Bee Stings and What to Do?
Well, when keeping bees you are going to get stung sometime. It is a rarity, however, not the norm like some people would think. I’ll start with my story of the first sting in my apiary and then let you know about bee stings and what to do when you are stung.
When installing hive #4, my 4 year old was about 10 feet away (as she, the other girls and Crystal always have been) but this time a bee landed on her eyebrow and she didn’t like that. I heard a panic grunt from her as I was dumping the bees into the hive, I turned around real quick and as I said “Don’t touch it!” she was raising her hand and swatted it. It stung her in the eye brow. Knowing what a stinger is like, I quickly set down the 1/2 empty bee package on the corner of the hive but my attention was not in detail and as I let go of the package of bees, they fell into the hive. In a split second hundreds of bees were flying all around me and a few landed on my face. In their anger, one stung me on the left side of my forehead. I scraped it out on my way to Anne (my 4 year old) and then scraped off her sting. The whole thing was about 5 seconds long but seemed like forever.
So, that was the first stinging episode from my own apiary. Last year (before we kept bees) all of the girls were stung at least 2 times though the spring/summer/fall season. They insist on playing in the back yard in their bare feet :-/ This year, I expect they will be stung more than 2 times because all of them really enjoy the bees. My 6 year old really loves putting her hand up to the entrance of the hive to let one of the bees hanging out on the porch to crawl onto her hand, she then loves to sit and watch it clean itself, look around, drink some honey or sugar water off her finger and then fly off. My oldest (9 year old) really likes helping me with inspections. Crystal is still warming up to the idea. I have gotten her to hold a few bees but the longer the bee is on her hand, the more tension builds inside of her and eventually she says “Ok, I’m done.” If I delay, she moves to a panicked “Jeremy, get it off!” Anyway, if you ride a bike you’re going to wreck sometime, if you keep bees, you’re going to get stung some time.
The honey bee is the most docile bee there is, then next in line are the big bumble bee and then the wasp. Hornets, Yellow Jackets and other bees can get pretty aggressive. If you get stung, it is probably because you were either too close to an aggressive bee/beehive such as the Hornet or Yellow Jacket or you were injuring a honey bee, bumble bee or wasp either my swooshing it off your arm or possibly pinching it with some moving body part. Rarely do bees sting in any other case.
Before I go into what to do if you get stung, let me explain a bee’s stinger a little. First, you must know that all bee stings/stingers are not a like. Since I work with honey bees, I know their stinger more than the other bees. Let’s start with almost all other bees. Their stinger is like a needle and they can sting multiple times because of this. A honey bee stinger has hooks on it somewhat like the end of a fish hook. When a honey bee stings you and flies off, the stinger and poison sack is ripped off the rear of the honey bee. It flies off and soon dies due to the injury. Now, a little side note. When a honey bee is defending it’s nest from, say, a hornet, it can sting many times. The shell of most insects is hard and the hooks on the honey bee stinger go through it, inject poison and retract out the same holes as it entered. However with any flesh animal (us included) the flesh collapses over the hooks immediately, thus the stinger will not come back out.
Ok, now that we know it hooks into our skin, is ripped off the bee as it flies away leaving behind the stinger and the poison sack, what do you do now? First, don’t pinch it like tweezers to pull it out! You’ll take the remaining poison and using the already inserted needle, inject the rest into your body. You need to take your finger nail, a credit card or some other flat device and scrape it off. This will push the poison from the stinger back into the poison sack and away from your skin, which is of course what we want. The next thing to understand is that you must do this very quickly! When the poison sack is ripped from the bees body a chemical is released that causes the poison sack and stinger to pulsate for about 15 seconds after you are stung. This means that even after you are stung, the poison sack is pumping more venom into your body even though the bee is long gone. Further, remember the hooks I told you about? The stinger has two hooked sides and the sack pumps on one side then the other. When it pumps on the right side, it actually drives the stinger a little further in on the right, then when it pumps the left side, the left side of the stinger goes a little further in. So, for the next 15 seconds the stinger is going to be injecting more venom and ratcheting itself deeper into your skin.
The secret to making a honey bee sting a non-issue is to get it out quickly and correctly. So, to recap… Most bees can sting more than one time and do not leave a stinger behind. Honey bees can only sting fleshy animals once because their stinger and poison sack rips sticks into the flesh and rips off their body as they fly away. To deal with a sting, you must get the stinger out as quick as possible (seconds count) and scrape it out, don’t pinch it!