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Stings and how to manage them

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:

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Genetics
    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 :smile:

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.

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Nice list of tips and info, Bianca. I’m not allergic, but tend to swell a fair amount more than others when stung. This has lessened over the years for me as well! I also have one of these Bite-Away heat gizmos, and it works great!

I almost always wear a full suit, and try to plan inspections on good weather days when I have the most time - not always easy, but I much prefer to take my time and really focus on my bees.

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I’ve never seen this gadget before! I’m glad there are options to sooth the effects for you :slight_smile:

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I read in the early days of the forum that tooth paste works well on bee stings. One day I copped one on the face, so I promptly applied some tooth paste. Later on that day the subject of bee stings came up, then I thought back to that bee sting, thinking the pain didn’t last long at all. Then I discovered that I had used Sensodyne tooth paste. I’ve been using that ever since, and it works really well.

I’ve mentioned this several times before, that bees target the source of the co2 we exhale, An increase in co2 in the air will trigger the bees defense mechanism. It’s a good idea to hold our breath while walking past our hives. If a bee does start buzzing around us, disguise where we exhale, eventually the bee will go away. If a bee does persist, I let her follow me into the house, before I shut the door, locking her in. Before long the bee will go to the window to try to get out, where I can easily squash her. It sounds cruel, however she was going to die if she stung me. Then I can carry on with what I was doing outside.

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I’ve never heard that Jeff, wow (co2). I can’t think what the reason for that would be. Do you know?

I read about that a few years ago. Then when I though about it, it all made sense because they always chase us around the head area, they mostly target our face to sting us. I guess the face is the most sensitive area to get stung (maybe not, come to think of it), which will drive us away. In the natural world, the bees have to inflict the most pain in the most sensitive areas, in order to drive the predator away before too much damage is done to the hive. Therefore it makes sense for bees to target the source of the co2 the predator is exhaling, to get to those sensitive spots around the face.

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Incredible! Thank you, thank you! I love this little nugget of info.

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Your most welcome Bianca. It’s great that you, like Wilma & I recognize that bit of info as a nugget. It truly is & it’s helped us understand what’s going on & how to avoid a lot of stings. I used to think that they target our eyes, I was wrong. It’s just that our eyes are in the general area of where we exhale.

Often people pick bees up from me without any protection. They want to get up close to see the queen & or the brood. It’s when they start talking, they’ll sometimes cop one on the lip or near the mouth. Funnily enough, they’ll often wear black. So they’re unprotected, dressed in black, then they want to get up close to the bees. For a while there, we were telling people to bring a veil & don’t wear black.

PS @Bianca , I’m constantly looking at bees in the natural world. I guess for bees to have survived through millennea, they needed to have adopted some defense mechanisms, otherwise they’d have been wiped out by now. Can you imagine if bears or honey badgers could tolerate an infinite number of stings, if bees would still be here? Probably not.

I read a piece by Voeller & Nieh on honey bee aggression. They say that bees defensive mechanism is triggered by alarm pheromone, vibrations, carbon dioxide, hair & dark colors. Hair: I always caution people with black hair to be careful. Maybe it’s hair in general, I’ll remember that.

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Adding to using smoke, it helps to puff smoke over your hands to help mask any mammal smell. If you wear gloves, smoke them too. They probably have some old stings in them emitting target smells.

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This was discussed at length a few years ago on the forum from memory. I’ll see if I can find the thread later on when I’m back on the computer. That pen/something similar was also shared.

I’ve found just applying an icepack or cold water to the spot for a minute once I’ve finished will reduce pain and stop the swelling. I’m not looking at multiple hives though and its close handy to our house.

My 6’4” son with dark brown hair always attracts a lot of attention from guards!

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Hi Eva, it would be interesting to see what would happen if he covered his hair.

When I did my intro to beekeeping course, the instructor recommended applying honey to bee stings.
I haven’t tried it, but worth a shot, given how handy it often is. Like Eva, I use the Bite Away thingy as I also have a lot of mozzies here. I find it works very well.
Interestingly, mozzies also find us via CO2 exhilation.

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I’ve heard this tip numerous times too. I don’t flare up enough to test its effect.

A few of the older threads where this is discussed to some extent too:

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Three days ago I got stung on the face by one of my bees. I am not allergic. This came as quite a surprise, as I haven’t experienced such a determined and targeted attack! I now know I should have know better ! I can’t blame them as I had done an inspection one or two days beforehand and also been stuffing around, refining the top feeder in preparation for winter and repainting the roof. The shock of the pain of the sting, resulted in me abruptly jolting back, nearly tripping over myself and losing my glasses in the sugar syrup feeder! I can’t help how funny this must have looked! I got some concerned expressions from my dogs who were looking on. I did take more time to remove the sting, have a black long sleeved top on and I used a dustpan brush to clean the top of the hive before taking the lid off. So all all in all, I was really asking for it. At least she died a hero - protecting her hive…poor girl. I still have slight swelling and itchiness so she certainly has made a lasting impression. Silly human! btw I can recommend being weary during windy weather as this seems to also agitate. Thanks all so much for the bee sting remedies, I’ll be sure to be more self/bee aware and better prepared to prevent a sting on the face!!

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I’m sightly allergic and swell up nicely when I get stung. It lasts a couple of days then gets itchy as hell.
A guy from my local bee club told me to get some Prednisolone 5mg and take it after getting stung.
Spoke to my GP and he gave me a script. Changed my life.
Now I get the pain for a minute of 2 after getting the sting and that’s it. No swelling, no itching. It’s amazing.

It’s a steroid and no good to take too often, but I only get stung a hand full of times a year and the Dr said that was absolutely fine.

Cheers
Ron

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Hi @Newbee , did you read my earlier post where I mentioned the things that are supposed to trigger bees defensive mechanism. Alarm pheromones, vibrations, carbon dioxide, hair & dark colors. If you have hair, that’s one, you were exhaling carbon dioxide, that’s two. Also you were wearing a dark shirt. You had 3 things going for you. Not to mention windy weather (which might cause vibrations), plus the fact that you were recently in the hive.

One remedy we found works well on stings is Sensodyne Tooth Paste. I read about tooth paste here on the forum, however we discovered that Sensodyne works much better. Also a quick remedy is fresh honey.

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Hi @JeffH, Yes, I am aware of what can trigger bees. My very friendly bees have simply fooled me into a false sense of security. With my Australian sense of humour, which may be lost in this type of forum, I am emphasising that no matter how comfortable/confident one may get with their own bees, that it should be no surprise when we push any and in my case many of ‘their buttons’ and get stung! She left a 7 day lasting impression !!

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