Yes, beekeepers do get stung. It’s an inevitable part of the job. With tens of thousands of bees in a hive it’s difficult to avoid annoying all of them, no matter how careful you are or how gentle the nature of the colony.
Remember that bees only sting you when they think you’re a threat and they need to defend their colony. When a bee stings it will die, so it uses that defense only as a last resort.
However, as you become more experienced, you’re probably less likely to be stung, or to get less stings. Why? Let’s find out.
How often do beekeepers get stung?
When I first started as a beekeeper, I got stung at least two or three times each time I worked in the hive. Sometimes there were a few more stings, depending on what I had to do.
In the beginning, I lacked experience and therefore the confidence to work with the colony. I was probably a bit nervous that I might get stung, and concerned that because I was inexperienced, I might not know what to do with the bees if I encountered an unusual situation.
Mind you, even today, nearly every time I open the hive I find something I’m not expecting. The difference is, now I know what to do about it. Often nothing needs to be done. After all, European honey bees have been thriving for a long time without human intervention.
The stings received are primarily on the fingers or hands because that’s the first point of contact. So I make sure and so should you, to have good quality beekeeping gloves that fit well and don’t contain holes. The gloves should have gauntlets secured with elastic. Underneath I wear thin, close fitting rubber gloves too, for extra insurance.
The one time I was stung on the face was when I walked right by the hive, through the flight path, not wearing a veiled hat. Silly mistake. I was stung on the eyelid and my whole face swelled up so much I couldn’t see. The skin on the face is more sensitive I think, hence the strong reaction.
I get stung less often now than when I started. Based on my experience, on average bees might sting inexperienced beekeepers two or more times per inspection. An experienced beekeeper might get stung once, or not at all per inspection. This does depend on whether the hive has a calm demeanor or not.
There’s one major reason why I get less stings now than I did before.
I have several years of experience now. I have worked with bees throughout each season, learning and doing what needs to be done in summer, winter, fall and spring.
I’ve dealt with swarms, replaced queens, moved hives, added and removed supers as needed, harvested honey, repaired hive boxes, managed small hive beetle, wax moth and chalk brood, mentored new beekeepers and been mentored by others more experienced than me.
In short, all these experiences have taught me about how to manage hives without getting stung.
Why don’t bees sting beekeepers?
Beekeepers don’t often get stung because they have learned to use certain strategies to avoid it happening. These strategies include:
1. They wear protective clothing
Wearing protective clothing when inspecting your hive gives you a feeling of confidence. I wear a suit, gloves with gauntlets and boots, but the type of protective gear you should wear depends on your comfort level and the temperament of your hive.
Some experienced beekeepers with a docile hive wear only a veil and gloves, others wear no gloves at all because they believe gloves limit their dexterity.
Whenever you’re near a hive or inspecting one, and are wearing protective clothing, make sure of the following:
- All the zips are completely closed
- Your veil and gloves have no holes in them
- Your pants are tucked into your socks
This will limit your chance of being stung while inspecting the hive.
2. They open the hive when the weather is favorable
It’s best to open you’re hive on a clear sunny day because many of the bees will be out collecting nectar and pollen, meaning there are fewer bees to deal with when you inspect. The workers will be focused more on foraging and less on you.
Don’t open the hive on a cloudy or rainy day when the bees are unable to leave the hive. You’ll be dealing with a much larger bee population that can’t go out and are more likely to be grumpy because of it.
3. They use a smoker
A bee smoker emits a cool, white smoke. This smoke calms the bees and enables you to work more easily with them. Bees instinctively associate the smoke with fire, so they begin to gorge themselves with stored honey in case they have to flee. Therefore the bees move away and are not focused on what you are doing.
4. They don’t walk in front of the hive or in the flight path
Beekeepers never stand directly in front of the hive where the bees are flying in and out. As you approach your hive, observe which way the bees are flying. Bees are not likely to deviate from this path to go around you.
If you want to observe your bees without being stung, do so from the side of the hive and wear a hat with a veil. The bees path may vary from day to day too, depending on where the source of nectar and pollen is coming from, so make sure you observe any changes in the direction they are flying.
Beekeepers can get stung, but they’re less likely to than people who are inexperienced around bees. This is because they work carefully and use tools that help calm the bees. These tools, along with their previous knowledge of how bees behave, gives beekeepers the confidence to work in the hive without fear of being stung repeatedly.