bee stories

Facing front, stung from behind

Honey bees can seem so peaceful until you get stung from the rear. Pixabay photo.

I just got stung three times on the butt. How is that possible? How can you face your bees and get attacked from the rear?

Well, it has to do with my favorite pants. My brown and grungy cargo pants are perfect for working around the yard. I fill the pockets with screwdrivers, trowels, hive tools, and duct tape and I’m good to go for hours. Trouble is, they are wearing out. Several thin spots (aka holes) have developed at the knees and where I sit. I tend to forget about the ones in back simply because I can’t see them.

A nectar dearth is coming

Since October I’ve been working my bees without any protective clothing at all. Winter and spring bees, swarming bees, and bees high on early nectar are docile and forgiving—gentle as snuggly kittens.

But the times they are achanging. It’s hot and dry. The blackberry flowers are withering. The clover is crispy. The dandelions are turning gray. All of which means the honey bees are testy and restless.

All I wanted to do today was give my smallest colony—the third and final swarm to arrive from elsewhere—an upper entrance. It was a 30-second job, but at least I had the good sense to wear the top half of my bee suit.

Surprises inside and from behind

What I thought was a struggling little cluster turned out to be a boiling cauldron of pent-up hormones. Once I removed the gabled roof, six-legged fighter pilots went airborne. The ground force oozed thickly over the side of the brood box. I watched transfixed, amazed at how fast this tiny swarm had multiplied.

It was right then that someone discovered the left side thin spot. Yowee! I grabbed my a . . . um . . . my seat with my left hand and squeezed the fabric, partly to relieve the pain and partly to cover the thin patch. I was saying unkind things to no one in particular when someone else found the right side. Jeese um! I grabbed the right side with my other hand.

I stood there, arms braced in a not-so-feminine posture and wondered, “How does this work? How can I finish the job without letting go?” Alarm pheromone wafted from each sting and I knew there would be hell to pay if I wasn’t careful. I backed up a few feet. And then some more.

General pandemonium

By now the air was thick with bees and my dog was launching himself, biting and snapping. The neighbor’s horse clicked stones as it hurried away. The cats left. This was not good. I had to replace the lid.

When the pain began to recede, I let go of my nether regions, snatched up the roof, and dropped it in place. Just as I did, number three voted with her sister, also on the left.

I ran into the garage because bees dislike dark places, and wiggled around until dead bees dropped from the legs of my pants. I counted five, so maybe there were more stings, but I didn’t care enough to look. I kept thinking: all that pain and no upper entrance.

Well, there’s always next time . . . beekeeping is full of next times.

Nothing to do with bees

At one point last year, I decided never to write about stings again—a vow made because one reader has chided me about having so many bees in my clothes. But I do get lots of bees in my clothes, and I like to write about stings, partly because it makes me feel better—sort of like getting a purple bandage from the school nurse—and partly because so many beekeepers put on a pretense about stings. It seems that getting stung is so “uncool” that it’s better to lie than admit it happens or that it hurts like hell.

So next time you see a beekeeper all red and splotchy with one eye swollen shut and a pinky finger the size of a sausage, mark my words: it has nothing to do with bees.



  • I love it! Rusty, thank you so much for your blog. I have learned so much from your posts and pictures. Today, it’s 106 degrees out, I checked on my hives to see how they were faring in this heat. Much to my surprise, not one bee was out fanning. At first I was alarmed, but then remembered the slatted racks I’d installed.
    The slatted racks, the quilts, and several other ideas you’ve written about, have helped me with my bees immensely. The flower garden I put in this year, got the idea what to plant from you, was, and still is, booming with all kinds of bees.

  • I have come to the conclusion that my rear end is the least sensitive to bee stings. It does not hurt too bad, and the reaction to the sting is nonexistent. One time a cluster of bees had landed on my right rear side and stung all at once (yes, I had done something stupid to that hive) and all I got was some minor pain. I weigh 110 lbs at a little over 5 ft in height, so I cannot say I have a lot of buffering material in that area 🙂 Anyway, I have told people that, if I have a swollen limb, lip, face, etc, and it’s summer, then it’s most likely a bee … Life happens. I always feel sorry for the bees that have stung me, though …

  • Rusty, so sorry about the attack from behind on your behind, but you made my day with this one. Thanks for sharing.

  • Rusty, no matter what your topic, your articles are informative, sometimes amusing, always well-written. We all have great sting stories, but not all of us share them so well.

  • By now I have finally learned to never go the bee yard alone and last week I learned to always wear a hat. Last week one got into my hair, and got me in the side go the head. Fortunately, my reactions are lessening…a bit! Still REALLY hate stings!

      • It’s really hard for me to keep my beekeeper cool when somebody’s in my hair heading for the nape of my neck. After that happened twice, I always wear a hoodie if the bees are flying in any numbers.

        We had one chase me and my partner all the way back to the garage after stinging him, and then it landed on my ear and madly tried to crawl inside. Lost our beekeeper cool on that one too. 😉

  • Nice post. I enjoyed reading it and was comforted that a celebrity beekeeper like you admits to it hurting like hell! I hate getting stung. Though I hear it’s good for you. I often approach my hives thinking if I get stung today no biggie. But once I pop that lid I feel differently. A lot of next times in my past.

  • Deja vu. Sounds exactly like what happened to me going into a hive to feed a swarm I captured in late May. I barely had the lid off and the bees poured out like liquid and went straight for my ankles. Once the first one got me the hormone were on. Three on one leg, two on the other. It happened so fast! Thanks for the article. I commiserate. Alcohol (externally) helped. Benadryl and an ice pack. I’m just glad I have hairy legs!

  • You never cease to amaze me with your tales – the good, the bad, and the hilarious! Thank you for a good laugh today. Looking forward to more, maybe less humiliating stories to come 🙂

  • Please don’t stop writing about stings, Rusty! For one thing, it’s a warning to us newbees who might feel a little cocky about our ‘sweet’ bees. But more importantly, your words paint a picture the way few others’ do. I could see you out there by the hive, and your dog, the cats, the neighbor’s horse. Thank you!

  • Thank you so much for this post and for making me laugh. A few weeks ago while inspecting a cranky colony two bees got into a gap in my veil. When I walked away to remove it and let them out, others followed. Long story short, 8-10 stings on face & scalp, the same number on my legs. Puffiness and pain, yes! But I still love the bees.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Loved your story! I think it’s time for Medieval armor or thick jeans.

    I’m going to work with my Valhalla long hive today. The temperatures in Oklahoma have averaged in the mid nineties and as a result, one of the combs dropped from a top bar (designed for a Langstroth hive). Incidentally, I have 3 hives and the Valhalla is my favorite (designed for the handicap). No, I am not handicap. Because of the design, the Valhalla is easy to work, but it’s not stingless.

    • Go for the jeans. Armor won’t help.

      A few years ago my hubby was in PA for the annual medieval war reenactment there. During a battle somebody hit a hornets’ nest and hubby said people were running and flinging armor everywhere while trying to get away. I can imagine a few bees in those helmets and caught in chainmail would elicit a similar reaction. Jeans, long-sleeve shirt, gloves, veil. Leave the armor at home.

  • Hi Rusty, great story. I got stung between the eyes and as a result I looked like Warf from Star Trek. So now I always wear my bee hive gear.

  • Ha ha, I’m glad you blog about being stung, it happens, and somehow we all love our bees anyway 🙂

  • I know what you mean! I often am asked by school kids and others if I get stung. I always put on my brave face and tell them that it does happen, but hasten to say it doesn’t happen often. That brave face sometimes is misshappen because of my errors or my ears are very big and red! I’m glad they haven’t seen me in the bee yard with my pants around my ankles after a bee has crawled up my pant leg or almost dropping a super loaded with honey when I accidently press a bee or two against my leg or elswhere. How can you not love beekeeping! Have a happy July 4th!

  • It not only a dearth that can turn kittens to tigers! Yesterday, I was checking a row of 4 nucs. The first went off without a hitch, as did the second. The third was to receive a new queen, as I removed the lid everything was ok, however as soon as I started adjusting the frames the tigers showed up. This nuc has been queenless for a few days awaiting their new queen and they didn’t care for the intrusion at all. I had bees bouncing off my forehead and crawling through my beard. I too backed off and left the area to get my veil. Upon returning, the kittens were back and I finished the install without any further problems. The fourth nuc since its creation has always been cranky… however this day they were more like puppies. Crawling up on my hands and dragging their tongues across my skin like they were licking me. Brood, pollen and nectar everywhere, so much so I need to move them to a 10 frame deep. Oh, not a sting this day or any in my clothing!

  • Hi Rusty,

    I’ve had similar experiences this year too. Running away from a what I thought was a settling down captured swarm and getting stung on the face.

    I reacted very strongly and despite taking plenty of antihistamines, applying ice and apple vinegar, it knocked me sideways for 3 days. They had been very aggressive towards my husband, who had stood a fair distance away when I collected them from the ground, fully suited up! I had them in my front garden apiary that visitors and the postman have to walk past, usually cooing about how lovely they look and normally from a very safe distance away from.

    So I had to do something fast. I used smoke, my newish ventilated suit which let me tell you, you still drip with sweat with! I double gloved and they’ve now been combined with another 2 small swarms I had already combined.

    I thought all was now well, and then got stung on the leg. I flicked it out fast and did the usual but have had a very swollen leg, ankle and foot.

    Then I got a call last night from the homeowners’ they originally came from. They still had a patch of bees on the grass and where afraid to cut it. I wasn’t very happy as it’s just turned really hot here in England, but I know the family have health issues so felt l had to go back again. This time with a bee hoover! It was a very small patch but they were aggressive and as before I couldn’t find any queen. Nobody near by had any more equipment, they’ve all been used for swarms so I couldn’t ask anybody else.

    I’m wondering if I’m developing a sensitivity to bee stings, they hurt like anything and I try hard to avoid them. I’m in awe of those that seem immune to stings!

    • Great story, Kerry. Some people become more sensitive with more stings, and some become less sensitive. For me, the stings completely disappear after a few minutes—not even a trace—except if I get stung in the face. In the face, I get swelling, black eyes, swollen shut eyes, redness, everything. Everywhere else, nothing. So I usually wear a veil. Also, before I’m giving a talk or a presentation of some kind, I stay far away from my bees! I don’t want to have to face an audience looking like that.

  • First off Rusty, your blog is my absolute favorite on the internet. Your bee sense is so helpful and has been a big influence on how I manage my bees. Thanks for taking the time to create your entertaining and informative posts.

    As a new beekeeper, I discovered how my “kitten bees” from the spring have morphed into a mob of angry crazy bees when I open up the hives. I pulled around 20-30 stingers from my smoker bellows last week. Plus they are going after me in the garden a lot more (currently sporting a swelled up face). Glad to know that’s fairly normal behavior for this time of year because I’m always worried about the AHB possibility since we’re in Florida. And I’d rather not requeen our 5 hives unless it’s necessary.

    When they get crazy like this, I can’t help wondering how people can possibly open up their hives without protection in these conditions. I just can’t figure that out.

    • Jim,

      It’s very true. New beekeepers are sometimes quite surprised to see a change in temperament, but it is entirely normal.

  • Rusty: I’m a newbie to bees and still not to the “love my bees” stage but I am truly fascinated by them. And can honestly say that my wife and 3 children all of whom I dearly love have each received numerous very painful stings of one sort or another and it was generally my fault or at least involved some mishandling of the situation…

  • I have so enjoyed reading your blog! First year beek here, and yesterday I got stung for the first time. 105F out, I guess they just didn’t want to be bothered. Oh well, I hope they enjoyed the syrup and the fresh water. 🙂

  • I love reading your post you are so funny when u describe the bee stings u are great, I also think u are a wonderful teacher and I have learned a lot from your post. u take care of your wonderful self and God Bless u and your wonderful family. please keep writing of your experiences it is just wonderful

  • Please keep writing about ALL your beekeeping experiences, stings included! I’ve given up on many bee sites because I don’t agree with their methods, or they miss the point of beekeeping – for me. Your writing & experiences, points of view and methods are not only entertaining, but informative & logical.

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