Have you ever wondered if those brave beekeepers putting their hands into buzzing hives get stung? I was curious too, so I dug into the prickly topic.
As an adventuresome person who loves nature, bees have always fascinated me. But sticking my hand where hundreds of stinger-equipped insects live? Let’s just say I like having unswollen fingers.
However, beekeepers do it all the time. In this article, we’ll explore whether beekeepers get stung, why it happens, how much it hurts, and ways they avoid feeling that nasty sting. Think of me as your friendly honeybee guide. I promise—no annoying buzzing!
Why Beekeepers Get Stung More Often
Bees sting defensively to protect themselves or their hive. For beekeepers, “occupational hazards” means getting stung comes with the job.
Since they handle bees and hives directly, they’re much more likely to accidentally squeeze or threaten a bee, provoking that vicious venom-filled jab.
Beekeepers have a lot more exposure to bees. Simply being near the buzzing insects spikes their chances of getting stung.
- On average, beekeepers get stung 58 times per year—ouch! That’s over once a week.
- Certain tasks like removing wild hives raise the stakes. Imagine sticking your hands in a huge swarm of “killer” bees. Just looking makes my skin crawl!
- Even cautious pros seem to average 5-10 stings annually. Better than 58, but still no fun.
So why take the job? As beekeepers say, you’ve got to love bees sting and all.
Normally, honeybees are docile and unlikely to sting unless provoked. But they fiercely defend their hive and sisters.
As a beekeeper inspects a hive, she risks:
- Accidentally crushing a bee, which triggers an attack. Those ladies stick together!
- Having a bee get trapped in her clothing and stinging wildly to escape.
- Moving too quickly and alarming guard bees stationed at the hive entrance.
Once the stinger inserts, it releases alarm pheromones. This chemically warns other bees to join the sting-fest.
So while each sting may start accidentally, bees can get pretty aggressive when the attack pheromones start flying!
Do Bee Stings Hurt?
Now for the question you’ve been dying to know—how much does a bee sting really hurt?
The answer depends on a few factors:
That first sting is the worst, according to beekeepers. The element of surprise gets you!
The initial puncture is sharp, and within seconds it starts intensely throbbing and burning as the venom sinks in. For me, stepping on a Lego brick probably hurts worse. But that’s still enough to make you say OUCH—and a few other choice words!
Here’s the upside: beekeepers say subsequent stings hurt much less than that first brutal jab.
Research shows the bee venom itself may create immunity, dulling pain over time. Plus, you know what to expect. After a few stings, veteran beekeepers say the pain diminishes significantly.
Of course, the unlucky spots like your neck or face still hurt like heck. And too many at once can overwhelm anyone.
This is where things get life-threatening. When a person has a hypersensitive immune response to bee venom, even one sting can be deadly.
Reactions like difficulty breathing, dizziness, swelling, and rash require an immediate emergency room visit. Left untreated, they can rapidly lead to anaphylactic shock and death.
Not exactly a comfort when it feels like your hand just got skewered!
Why Do Beekeepers Get Stung More Often?
Now that we know bee stings are no walk in the park, why risk it? What is it about beekeepers that makes them sting magnets?
Let’s break down the biggest factors:
They Handle Bees and Hives Directly
Beekeepers have to dig into those hives regularly to keep the bees healthy and productive. This means hands-on contact with thousands of bees. One wrong move can trigger a sting reflex.
Sometimes they even need to handle the bees directly, like moving them with their bare (gloved!) hands. Accidental squeezes happen. And bees don’t like being squeezed!
Higher Chance of Accidental Crushing
Opening up and manipulating parts of the hive essentially guarantee some bees will get crushed in the process. And nothing makes an innocent bee sting faster than smooshing its buddy.
Even experienced beekeepers average 1-2 accidental crushes per inspection. Over the course of hundreds of inspections, that really stacks up the stings!
Other Antigen Exposure
Besides direct stings, beekeepers get exposed to:
- Bee venom residues in the hive that could trigger an immune reaction.
- Beehive dust containing microparticles of bees, pollen, and hive materials.
- Propolis, the sticky glue-like resin bees make that may cause sensitivity.
Exposure to these other antigens can increase overall reactivity and the likelihood of stings causing severe responses.
How Beekeepers Avoid Getting Stung
Alright, let’s get to the good stuff: how beekeepers manage to fearlessly stick their hands into buzzing hives without looking like pincushions!
Protective Clothing and Gear
The number one line of defense is wearing specialized protective gear:
These thick, baggy suits cover the body from ankles to neck. Secured arm and leg cuffs prevent bees from crawling up inside.
Sturdy veils on the hat keep bees from targeting the face and neck area. Experts recommend white or light colors to avoid provoking bees.
Gloves provide hand protection while inspecting hives. Leather, canvas, and rubber bee gloves guard against stings while still allowing dexterity.
Thin disposable nitrile gloves worn underneath add extra insurance. Some beekeepers skip gloves for better manipulation, and just endure a few stings.
Some other useful gear includes knee pads, high boots with taped cuffs to seal small openings, and duck tape to fully seal any gaps. Multiple stinging defenses are better!
Beekeepers use smoke to pacify bees while they work. The smoke triggers a feeding instinct, and the bees focus on eating honey rather than stinging.
Smoke also masks the attack pheromones emitted when a bee stings. This covers up the chemical call for back-up!
Puffing a bit of smoke into the hive entrance before opening signals to the bees that the keeper is coming. Then they gently blow more smoke over each frame lifted out so bees stay calm and docile.
Ideal Weather Conditions
Opening hives on cold, rainy, or windy days irritates bees and makes them very likely to sting. Instead, beekeepers inspect hives and collect honey on sunny, warm, and still days when bees are happiest.
They also avoid working bees early in the morning or after dark when they’re crankier. Happy bees equal fewer stings!
Smart Hive Locations
Positioning hives carefully reduces accidental encounters that startle bees:
- Place them away from high traffic areas so people don’t walk right by and disturb them.
- Face hive entrances away from pathways, porches, etc.
- Leave plenty of open space in front for bee flight paths.
Partially shaded spots along a field or tree line works perfectly.
As a beekeeper, staying cool, collected, and extremely gentle is vital. Bees sense fear and get defensive!
To avoid swatting at landing bees, beekeepers stand perfectly still. Slow, smooth movements keep bees at ease. Abrupt reactions provoke stings.
If a bee gets trapped in their clothing, they gently scoop it into their hand and release it. No quick whacking to scare it off.
It’s all about stealthily blending in with the hive’s environment. Almost like a bee in a suit!
What To Do After Getting Stung
Sometimes even pros make a wrong move and feel that nasty sting. When it happens, here’s a quick refresher on first aid:
- Remove the stinger ASAP. Use a straight edge like a credit card to scrape it off rather than fingers. This avoids squeezing more venom from the stinger.
- Clean the sting. Apply antibacterial cream and cover with a bandage if needed to prevent infection.
- Take an antihistamine containing diphenhydramine. This helps relieve pain and itching.
- Apply an ice pack to reduce swelling and irritation. Don’t ice it too long, as completely numbing the area can cause tissue damage.
- Watch closely for allergic reaction symptoms. Seek emergency care if you experience rapid swelling, breathing difficulty, dizziness, rash, or anaphylaxis. Better safe than sorry with bee stings!
Do Beekeepers Ever Go Sting-Free?
After learning how unavoidable stings seem for beekeepers, you may wonder—can they actually handle hives without getting stung sometimes?
The short answer is yes, it is possible, but takes years of practice plus really gentle bees.
Here’s how some beekeepers work sting-free:
- Extensive experience. After years with their own hives, they know exactly how to handle comb and frames without crushing a single bee. They’re experts at “reading” the bees too.
- Familiarity. Being with the same hive daily allows them to understand its moods and quirks, rather than reacting defensively.
- Great genetics. Some bee strains like Italians and Carniolans are bred to have extremely docile temperaments, making them less prone to sting.
However, don’t be fooled by YouTube videos of swarms placidly covering beekeepers. Attempting this without proper precautions can still lead to dozens of stings—or worse. Enjoy the experts safely handling hives gloveless, but until you’re equally seasoned, stick with full protective gear!
While beekeepers do get stung more than average, the pain and swelling tends to decrease over time as they build up immunity. With proper clothing, gear, handling techniques, and plenty of smoke, stings become much rarer events.
For beekeepers, it’s a small price to pay for the magic of tending their hive and the liquid gold reward of fresh honey! Hopefully now buzzing bees seem just a little less intimidating.
So next time you see someone inspecting a hive in full garb without freaking out about stings, you’ll understand why. Their beekeeping suit isn’t to protect from the bees—it’s to protect the bees from their clumsy human handlers!