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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.



  • 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, 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 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.

  • 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!

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 🙂

  • 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.

  • Hi Rusty,
    I just stumbled upon your site and saw this post. Once, while setting out hives for pollination, I dropped a hive from the back of the truck. I was not wearing any protective gear, and received over 100 stings between the time I dropped the hive and ran to the cab of the truck. Dropping a hive is something never to be forgotten or repeated. The girls make sure that the lesson is learned the first time : )

    • Rich,

      Oh no! I can feel the burn!

      That reminds me of another story I heard recently. Someone in Oregon had cut out a four-foot length of a tree trunk that contained a beehive in a hollowed out section. The tree was large and the piece heavy, so two guys were trying to load it onto a flatbed truck with a forklift. Things didn’t go well, and pretty soon the log rolled off the forklift and fell to the ground. Everyone—including the two guys and several spectators—were stung instantly and repeatedly. You are so right about dropping hives—it’s something you do only once.

  • I am a first year beekeeper who has been studying the art for a couple of years. My son-in-law has an apiary and taught me to love this work. Along with the studying, I discovered a great desire to take care of these precious little critters.

    I have not been stung yet by the bees but I have been stung by wasps. As the bee populations have dwindled here, the wasp population has exploded. I tear down their nests every year and usually get stung at least once.

    I was stung last fall right in the fat part of the backside of my pinky finger opposite the nail. Ouch! It dawned on me that I had some of my son-in-law’s raw honey. I had read about honey’s amazing healing properties and decided to give it a try. Making sure the stinger was gone, I slapped the honey on my swelling, throbbing pinky.

    This was an experiment for me and I knew I was risking what may turn into a very painful situation. Much to my amazement, within 5 minutes the pain stopped, the swelling ceased and within 1/2 hour there was only a faint redness, no swelling or pain. There was just.a little throbbing feeling that radiated from deep inside every once in a while, but absolutely no pain!

    I applied a second dab of honey after 1 hour and the next day it was like nothing hapoened at all. What really made me a believer happened a couple of weeks later when my son’s wife was stung when she grabbed the top off a trash can I keep for yard waste. The wasps had built a nest right where she grabbed. The wasp stung her right on top of her ring finger. She has tiny fingers and immediately her finger looked like a little plump sausage link. She got her ring off but she was hurting bad and was very afraid. I made sure there was no stinger and applied a thick dab of raw honey on it. Again, and to both of our amazements, the same thing happened. Within moments the swelling began to subside and the pain ceased. I am now convinced that honey heals!

    I don’t know how slathering honey on multiple stings would work out, but after reading all of these very interesting stories, chances are I am going to get the opportunity to find out. We do have doctors in this area prescribing local raw honey to patients with allergies. I have also read about how honey polstices are being used to successfully heal pressure ulcers on bedridden patients who could not be healed using the standard medical procedures.

    Honey bees are absolutely amazing! I am anxious to hear if anyone tries using honey for stings and the results.

    • Bonnie,

      I’m glad it is working for you. I never use honey just because I’m usually working my bees when I get stung, and since I have to keep going, the last thing I want is honey on myself! I’d probably draw every bee and wasp for miles in every direction. In any case, by the time I get home, the stings have all disappeared.

      One thing I want to mention is that wasps, hornets, and other bees do not leave their stingers behind—that is unique to the honey bee. It is an important point (no pun intended) because a single female wasp or bumble bee, for example, can sting you over and over again. The honey bee stinger is barbed like a fish hook, which is why it gets stuck in our flesh.

      • Thanks for all that info, Rusty. I did come in the house before using the honey but you made some really good points that I will remember. Your blog is one excellent reason to learn how other folks have gained experience. Much appreciated!

  • Congratulations for your informative and entertaining website. I have been reading and laughing out loud at all the stories that I have experienced first hand myself. When I’m asked “How many times have you been stung?” my reply is “At one time or over the years?” First of all don’t believe the story that all swarms are gentle. Having read and believing that swarming bees wouldn’t sting I thought I wouldn’t need a suit while helping my friend get a swarm down from a tree limb. He had constructed a catch basket by taping a styrofoam cooler to a long pole. My job was to help lower the pole once he had the bees. Long story short the weight of the bees in the basket made the whole contraption unstable and the entire colony was dumped on the back of my neck. I remember hearing someone yell RUN! The next day one eye and one ear were swollen completely closed and it felt like someone had hit me in the back with a two by four. I am not a person who gives up easily and I still love my bees. Today I have twenty-two colonies in my back yard. Hobby gone wild!

  • I have used the raw honey remedy, but it cannot be done in the yard or the girls come to take their honey back.

    I have found that lavender oil applied soon after the sting really helps (I use doTERRA, but I doubt the brand matters). It is better (at least for me) than ammonia and baking soda paste, and similarly doesn’t draw the girls to you.

  • One time we went 2 a park and there was a wasp nest on one bank of a river running thru the middle of it…
    there were 2 stones on top of it so my sister decided to take them off and use them 4 stepping stones…
    big-time fail??

    Me and my sister stepped across, stepped into the middle of the nest on the bank, and wham…
    u can probably guess what happened next

  • 23 times, not in the same spot though. A hive check in a summer drizzle, I should have stopped when I smelled the attack pheromones from the first hive. Pissy Russians, and to top it off I was helping my neighbor who is the laziest beekeeper EVER. Their motto is “Hive them and forget them, till fall”. I do not even recall why they wanted me to check the hive, I am sure it was for honey store levels and verification the Queens were still in the hives. Or maybe it was time to cage the queens before harvesting honey. Not entirely sure, I do remember the 23 stings. Not one anti-itch remedy I tried worked. I itched for at least two straight weeks. Last season I kept Italian bees. This season it is Carniolans and Caucasians. Maybe next year I will attempt Russians. I want to winter these hives over, in Alaska it is not as easy as it sounds.

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