As a disclaimer, no one at Emmett Royal Honey is a doctor, so this post is no way to replace your doctor’s advance or be taken as medical advice.
We do get this question a lot, do beekeepers get stung? Yes, we do, but not as much as you would think. Normally, if we get stung, we are not thinking or rushing through something and the honey bee let us know. Honey bees are not aggressive; even the so-called ‘killer bee’, which is a subspecies of the honey bee – is not aggressive – they are just highly ‘defensive’.
Honey bees are defensive – but not aggressive. That means you would have to do something around their hive to get stung – and to be honest, you would have to do A LOT around their hive, like hit it with a hammer to get stung. When a honey bee stings, they die(this includes the ‘killer bee’ – they are still a honey bee – they just are much more defensive). So, it is only out of absolute necessity to protect the hive (or themselves) that they would sting. So if you would step on a honey bee in the grass with your bare foot – yes – you would most likely get stung. But if you’re just walking next to the hive (quite close), they will not even know you are there in most cases. They will first ‘buzz’ you, fly very close to your face, or in some instances head butt you – to warn you to “hey, your too close, get out of here.” If you would ignore those signs – the odds of being stung would increase. If you feel they are in your bubble – then it’s a good sign they are telling you to back off. Also, there is a fear that once you are stung – that you will be stung over and over again. That is not the case. Honey bees indeed release a pheromone that ‘alerts’ the bees and makes you more prone to getting stung – but if you would stay there and continue to bug them – even after getting stung – you would get stung on average once every few minutes.
Also, control the impulse to swat them away if they are in your bubble- it does not make them calmer – it makes the situation worse. If they do get too close – take the hint and calmly walk away from the area.
So I mentioned, do beekeepers get stung? Yes! and does it hurt…yes.
How many times a year do we get stung? Well, it depends! A hobbyist vs a commercial beekeeper differs in the amount of time and experience they have – but on average, I would have to say about 3 – 10 times a year. So that should tell you right there – that the odds of getting stung are not very high. The most I have been stung is when I am trying to remove a large established hive – very rarely when I am working with my bees.
Now, what do you do when you get stung? Well, it’s essential to leave the area you are in – make sure there are no other honey bees around you. After you get stung, the honey bee will leave its stinger and part of its insides (including the venom sack) – so how quickly you remove the stinger will depend on how much venom enters your body. The best method – is to scrape the stinger off with a credit card or your nail. If you pinch the stinger to remove it – you could pump more venom into your body. But again, just be quick and remove it as soon as possible. Once you get stung – it will hurt for a few minutes, and after a few minutes, you will get some localized redness or swelling. In a ‘normal’ reaction, swelling can last up to a week. So just because you have localized swelling – does not mean you are allergic. If the swelling or redness spreads to other parts of your body – it is a sign of an allergic reaction. Again, as was mentioned, see a doctor if symptoms get worst after a bee sting. But in most people, a normal reaction will occur. An essential statistic with bee stings is that it takes ten stings/per pound of body weight to be lethal(in most people). So, in conclusion, honey bees do sting, but they are naturally very docile and calm. Therefore, they will only sting as a last resort.
I hope this article addressed some questions or concerns about honey bee stings.
You can check out this video from the University of Guelph Honey Bee Research Centre https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm-Q4v-SToY where you can see how bee stings and what happens afterward.