How to get stung 22 times in one place

Whenever I mention that I got stung 22 times in one place, someone asks, “How did you do it?” as if it were a special skill of some sort. Truth to tell, it was quite easy.

It was a warm April morning that smelled of earthworms and spring onions. Stellar jays screamed at each other, flashing blue and hungry in the branches above. I was preparing a hive for section supers and I needed to consolidate two brood boxes into one. I chose a hive that was boiling with bees, removed the cover, and cracked loose the top box on all four sides. But when I lifted one end, I realized it was crazy heavy.

My can-do attitude gets me in trouble sometimes. Although I knew the box was way too heavy for me, I decided to move it anyway. I got a firm grip on the handholds, breathed in a fresh supply of oxygen, and move it I did. In fact, I had it nearly six inches from the hive before I realized I couldn’t sustain it. No way. No how. I couldn’t go forward and I couldn’t go back.

So, I dropped it. Actually, “drop” is too strong a word. I never let go while it made a rapid and uncontrolled descent to the ground, landing with a thud two inches from my left ankle. It’s hard to explain what happened next.

I don’t recall individual stings. Even before I managed to stand upright, my ankle was afire. It burned and throbbed as if immersed in a pail of boiling water. In the first few seconds, I couldn’t move. The pain felt like the time I fractured my leg into several irregular units. I stood there, immobile, while the bees continued to nail it.

Somehow, I finally found the wherewithal to move. I hobbled down the path toward home, grasping my ankle as I went. The heat bore through my sock and the leg of my jeans. I massaged the burning skin between steps, cussing the whole time. After I ran out of four-letter words, I began using the same one over and over.

Inside the house, I clasped my knee to my chest and rolled into a ball on the floor. When I finally took a peek, I couldn’t see individual welts because they all melded together into one pulsating coal bed. The choking scent of alarm pheromone rose from my clothes as a few errant bees continued to express their dislike for the whole dropping-the-nursery thing. It was only then that I discovered stings on my hands, wrist, knee. In fact, my clothes buzzed with displeasure.

Later, when the pain subsided, I sat on the floor and pulled stingers from my skin. I counted 22 in my ankle, and that’s the number I always use. But I had massaged and rubbed and scraped my leg so many times that I actually have no idea; it could have been 50 or 100 for all I know. And I never counted the miscellaneous ones on other body parts because, like crumbs from a sandwich, they didn’t seem to matter.

But I couldn’t sit around feeling sorry for myself because up on the hill the brood box was lying unattended in the grass, the hive was open, and hoards of unhappy bees were dipping and soaring in the April sunshine. I routed around in my closet and found woolly legwarmers left over from my skating days. I pulled these over my jeans and returned to care for my bees.

Now, many years later, I still wear those silly legwarmers when the conditions seem ripe. It’s all part of the “I love bees, but beekeeping not so much” attitude that I can never manage to shake.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

harold meinster
Reply

I had wanted a bee to sting me on my left hand once on purpose this summer. The venom is good for arthritis and my left hand was bothering me. I let a bee land on my hand and I hit her on the head, hoping to make it mad and sting. I must admit my bees were very docile. All the bee did was look up at me and with a look of what did you do that for? I put her back on the landing platform.

As for the itching from a bee sting, which is under the skin, and scratching does very little, I found hot water to be the best treatment.

Although I have an epipen handy which I never need, I place the part that was stung under the faucet. I start with warm water and slowly increase the temperature to as hot as I can stand, but not scalding.

This method has three benefits. One the warming of the area increases blood flow spreading the venom away from the area. Two, the increase in temperature also denatures the protein that is in the venom.
Three, the pores in the skin open up flushing out any contamination. The itch goes away and gives relief for most of the day. I repeat as needed.

Hope this helps.

Rusty
Reply

Harold,

I’ll try that. Never used warm water.

Brad Raspet
Reply

Rusty, You’ve reminded me of my “oops moment” of last April. I was expanding from 4 to 18 hives and I was installing 14 new packages of bees into all the woodenware I had assembled during the winter and had placed on host properties. By the time I arrived at my last yard to install the last 2 packages (3 hours after starting) it seems the girls were a little upset about riding around in the back of my truck for so long. I gave them a couple of squirts of sugar water and started the installation process.

Oops, I hadn’t noticed my tie down veil had slipped up a bit on the back of my neck but the ladies found the exposed skin very quickly and gave me a full dose of their displeasure all over my neck and one last parting shot on my upper lip as I moved away and whipped off the veil to seek shelter in the distance. I now have a veil zipped to a jacket and hope not to repeat the experience. I must admit that as I begin my 4th year of beekeeping that this has not been the only “oops moment” I have experienced. :^)

Rusty
Reply

Brad,

I think we must all have those moments, but on the neck? Ouch!

HB (@Hello_Kitty_)
Reply

One of my old beekeeping books says that bees hate the smell of woolen clothing. Old wives tale?

Rusty
Reply

Hmm. Don’t know but it doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Tim
Reply

Rusty for me it was only 6 stings in one location, but the location was the problem. It was a spring morning and I was refilling front feeders for two new hives before breakfast and had on my jacket and veil and PJ pants. It became surprisingly apparent that the fly of my PJ pants was open when the first bee stung; when I pulled the jacket down to cover my fly I trapped 5 other bees that found pleasure in bringing excitement to my morning. When I returned to the house and told my wife what had happened, she looked at me with a grin and said, “Well, is it swelling.”
It is funny now.

Rusty
Reply

Tim,

That is terrible . . . and you sound so calm!

Graham Robinson
Reply

Hi Rusty, I hope this is not too long winded . . .

My own bee sting story is one which I tell every year to new beekeepers in our local association. It conveys the information to always use TWO straps when moving a hive!
My story to prove my point about using two straps, goes something like this . . .

My original ‘bee buddy’ Dennis and I started beekeeping together with a small apiary at the bottom of his garden next door to me. Over a couple of years we built up from one colony to six, which was about all the available space we had. Our little apiary was nicely paved and properly fenced off to prevent his grandchildren having access. It was a great site with open access to miles of fields at the rear and honey yields were good.

I have always made it a policy to take an antihistamine tablet prior to attending to the bees, Dennis – a ‘no tablet’ type guy didn’t follow my practice, this was probably something he should have done.

Back to the story, usually after our weekly hive inspection we adjourned to his patio at the top of the garden near to the house, for a coffee or even a glass of wine on a warm summer day. We used to sit here discussing the bees and completing the hive record sheets which we always kept up to date.

One day in spring, Dennis while putting down his coffee cup, was commenting that we had just been amongst thousands of bees without a single sting. Hardly had the words left his mouth when he slapped his arm and let out a couple of four letter words – he had been stung on the back of his upper arm! If I said I didn’t laugh I would be lying, in fact we both laughed at the irony of the situation. However we weren’t so happy when we saw how his arm was starting to swell up. In fact, within minutes the back of his arm had grown what looked like a female breast without a nipple. Sadly, although we didn’t know it at the time, it was the start of his growing allergy to bee stings which a few months later in mid-summer, again whilst on the patio, after being stung on his lip, culminated in a visit to the hospital with Dennis resembling The Elephant Man. After seven hours with loads of injections of various drugs from a drip he was eventually fit enough to be discharged. It actually took four more days for the swellings to disappear and Dennis to become recognisable again.

He became somewhat understandably paranoid about being stung again and even mowed his lawn in a full bee suit! Now it was time to make an important decision, he would have to give up beekeeping and the bees would have to be moved away!

I was fortunate to be able to quickly find a new site for the bees and arrangements were made to shift the hives. When the day of the agreed move came, I was assisted by a beekeeping friend and we prepared the hives for transfer early in the day before the foragers left the hive and we blocked the entrance on each hive. As it was the middle of the honey flow each hive had a couple of supers on it and we decided to move each hive as a whole unit. We strapped each hive round from roof to under the stand and prepared them for moving one at a time using a sack barrow to get them to the road at the front of the house to where our van was parked.

To give you the full picture I was wearing my half bee suit over jeans and rigger boots, my assistant was wearing a full bee suit. We put the barrow under the first hive and then as we tipped the hive back onto the barrow the single strap around the hive broke and a double brood box, two supers and roof crashed to the floor. Some hundred thousand bees launched into the air looking for who had woken them up by demolishing their comfy home. They soon found the culprits and we were in the centre of a storm of angry bees!

It was at this moment that my assistant’s nerve broke and he ran away up the garden followed by a cloud of bees. I was told later that he didn’t stop running until he was about 150 yards down the road.

I was left trying to re-assemble the hive on my own and obviously I was the target for the balance of the angry bees that hadn’t chased my friend. My legs were stung through my jeans and when I looked down my blue jeans had moving brown patches of bees who were all rear end down with their stingers in action. Trying to be tough and ignoring the stings to my legs, I started to re-stack the boxes but as I lifted the second brood box onto the lower one, it caught under the bottom of my bee suit top and let in another cloud of bees actively seeking a target to sting.

Suddenly my veil was filled with bees who were in no mood for forgiveness. I now lost my toughness and I too fled the scene, ripping my suit top off over my head as I ran up the garden. I spotted a full water bucket, and as my head was now crawling with bees, I dunked my head under the water thinking they would choose not to drown, but they were determined to stay with me and continued stinging while my head was under water. Now it was my turn to decide whether to drown or not. I chose to live and almost slapped myself silly trying to kill the bees on my head.

I eventually managed to return to my own home next door to seek my wife’s aid. My errant colleague showed up from his sprint down the road and said he hadn’t stayed to help as he had a hole in his bee suit veil. Yeah right!

My wife pulled thirty eight stings out of my head, neck, face and ears. Even though I had taken an anti-histamine tablet I was definitely soon feeling a bit wobbly so, I was off to the Emergency Department at the hospital where they removed a few more stings that had been missed. I was then pumped full of anti-histamines and adrenaline injections and made to wait like a naughty boy who has been grounded until they were satisfied I wasn’t going to collapse and was safe to be let out of their care. The sting count including my legs was sixty six – a personal record that I have no thought of ever trying to beat.

Eventually on my return home, I donned a full bee suit and went to my apiary and rebuilt the damaged hive so at least the bees would have a comfortable night – I certainly did not.

The next day all the hives were moved to their new quarters but this time with two new straps on each hive! I also now have become somewhat of a wimp and wear a full bee suit when attending to my bees during transportation. Lessons have been learned!

Rusty
Reply

Graham,

That is an amazing story . . . and 60 stings? Wow. I can’t image.

Thanks for taking the time to record all that. It is quite a read.

Art
Reply

Once I installed an oil tray under a screened bottom, just to discover that the recently purchased screened bottom board had a wrong size mesh installed and bees could get right though it. So I ended up with a tray full of bees covered in oil. With a bleeding heart I had to dump all that undulating mess into a big ball in the grass. Naturally, later on, walking bare feet on my back yard I stepped right into it. There are no words to describe the electrifying experience of being stung by multiple bees with a single resolve at the same instant! You just have to experience it. Very invigorating! It was very entertaining to scare my wife with my twice-the-normal-size foot later on.

As far as treatment of bee stings go, I find that using ammonia (like in my Big Fat Greek Wedding – “Put some Windex on it!”) helps the symptoms to abate much faster. The way I understand it most of the organic poisons are acid based and ammonia is basic, thus neutralizing acid. The only caveat is that you have to apply it right away, which is not always practical.

Rusty
Reply

Art,

Aside from the pain (ouch) that is really terrible about the screened bottom board; who would ever think the screen would be the wrong size! And ammonia? Hmm . . . another thing to try. Thanks.

Brad Raspet
Reply

Same principle… I take baking soda type toothpaste (Pepsodent) into my yards with me for a quick smear after removing stinger. Seems to help, takes the place of making a baking soda paste, which isn’t practical unless it’s your own back yard hives.

Rusty
Reply

Brad,

I’m finding all these home remedies fascinating. Honestly, I never do anything . . . I never even thought about doing anything. Out in the field I can never even find my hive tool; I don’t know how I’d possibly find my toothpaste!

carolyn
Reply

I have had the misfortune of also dropping a hive body, in the dark, on my feet. No place to go but back and pick it all up in the dark and set it back together. Not a great experience, but a valuable one all the same. But on to the remedies I have run across that work well for me are dandelion sap and plantain (the kind from the lawn, not the banana type).

For the dandelion sap, pick the flower—with a long stem—and let the sap well up. Dab the sap on the sting and immediate relief is noticed. The plantain is also a great remedy. Pick the leaves and either crush them by balling them and smooshing them with your fingers or zap them in the microwave for a moment and put the poultice on the sting. It works in a very similar manner as the dandelion cure.

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Carolyn. Come spring, I will try these cures.

Karen
Reply

So many remedies! I keep a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a baggie of cotton balls in my bee box in the car. It works for me. I’ve also heard that you can use vinegar. But I haven’t tried it yet.

Samantha
Reply

I am female and started out with a veil, gloves, a heavy shirt, duct-taped pant legs, etc. I found that bees will find an entry and crawl up to the highest part of the inner thigh where they will nail me. I have used essential oils in that area as a deterrent with quite a bit of success, but I QUICKLY opted for a full bee suit.

Jared
Reply

I had a similar event last week. I am a new beekeeper who purchased an existing two-super hive. I had my brand new full beekeeping suit on, but with standard shoes and socks.

I was attempting to move my hive to a better location, but I needed to split the hive first so it was lighter. Except my hive tool hadn’t arrived yet so I was messing around with a flat-head screwdriver to prize the hive apart. After a bit too much fiddling and messing around with sticky propolis, I snapped the top super off and laid it on the ground on top of the hive cover. At that moment I was stung about 20 times on one ankle, and 6 times on the other ankle right through my socks. Oooooooooaccchhhhhh.

But I managed to remain calm, reassemble the hive quickly as it was, then move inside. I was in a state of shock, but I felt OK. I took my socks off to survey the damage. Taking the socks off automatically removed the stingers so that was a good thing. I seemed to feel OK given how many stings I had.

I went to the nearby hardware store and picked up proper high ankles boots and then had a second successful attempt at moving the hive. The bees couldn’t touch me hahaha! Move successful.

The next day my foot swelled up something chronic and it was very itchy. It’s coming good though. I’m determined to make this beekeeping thing work :)

Robin
Reply

Just found your site and saw this piece on your sidebar. I did my first cutout last year and…it did not go smoothly. My husband took dozens of hits about the head and neck and I took many more than that all over through my suit. Ouch. We learned a lot and I remembered every single ping as I read your piece. I think I know which cuss word you settled on. Probably the same one I used. Thanks for the laughs.

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