It's Never the Bee's Fault

This was my face on Monday morning.

You may have figured out from the title of this post that my swollen eye is the result of a bee sting. The dear girl got me right on the eyelid, just below my brow. Now, I'm not allergic to bee venom but, when you get stung where the skin is so thin and the capillaries are so close to the surface, everything swells up BIG. It was pretty impressive.

People always ask me about bee stings and I always answer honestly, "It's never the bee's fault."

Here's the thing... honeybees have jobs to do. They're busy and they don't have time to worry about the random person walking down the street or even coming near them when they're collecting pollen. A honeybee will NEVER, EVER sting a person for no reason. However, when you have a hive with tens of thousands of bees, and some of those bees are tasked with protecting the hive, there are certain rules that you must follow in order to avoid getting stung. 

Needless to say, I managed to skip a few of those rules on Sunday.

Here are some things to know - basic rules for mitigating bee stings:
  1. Don't wear dark clothes if you're going to interact with a honeybee or hive. Large black, brown, or navy blue masses approaching a bee or a hive looks like a bear or similar threat. This is why bee-keeping suits are generally white.
  2. If you don't wear any other safety equipment when working with a hive, you should always wear your veil. Honeybees instinctively know that the eyes are the most vulnerable part of a mammal and they will dive bomb your head if they think they're under attack. (Can you guess what I WASN'T wearing when I got stung?)
  3. Don't make sudden, fast movements around a bee. Don't swat at them or yank their hive boxes apart. Just move slowly and steadily. I've been able to successfully scoop bees up from my clothes, or a curtain, or the window and cup them in my hands to take them back outside. I almost always bring a few hitchhikers into the house with me after a hive check.
  4. Listen to your hive. If the buzzing starts to ratchet up to a higher pitch, they're getting agitated and are more likely to sting you.
  5. Don't walk barefoot in a heavily bee-populated area. This would seem like common sense, wouldn't it? I've stepped on more than one honey bee in my time.
Now, this last one is up for debate. Popular wisdom says not to wear sweet smelling perfumes, lotions, etc. because you could attract bees. However, actual scientific research has proven this to be untrue. Regardless of which is right, I don't risk it. I try to avoid poking around the hive if I have any artificial scent on my body or clothes. Of course, there's nothing I can do about my hair - my shampoo and conditioner have scent - so maybe that's why my bees like to sit on my head. LOL

So, when I say it's not the bee's fault, what I mean is that I haven't done my part to appropriately integrate into their world. On Sunday, the bee who stung me was a guard bee - tasked with protecting the queen. She shot out of the hive the minute I started to remove the frame that had the queen on it and she "bee-lined" straight for my face. In my hubris, I wasn't wearing my veil because the bees were so docile and sweet that morning. In other words, it wasn't the bee's fault. 

One last tip about honeybee stings. When a honeybee stings, it releases a pheromone that the other bee read as "danger" and it makes them more prone to attack. You'll hear the buzzing get more high-pitched. That's the time to walk away slowly.

Remember this, if you get stung by a honeybee, the bee that stung you dies. It's a "one and done" deal for them so please try to respect the fact that she thought she was doing her job and she sacrificed herself for the hive. :)

My eye is better and I'm none the worse for the sting but, needless to say, I'll be much more careful and remember my own rules in the future. 

- Alex


  1. Jeepers, Alex, I am glad that your eye wasn't more injured, and that you've used this painful bee encounter as a lesson. You are generous to share the tips with the rest of us. Although we might not be taking care of our own bee hives, we all might be having some future bee encounters that would benefit from your advice.

    As I read this post and admired your response to the sting, I thought that your site's name might be due for a change to "not quite so mighty distractible."

    Wishing you and those bees a brilliant future together. xo

    1. Thanks Frances. I thought the post might contain some information about bees that even non-beekeepers would find interesting - even if not particularly useful. :)

      I think, with any hobby, one has to be willing to set aside ego and be willing to learn in order have the best experience. If I got angry or frustrated with the bees, it wouldn't be terribly enjoyable for me.

      When I first started the bee journey, I told a veteran beekeeper that I wasn't really interested in the honey and I really just wanted them as "pets" of a sort. He was slightly off-put by that. LOL But, to me, a "pet" is any non-human creature that you provide a good home for (and don't intend to eat). I adore my bees. I talk to them and I enjoy learning about their world. It's a pretty cool thing. :)

      - Alex