Don’t be confused. Today’s post has nothing to do with science or facts; it has only to do with an inkling I get about wintertime honey bees. After years of first-hand observation, it seems to me that the stings of winter bees are worse than the stings of summer bees.
Yesterday provided a perfect example. It was balmy for a December day, no wind, on-again-off-again rain, and 50 F°. I simply intended to add a candy board to a small single-deep hive that contains a swarm I caught in mid-summer. The colony didn’t have a lot of time to put up honey even if summer conditions had been good, which they weren’t, so a supplement seemed necessary.
A moment to add a candy board
I took advantage of the warmish weather to work in the garden, cutting back vines, moving planter boxes, and storing equipment. Right before I went inside, I announced that I was going to take a moment to add the candy board.
My husband decided to walk up the hill with me, and he stood a little distance away while I removed the lid and quilt box and all hell broke loose. Teeming hordes flew out and a brownish clump of writhing bodies landed on the leaf litter behind the hive. I still can’t figure out how the clump got there. I checked under the quilt for anyone hanging on before I moved it. It was clear, but after I got the candy board in place, I noticed the assemblage.
It was too many bees to ignore, so I got a dustpan and bee brush, brushed the bees into the pan, and dumped them on the landing board. This worked well and about 80% walked inside. The other 20% flew back to the ground, so I repeated this over and over, each time getting more and more to walk inside.
The stinging begins
This exercise was getting them riled, however, and I began getting stung. First on the neck (I was wearing a half-suit with veil), then on my ankles (I was wearing knee-high rubber boots), and then on my waist (under the winter coat which was under the bee jacket). Then I got stung on each hip and one thigh right through my jeans.
I felt horrible about dropping bees on the wet ground, though, so I just kept sweeping them up and offering them an opportunity to go back inside. Poor things most likely hadn’t ever been outside, so they didn’t know where home was.
The stings, though, were nasty. My whole self was throbbing by the time I was done. Back at the house, I peeled off the half-suit and trashed it. Considering the hole in the veil and the sagging elastic, I should have done that years ago. Three bees dropped from my left boot and one from the right, but I kept the boots.
Back at the house, I examined my battle scars, big red welts that emitted heat like a furnace. The side of my face from ear to shoulder was pulsating. At dinner my husband said casually, “You’ve got a stinger in your neck.”
So here’s the point. In the summer, stings just go away. I get stung and by the time I’m back at the house, I can’t even tell where they were. Gone. But in the winter, they swell up, turn red, itch, and last for days. Is it me or is it them?
Each winter I wonder about this, yet I’ve never read a word about it. Perhaps I’m more delicate in the winter, but I don’t think so. Could being cooped up for weeks at a time concentrate the bee’s venom? Could their more restricted diet change the venom’s character? Is it because they are mostly young bees with high levels of toxin? Or am I just imagining the whole thing?
In any case, it’s best for me to stay home and out of view for a while because, right now, I’m not a suitable poster child for the joys of beekeeping. Too scary looking by far.
Honey Bee Suite