In light of an interesting article posted by an Australian news website last week, ‘Bees revealed as Australia’s most dangerous venomous creature’, I wanted to discuss the topic of bee stings.
Firstly, the article clearly weight’s all of the blame on poor honey bees when the leading category of venomous animals for hospitalised injuries in Australia includes hornets, wasps and bees. Nonetheless, bee venom and stings are serious as it can cause an anaphylactic reaction for those that are prone. It’s up to the beekeeper to understand their responsibility for managing the risks they may be putting themselves or others in. Flow actually recommends that people who do have an allergic reaction to bee stings not take up beekeeping as it is inevitable they will get stung at some point.
I’ve personally found that over the years of beekeeping, my body reacts progressively less to stings. I now prefer to go glove-free as it allows for much more coordinated and tactile movements in the hive, helping to avoid unwanted sudden and sharp movements that can cause the bees to react. However, I didn’t have the confidence to go glove-free until I became more experienced and understood why bees stung and what important steps there are to consider to help prevent stings in the first place.
My top tips for sting prevention in rough order of importance include the below:
Use a smoker
Smoke has been used for thousands of years in beekeeping and is a super important tool for the beekeeper. Smoke calms the bees and also masks the certain pheromone a bee gives off that communicates to other bees to sting. E.g. this pheromone is excreted when a bee stings and if a smoker is not on hand to mask it, more bees will be called to sting in order to defend the colony. This can cause a stinging frenzy and quickly progress to a super uncomfortable situation. I advocate only smoking when necessary and minimally as possible. A couple of times at the entrance before opening the hive, a few puffs as I open a new box, and thereafter, only if get stung or notice the colony’s getting upset (this is usually gauged by the colony’s pitch).
Aim for positive weather conditions
Avoid opening a hive on cold, windy, rainy, stormy or extra humid days, also at dusk or night time. Every time you open up a hive, you’re letting out all of their hard work of maintaining the brood at the ideal temperature of 35°. Opening up a hive in these conditions I imagine would be super aggravating for a colony so don’t expect a warm welcome. The best conditions for opening up a hive is on a sunny, calm, warm afternoon, I would say higher than 20°C at least.
Always maintain slow, calm and deliberate movements in a hive
Often if I open up a hive when I’m in a rush or not taking mindful and slow movements, the bees will react and sting me straight up, reminding me to be nice, stay calm and that they don’t appreciate my bad energy.
Avoid wearing black and strong scents
A major means of communication between bees is scent, so of course, this is hugely sensitive for them. Avoid perfumes, old dirty clothes or suits that haven’t been washed in a while, wearing clothes with strong animals scents on them etc. Bees are also not fans of dark coloured clothing, particularly black, as it apparently instinctively reminds them of their ancestors combatting black bear attacks.
Strength of colony
The amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) I wear when opening a hive is greatly determined by the hive itself. E.g. if it’s a new colony in just a brood box, I know the colony is quiet and happy and conditions are ripe, I may only wear a veil. If the colony is supered, super full and packed with bees, I’m unaware of their disposition or know they are stingy, it’s a grey day, I will wear all of the protective equipment, and some.
A colony’s temperament can be determined a lot by its genetics. The queen’s genetics dictate a colony’s disposition, hygienic concerns, forage strength etc. Sourcing a colony from a breeder that has bred for docile behaviours can be a really effective way for keeping calm and gentle bees. If you’ve found yourself with a particulalry stingy colony, a positive side effect of this is that they often great foragers
I’m sure there are many other steps one can take to manage their sting load - forum members, please go ahead and recommend your personal tips.
I’d also love to hear about other beekeepers’ preference for protective gear and why. I understand it’s a popular choice to just avoid stings altogether, which is probably a smart idea if you have the option to.