Five Tips to Avoid Stings When Working in Your Hive

Bees Coming Out of a Hive

Regardless of whether you manage honey bees for a living or as a hobby, there’s one thing of which you can be certain: somewhere, sometime you will be stung. While many professional beekeepers are used to this workplace hazard, nobody likes to be on the receiving end of a sting. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid potential stings and steps to take to protect you or others from serious injuries.

1. Wear to Prepare

Always wear a full bee suit with a veil, as well as proper gloves and boots. It’s a good idea to be checked by a ‘buddy’ to make sure all zippers and hook and loop closures are properly sealed. Bee suits and clothing should be washed frequently to eliminate odors that may make honey bees more aggressive. Avoid exposed jewelry, wearing scented products, and felt or other fuzzy, dark fabrics around bees.

A Beekeeper at a Hive with Bees2. Approach with Caution

Stay calm and make slow deliberate movements when around bees. Approach hives from the side or back, out of the main flight path and away from the entrance the guard bees are protecting. Inspect hives on sunny and warm days, when workers are foraging – a less crowded hive is usually a less cantankerous one. Avoid approaching hives during rainy or muggy weather or during storms, if possible.

3. Smoke 'em if You Got 'em

Have a lit smoker on hand to apply a few puffs of smoke to the bees before going into the hive. This can help calm the bees and reduce the risk of aggravating them. Smokers keep bees docile by masking the alarm pheromone that triggers the colony’s natural defensive response to an intruder.

4. Know Thy Hive

With experience and patience, you’ll learn the typical behavior and temperament of a hive and be able to interact with less concern about aggressive behavior and stinging. The mood of a colony can change from day to day. If one day the bees seem agitated, you can always choose to come back another time.

A Bee on a Purple Flower5. Sting Training

Most people adapt easily to the threat of stings and take necessary precautions to avoid them or minimize their effect. Unlike wasps, a honey bee’s stinger remains embedded in its target when it pulls away, so it can only sting once. Below are some steps to take if you or someone else is stung:

  • Move quickly to the nearest safe space to avoid further stings and assess the situation.
  • Remove the stinger by scraping it with a fingernail or credit card. Do not pull it out with your fingers or forceps, as this will squeeze the venom sac and release more venom.
  • Wash and gently clean the affected area with mild soap and warm water or cleansing wipes.
  • Relieve pain and itchiness with hydrocortisone, calamine, baking soda/water or Benadryl.
  • Monitor for 20-30 minutes to determine if the reaction is local, systemic, or worse.

Recommended First-Aid Kit for Bee Stings

Ice or ice packs, sting scrapper, ethanol wipes, anti-itch/antihistamine cream, Benadryl pills, and an epinephrine pen (or Epi-pen), if prescribed. Maintain a list of emergency numbers and addresses.