bee stories

A sting in winter

The pain began slowly but rose to a searing crescendo. The heat was furious, like someone holding a flame to my thumb. I knew what it was of course. I’d felt it a hundred times before.

It was cold outside—mid 20s with a light dusting of snow. I had decided to slip some hard candy into each of the hives because it was too cold to move frames around. I was wearing a heavy jacket and a pair of winter gloves with elastic around the wrists.

The job went quickly and only two or three bees escaped to die in the snow. I was finished and walking toward home when the pain hit.

Now, here’s the problem. I come from a family of researchers, doctors, and dentists—all of whom taught me that science can supply the answers to nearly all questions. I firmly believe that if you are armed with a solid background in chemistry, physics, and biology you should be able to explain most phenomena. But much to my dismay, the whole system breaks down when you’re talking bees.

You see, there was no bee on my glove, but I could hear her. When I pulled off the glove, I found the stinger planted firmly in the tip of my thumb and I could still hear her. I knew she couldn’t be inside the glove, but I turned it inside out anyway. And there she was—squished against the fabric, nearly dead but looking mighty proud.

But the glove was snug and the elastic was tight. For the life of me I can’t see how she dug under the elastic, squirmed along my hand, and tunneled the length of my thumb before burying her stinger in the very tip. There was just no room for all that nonsense.

I put the glove back on and stood in the snow conducting scientific inquiry. I scrooched my wrist all around trying to see if I could make a gap in the elastic large enough for a bee. No chance. I inspected it for holes, split seams, or other points of entry. No chance. I even went back to the hive as if the answer might be written there but, of course, no chance.

So I conclude what I always do when the bees pull one over on me—simply that you’ve got to love ‘em.


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  • Rusty,

    Did you take your glove off at anytime when you were working the hives? I know that sounds a bit too simple, but how else could she have gotten into your glove. Less of course she was already in your glove waiting for you!


  • Well. The cold of January is here, has been here for more than 2 weeks. Got up to maybe 20 degrees here in southeastern Idaho, below zero at night. Checked the hive visually on the outside, bees where flying! What? Cleansing flights, poop on the ground, but just too cold for them out of the hive. Dead bees everywhere. I guess that’s normal? There is not much I can do anyway. I would like to send some pictures but don’t really know how on this site.

    Willow Creek Honey

    • Hi Ken,

      Thanks for the pictures. It actually looks normal to me. Without snow it is hard to know what is going on, but with snow you can see everything. The bees go out for cleaning flights and some don’t make it back. Also, lots of bees die everyday during the winter. So many of the bees you are seeing in the snow may have been ones that died inside and were hauled out by the undertaker bees. Not to worry. Remember, dozens of dead per day is not unusual.

  • Rusty
    How eloquently written! It is so true, bees do have their own direction and require dedication to protect their hives. I too, am inclined to deduct she managed to get into your glove before you slipped them onto your arm. A great article.

    kind regards,

  • I completely agree, Rusty. Sometimes you just have to be amazed at how resourceful they can be at finding there way into the most mischievous of places. I can’t tell you how many times they have found their way into my underwear…at which time I develop the most interesting choreography.


  • LOL! Well, I shouldn’t laugh at your expense. Twice this winter, I cracked the top of the hives open to slip food in, and within minutes saw a bee flying directly in front of my nose, inside my veil, gasp! How do they do that?! It was “too cold to fly”! Husband cracks up laughing, seeing me fly past the front door, tearing my veil/hat off and throwing it on the ground as I go. (Over the years I have found that invisible line where they stop chasing and turn back to the hive.)

    I love your articles,

  • That’s reminds me. I found a small tear under the arm of my plot suit, need to stitch that up before attempting another inspection. They seem to be better at squirrelling their way in with colder temperatures, do they follow the warm air I wonder?

    • Lois,

      That’s an interesting question. It is said that bees go for the face of mammals because they are the most vulnerable there. But whether they sense warmth, carbon dioxide, water vapor, or something else, I’m not sure.

  • I’m just now starting to get into bee stewardship. I’m a professional woodworker so will be building my own bee nests. One thing that concerns me is that I’m extremely allergic to their stings. Nothing too serious, I just swell up tremendously. Broke out in hives once when very young. I guess making sure I’m sealed up tight would be the best advice. My one question is, is there any really good plans on building a Langstroth bee box and frames? I’ve already discovered many on the internet but construction seems to vary from site to site. Thanks!!

    • Lonny,
      This reply is a little dated, so hopefully you’ve found a source already. However, if not, try

      I’ve been building my boxes from plywood using rebates cut on the end panels, Titebond III and just a few narrow crown 1″ staples per corner. A little care plotting the layout will yield very little waste out of a sheet of plywood.

      Anyway, the plans available off of Beesource will be a really good starting point. As far as making frames… well, sure. You can. But for all the futzing around on those, I just pay the nice man. 🙂 If you are a little bit of a fit snob, try frames from Mann Lake. Best fit and finish of any I’ve ever tried and very consistent over the years.


      Kent WA

  • Rusty,

    I don’t usually leave comments on websites, but you are an extraordinarily gifted writer. I started out reading your Antimire story, and ended up spending the remainder of the afternoon reading your other stories.

    Have you ever read, “Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls? It’s a story about a boy and his dream of owning a coon dog someday.

    I read it as a kid in the 1970s. It was kind of just a local success, as it was written about the area surrounding Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and being from Tahlequah; population 4,500, it was much publicized, as we had very little local talent. Since then, Walt Disney has made a movie based on the book, and every year there is a Red Fern Festival in Tahlequah that brings in thousands of visitors. I think we are over 20,000 in population now.

    You should read that book, as I believe you have that kind of talent.

    Thanks for the great reads!


    • Ron,

      It seems to me that “Where the Red Fern Grows” was on a summer reading list when I was a kid. I don’t remember if I read it or not, but I will! Thanks for the compliments—you know the way to a writer’s heart!

  • Several years ago in a winter of particularly deep snow I chose to check a remote yard. If it’s really cold they won’t fly far but if it’s at all warm, say 20F they’ll come out quickly. Backpeddling on snowshoes does not work. A logical person might ask “who would open a beehive in the winter, without a veil or appropriate gloves, while on snowshoes.”
    Yes, I did get stung…on snowshoes.

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