the right area of the hive.
By directing the smoke downward to the front entrance of the hive, you can make the bees move down to the lower part of the hive.
This will enable you to work on the top portion of the hive without interference from the bees.
You can also apply smoke to any area where there are many bees present, and around the sides, top, and bottom of the hive.
What to Do After Getting Stung By A Bee?
Bee stings can cause severe reactions and even anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition.
That’s why it’s important to know how to react to a bee sting and what to do to alleviate the pain and prevent complications.
Here are some tips.
1. Walk Away from the Hive and Let Them Calm Down the Rest of the Day
If you get stung by a bee, walk away from the hive and let the bees calm down.
Bees release an alarm pheromone when they feel threatened, which can attract more bees to the area.
If you stay near the hive, you could get stung multiple times.
Avoid swatting at the bees or making sudden movements that can irritate them.
2. Remove the Stinger
When a bee stings you, it leaves its stinger behind, which can continue to release venom into your skin.
Remove the stinger as soon as possible.
You can use a flat object, such as a credit card, to scrape off the stinger from your skin gently.
Avoid squeezing or pulling the stinger, as this can release more venom.
3. Know and Watch for Signs of Anaphylaxis
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be triggered by a bee sting.
It can cause symptoms such as:
- difficulty breathing
- loss of consciousness
If you experience any of these symptoms after a bee sting, seek emergency medical help immediately.
Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening, and prompt treatment is crucial.
However, not all bee sting reactions are anaphylaxis, and mild to moderate reactions can be treated at home.
4. Keep an EpiPen on Hand
If you know you’re allergic to bee stings, keep an epinephrine auto-injector with you at all times.
An EpiPen can quickly reverse the symptoms of anaphylaxis and save your life.
Make sure you and your loved ones know how to use the device, and replace it before the expiration date.
5. Take an Antihistamine
If you experience mild to moderate symptoms after a bee sting, such as pain, swelling, and itching, you can take an over-the-counter antihistamine.
Antihistamines can reduce inflammation and relieve itching.
6. Wash With Soap and Water
The first step to treating a bee sting is to wash the affected area with soap and water.
This will help remove any dirt, bacteria, or venom that may still be present on the skin.
Avoid using harsh chemicals as they can irritate the sting and make the pain worse.
Gently pat the area dry with a clean towel.
7. Use Ice
To reduce swelling and pain, apply an ice cube or a cold compress to the affected area.
This will help numb the sting and reduce inflammation.
Wrap the ice in a cloth before applying it to the skin.
Keep the ice on for about 15 minutes, then take it off and wait for a few minutes before reapplying it.
8. Elevate the Sting
If the sting is on a limb, elevate it to reduce the blood flow to the area.
This will help reduce the swelling and pain by keeping the venom from spreading.
Use pillows or cushions to prop up the affected limb for as long as possible.
9. Use Calamine Lotion or Hydrocortisone Cream
Over-the-counter creams like calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can help relieve itching, inflammation, and pain.
Apply the cream to the affected area as directed on the package.
These creams work best if you apply them as soon as possible after getting stung.
10. Apply Vinegar
Vinegar contains acetic acid, which can help neutralize the bee venom and reduce pain and swelling.
Simply dip a cotton ball or a cloth in vinegar and apply it to the sting for about 15 minutes.
If you don’t have vinegar, you can also use baking soda mixed with water to create a paste and apply it to the sting for relief.
What Good Might Bee Stings Do For Beekeepers?
Surprised? Yes, there can also be potential benefits to getting stung by a bee!
Bee venom contains a peptide called apamin which has been shown to stimulate the immune system.
When a bee stings you, your body responds by increasing the production of white blood cells, which help fight off infection and disease.
Bee venom has also been used for years in skincare products for its anti-inflammatory properties.
When bee venom comes into contact with the skin, it causes blood vessels to dilate, resulting in increased blood flow to the area.
This can help reduce inflammation and redness, as well as promote healing.
Beekeepers who regularly get stung may notice improved skin health as a result.
Bee Stings For Beekeepers: Before You Go…
While getting stung is a natural part of beekeeping, there are ways beekeepers can minimize the risk.
Remember to stay calm and avoid any sudden movements around bees, and most importantly, enjoy the journey of beekeeping!
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