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VIDEO: Winning a losing game on bee stings

I’m beginning to not like this game of “who’s getting stung the most.” Maybe that’s because I’m winning a game I should surely want to lose.

My wife Amanda and I have been playing this cheerful little game counting up the number of times we get stung when handling our respective beehives. Right now, the score is 12 to 1.

As in, I’ve scraped away 12 stingers lodged in my skin. Well, really only 11 stingers, because one I think I actually pushed further into my hand, dumping a stunning amount of poison into it and causing my hand to swell up like a balloon.

Jeff's bee-stung hand. Ouch!

That was Sting. No. 10, and after that I did a little video to show what the hand looked like. See below.  I started to wear gloves after that, but in doing so found I was causing more damage in the hive because of the fat fingers.

Amanda, the “zen” part of this foray into apicultural online journalism, has had exactly one sting.

On the weekend I took the gloves off again and moved much more slowly when checking the hive. Dang, stung again twice! Once on the forefinger when I accidentally crushed a bee while picking up a frame, and the second time when one of the little perishers got caught on the back of my hand as I clumsily flipped a frame over, hitting my chest.

For the uninitiated, bee stings are more a nuisance if you’re not allergic to them. If you happen to be one of the estimated 2 million North Americans who gets a stronger reaction, getting stung can actually be dangerous, even fatal if untreated. Fortunately for me, I’m simply allergic to the idea of being stung, and the worst that I usually get is a bit of swelling on the affected part.

But I’ll tell you that the 10th sting was a real problem. Let me explain the biology and mechanics of a bee sting.

A honey bee’s stinger is its only real protection. It’s sort of like the nuclear deterrent; once used, you can’t get it back. The stinger is so strong it can puncture the plates of other armoured insects. In stinging, the bee is also signing its death warrant and it can also release attach pheromones that cause other bees to rally to its defense. The barbed stinger is attached to a poison sack that is literally ripped out when bee is pulled away after the sting. (Photo at right credit to animalseatinganimals.com)

That sack, if not removed or scraped away immediately, continues to pump poison down the barb. The key to dealing with a sting is to scrape the stinger away in the opposite direction to which it was inserted. Even then you will likely have swelling and itchiness.

But many people make the mistake of trying to pinch the stinger out, and in the process they actually pump the entire sack of poison into the wound.

Stinger and glands in its new owner

I think that’s what I inadvertently did with Sting No. 10. My hand became swollen, and it honestly looked like one of those rubber glove balloons I used to make for my kids. I had to take Benadryl – one of the effective non-prescription solutions for a bee sting – for several days until the hand came back down to size. We now keep a large bottle of the medicine in our bathroom.

Someone suggested spraying vinegar on my hands before working with the bees; they don’t like the smell. But of course the simplest answer is to simply not get stung. Most stings take place because of haste; I have to learn to slow down – really slow down – and work less frantically around the hive.

Let’s see the score after the summer.

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