How Often Do Beekeepers Get Stung?
The frequency at which beekeepers get stung can vary depending on various factors such as the beekeeper’s experience level, the behavior of the bees, the season, and the type of hive. However, it is common for beekeepers to get stung occasionally during routine hive inspections or honey harvesting.
Some experienced beekeepers may be able to work with bees for years without getting stung, while others may get stung several times a year.
As with any skill, the more time and practice invested in it, the better one becomes. Over time, beekeepers learn to read their bees’ behavior and act accordingly to minimize the risk of stings.
New beekeepers are more likely to make mistakes that could lead to stings, such as using jerky movements when handling the bees or not using smoke properly to calm the bees. They may also inadvertently crush bees while manipulating the frames, which can agitate the colony and lead to defensive behavior.
As they gain experience, beekeepers develop a better understanding of bee communication and can recognize when their bees are feeling stressed or threatened. They also learn how to use tools and techniques like smokers, hive tools, and slow, deliberate movements to reduce the likelihood of getting stung.
Seasoned Beekeepers Aren’t Immune
Some beekeepers hate getting stung and will mitigate the risk by doing everything they can to protect themselves.
On the other hand, some beekeepers are unbothered by the odd sting and won’t go too far out of the way to overly protect themselves. Repeated exposure to bee venom can lead to a decreased sensitivity to stings, reducing the pain and discomfort experienced.
Unfortunately, some individuals may become more sensitized and susceptible to severe allergic reactions from repeated stings.
There’s No Honor in Getting Stung, so Protect Yourself
Beekeeping suits, gloves, and veils shield the skin from direct contact with bees. While these suits aren’t sting-proof, they significantly reduce the chances of getting stung.
Understanding Protective Gear Options
A wide range of protective gear is available for beekeepers, from lightweight jackets and veils to full-body suits. The choice of gear depends on factors like climate, the beekeeper’s comfort level, and the aggressiveness of the bees. In general, lighter gear offers more mobility but less protection, while heavier gear provides better protection at the cost of increased heat and reduced dexterity.
The Decision to Go Bare
Some experienced beekeepers may choose to work without gloves or other protective gear. This approach requires a high level of skill and confidence in handling bees but also increases the risk of stings. Ultimately, the choice of protective gear comes down to personal preference and comfort.
Some Bees Sting More
While honeybees are the most common bees for beekeeping, there are different breeds with varying temperaments. Some breeds, like the Italian honeybee, are known to be more docile and less likely to sting.
In contrast, the Africanized honeybee, or “killer bee,” is more defensive and more prone to stinging. If there’s a chance that a beekeeper has bees with this trait, especially in the southern warmer states, he/she should take every precaution to protect themselves, such as wearing additional protective gear or using more smoke to keep the bees calm.
Bees may become more defensive when they are queenless, during nectar dearths, which is when there is little nectar available, or in response to extreme weather conditions. Understanding the factors that influence bee behavior is essential for beekeepers to manage their colonies effectively and minimize the risk of stings.
A Homeless Swarm Isn’t Likely to Sting but Beware
When a colony becomes overcrowded or stressed, a large group of bees will leave with the old queen to establish a new hive. These swarms are generally docile as they have no hive or brood to protect. However, if the beekeeper needs to capture the swarm, there’s still a possibility of getting stung if they accidentally disturb or harm the bees in the process.
The Art of Gentle Handling
One of the keys to avoiding bee stings is learning how to handle bees with care. Bees are generally docile creatures and will only sting when they feel threatened. Moving slowly and calmly, avoiding sudden movements, and being gentle when working with the hive will help keep bees at ease. Additionally, regular hive inspections can help beekeepers build a rapport with their bees, making them less likely to be perceived as a threat.
Knowing When to Walk Away
Sometimes, despite a beekeeper’s best efforts, bees may become agitated and more likely to sting. Learning to recognize the signs of an agitated colony – headbutting, increased buzzing or more bees flying around the hive entrance – is crucial. In these situations, beekeepers should walk away and allow the colony to calm down.
It’s All Part of the Job
The risk of stings is a natural part of beekeeping, but it can be minimized with proper technique and equipment. As beekeepers gain experience and learn to handle their bees with care, the likelihood of getting stung decreases.
Ultimately, the rewards of beekeeping, like the sweet taste of honey, the satisfaction of supporting these vital pollinators, and the joy of connecting with nature, make the occasional sting worth it.