The Sting

In a little over a year of beekeeping, I’ve been stung four times, three times last year and once two days ago.

The first sting made my hand look like someone had blown air into a rubber glove. It hurt like hell, and throbbed and itched for several days before subsiding. I never saw the bee.

A few weeks later, I decided to have a look at the bee hives at our airport. Accustomed as I was to the laidback temperament of our hives, I was astonished when the airport hive’s guard bees came at me before I got within three feet of their hive. I backed off, but they actually followed me back to our hangar, a distance of over 50 feet (maybe way over – I’m no good at estimating distance). Despite waving my hat and jacket to disrupt their plans, I got stung in the back of my head – a sharp hot zap that eventually became a small knot.

Toward the end of last summer – probably during the nectar dearth, when bees are particularly defensive about their hard earned stores, one of ours got me near the eyebrow. Being stung near the eye (or anywhere on the face) is cause for alarm, but other than that hot, sharp pain, I had no reaction. No swelling, and I don’t even remember itching.

This photo shows the swelling and redness of my latest experience with venom – another time I never saw the insect.

It’s a just like the first one – crazy pain the minute it happened, followed by swelling, throbbing, and itching as the poison works its way down my arm.

Each time I’ve been stung, I immediately scraped the area to get the stinger out, so the difference can’t be from an imbedded stinger.

I’m beginning to think that stings #1 and #4 weren’t bees at all, but wasps.

You see, I’ve learned bee venom is different from wasp venom. And it turns out you can be allergic to either, but rarely both. (Go here for more info: http://archive.boston.com/business/articles/2010/05/17/how_do_bee_and_wasp_stings_differ/)

Also some wasp stings are more painful than a bee’s. We know this because a guy named Justin Schmidt subjected himself to a variety of stings and bites to create the Schmidt Pain Index (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2148089/The-10-painful-stings-planet-self-sacrificing-man-tried-150-different-varieties-science.html). Crazy, right?

Paper wasps (which I’ve seen in our traps) are right up there, above both yellow jackets and honey bees.

So maybe #1 and #4 were paper wasp stings. That would account for the different pain levels, and if I’m more sensitive (not allergic, but sensitive) to wasp venom, this would also account for the ballooning.

If my theory is correct, I got off easy both times because unlike honeybee workers, whose barbed stinger can only sting once (causing them to die), wasps and hornets can sting multiple times.

On a side note: queen honey bees stingers are not barbed, so they also can sting multiple times. And a drone honey bee has no stinger.