Feb 23, 2012

Honey Bee Stings? Maybe Not What You Think.

Johnny Mason, February 23, 2012:


It’s interesting to me how many people express a fear of honey bees, or say that they just creep them out. I can sort of understand the “creeped out” part mainly from the general sense of discomfort that many humans seem to have in relation to big eyed, multi-legged anything. I can also understand the aversion we have to pain. So, not wanting to get stung also makes sense. But, should you really be overly worried about being stung by a honey bee?

A honey bee will only sting when in defense of themselves or their colony. When out foraging, they really could care less about you. It’s the flowers they’re after. If they’re your flowers the bees are prancing upon, they are actually doing your garden a favor through their very important job of cross-pollination. They won’t even charge you!

Actually, of the people that normally raise their history of getting stung as a concern, few have actually been stung by a honey bee. When they cringe at the memories of being stung, it was actually a yellow jacket, wasp or maybe a bumblebee (a cousin of, not the same as a honey bee) that was the culprit. The venom produced between wasps and bees is different in its makeup. It is not rare for someone to be allergic to a wasp sting, but not a honey bee sting. Of course, the opposite could also be true. Also, people who have verifiably been stung by a honey bee report the pain to only last for a few minutes, versus a wasp sting that can last for hours or even days! Redness, swelling and itching is a normal response to a honey bee sting. Problems breathing, dizziness, passing out...now, that's an allergic reaction. If any of this happens, seek medical attention ASAP.

Heck, getting stung can actually be good for you! No, I’m not advocating in any way that you should rush up to a hive screaming and waving your arms like a maniac. Frankly, if you do this, you probably have bigger issues. But, did you know that many people with arthritis, MS, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and more actually get stung on purpose? Apitherapy (the medicinal use of honey bee venom as well as honey bee products) has been widely reported to provide relief for various medical issues with a great rate of success.

So, now that I’ve done my part to plea for a little more understanding for my pals the honey bees, what do you do if you actually do get stung by one? First, don’t freak out. If any of her comrades are also buzzing around you, they may go into defense mode and then you may end up with a twofer. When the bee stings, it’s for a good reason and it’s a kamikaze mission of sorts. The stinger along with the pump containing the venom is actually ripped from its body and the bee will die shortly thereafter. Since the venom sac is still physically attached to the stinger, you do not want to grab it between your fingers to try and pull it out. It’ll only squeeze more venom in. You want to take the edge of a knife, credit card, or something similar and scrape it along your skin to dislodge the offending boo-boo maker out. Beyond this, I’m not going to give you any medical advice, although quick research will lead you to things like Benadryl, cold compresses, rubbing alcohol, Ibuprofin, etc. Of course, if you do have a severe allergic reaction, it is best to call 911.

Well, I certainly hope this has helped more than hurt your perception of honey bees. Essentially, follow the golden rule. If you’re nice to them, they’ll most likely be nice to you.