Friday, June 03, 2011


Not sure if I mentioned it already, but I don't really like the taste of honey.  I keep bees because they are fascinating creatures with highly complex behavior, both individually and as a colony.  The mixture of practical and theoretical skills required to keep honeybees well appeals to me.

Of course, when you say "bees" people immediately think "stings", probably before they even think of "honey".  I have all the protective gear, but inevitably as a beekeeper you will get stung now and again.  I find that autumn is the worst time of year; understandably perhaps as the bees are protecting their stores built up over summer with little prospect of replacing them before going into winter.

Most stings are harmless enough.  Full coverage clothing means that the bee's stinger does go in far, and if it is far enough for me to notice I can take it out easily.  However, recently I had two different episodes where the reaction was a bit more dramatic.

In one case I was carrying a hive full of bees to move it to another apiary.  The entrance was sealed-up, but a couple of bees were hanging underneath looking for the way in, and took exception to my hand being there nearly squashing them.  I got a full dose of venom in my finger, which was un-gloved as the bees were sealed in, right?  Rather than drop the hive with 50,000 more bees inside I just had to grin and bear it.

The normal response to a bee sting is short intense pain followed by localized swelling, redness and swelling, and a wheal around the sting site lasting about a week.  The reaction is localized to within ~10cm of the sting site.

My reaction was a bit different.  Within ten minutes I had a severe pounding sensation in my head, dizzyness, itchy rash (ironically called "hives") over my whole body, swelling in my armpits and groin, and a feeling of pressure on my chest.  Bugger!  I had to lie down, took a triple dose of anti-histamines, and waited about six uncomfortable hours for it to pass.

The second time I was mowing the lawn quite close to the hives, and I guess one bee took exception, and without warning stung me on my temple.  Bees usually will give you a warning by "head-butting" you a few times, and irately buzzing round you -- this one just went for it!  The result was a similar whole-body reaction.

I'm not big on medications, but the thought has crossed my mind about what would happen if I was careless enough to get multiple stings simultaneously.  So I've now got an epinephrine autoinjector next to the other bits and pieces in my bee kit.

The best description of the recognition and treatment of anaphylaxis I have found is published by the Resuscitation Council (UK).

Provided you watch and listen to what the bees are telling you, then with proper handling and the right protective equipment, getting stung should be a rare occurrence for a beekeeper.  I'm still learning.

1 comment:

Wendy Smoak said...

Ow. I occasionally consider bees, but I think I will stick to chickens and rabbits, and just buy a quart of honey at the farmers market every now and then!