muddled thinking rants

The fear of bees

Yes, this is a rant. I’ve been putting if off because it made me so angry I had to distance myself in order to write coherently.

My daughter’s two-year-old recently came home from daycare and announced, “Bees will hurt you.” Not only that, she began stomping on any insect she saw, particularly ants. My daughter was appalled by this behavior. So on a recent visit, I took the little girl out to the garden, found a couple of bees on flowers, and nudged them with my finger. They promptly flew away.

Apparently, this little exercise had amazing results and the fear of bees seemed to vanish. I’m told she now tries to pursue them on her own, but bees being bees, they simply fly away.

So my daughter and her husband switched from using a daycare to a “science-based” preschool. Ostensibly this preschool puts an emphasis on the natural sciences in their day-to-day teaching. The school claims their curriculum fosters curiosity, independence, self-reliance, and emotional maturity.

One day while picking up the child, my daughter exclaimed, “Look, a bee!”

Her daughter answered, “It’s a fly.”

My daughter looked to the teacher for an explanation and was told, “There are a few kids who are extremely afraid of bees so it’s better for everyone if we just call them flies.”

You’ve got to be kidding! A science-based learning center where they lie to the children about what is and what isn’t? Absolutely unconscionable.

What are the possible consequences of such nonsense? The child afraid of bees remains afraid. Perhaps a child not afraid of flies gets stung by this “fly” and now fears both bees and flies. Or later, the child is ridiculed by friends for thinking a fly is a bee. Or perhaps the child believes (rightfully so in this case) that teachers are liars. It goes on and on. No good can come of it.

Apart from the honesty piece, I think that parents who perpetuate the fear of stinging insects increase the probability of their children getting stung. Children who are fearful flail, scream, and run. All this commotion makes it easier for the insects to spot them. Bees detect moving objects more readily than stationary ones, so once you start flailing, you’re toast. But I think it’s more than that.

Most animals sense fear. Many mammals are able to detect fear and take advantage of it. Now, I honestly don’t know if bees can detect fear in mammals, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me. Beekeepers who have mastered the art of moving slowly and deliberately, who don’t break a sweat or flail about, are perfectly capable of tending enormous hives without protective gear. I believe these people become part of the non-threatening environment of the bee, not an intruder into it.

More importantly, I don’t know why a parent would deliberately instill fear of the natural world into a child. Fear is not a good feeling. It presses on your chest, stifles your freedom, breeds distrust, and destroys self-confidence. In our modern world there are many things for a child to fear, including predators, drunk drivers, and perverts with box cutters—all viable reasons to be wary.

But why give a bee or wasp—an animal going about business as usual—equal weight with an kidnapper, a criminal, or a molester? It doesn’t make sense. One should be avoided, the other embraced.

I get many letters from people complaining about their neighbor’s bees, and every one of them—every last one—begins by explaining how their children are fearful and must be protected. Bull. It is not the children; it is the parents projecting their own fears onto their children. It is cruel, I think, to place such a burden on a child—a burden that could last a lifetime and, in most cases, a burden that is completely unnecessary.



  • Rusty,

    Perhaps your granddaughter would best learn about the world as it is created by attending a Christian-based pre-school if one is available? Just saying . . .

  • I have the privilege of teaching a class about Honey Bees at our homeschool co-op this spring. I’m really looking forward to teaching them some bee truth. I’m a novice beekeeper but it still bothers me when folks falsely blame bees. So I can imagine why YOU needed to pause before writing (although I think it would’ve made for some pretty entertaining reading:-)).

  • Hi Rusty,

    ‘Now for the rest of the story,’ we have at least one good sign that our bee friends have a chance to win the children over. We have a local county farm doing children’s camps that run each week during the summer. Every Friday during these camps a guest from Utah State University comes and presents a great Bee class to the children… Talking all about the importance of pollinators and how to protect our friends the bees, and about how bees help our plants and gardens grow, and the benefits of having bees in our neighborhoods. The children get bee buttons to pin on their shirts and have a great bee experience. Hopefully we can help promote such positive educational experiences and change the way at least some people feel about bees!

    Thanks for your educational efforts !


  • Loved your post here and shared it on Facebook for all my friends to see. Wish more people understood that bees are not aggressive and should not be feared.

    I volunteer at The Bee Farm located in San Francisco, CA where we have an apiary. We were on a neighborhood garden tour this weekend and I took the opportunity to let folks know that bees are not aggressive unless they are protecting their hive &/or queen. I have been stung many times but I accept that as part of beekeeping. I’ve dropped a frame or two while inspecting a hive and was rarely stung then because I don’t freak out. Best advice is to remain calm and recover what you can and don’t rush it.

  • I wanted to recommend a book I feel all parents, teachers & children will rejoice in:

    The Voice of the Infinite in the Small by Joanne Lauck

    Helps us all to reconnect to our world that the poison companies have
    been trying to alienate us from so they can get rich.

    Also the NOVA video Japan’s Secret Garden is a great video of rice paddies thru the seasons with great close ups of insects and how important they all are. Who could even think of using poison after reading the book or seeing this video…our people need to be

    Thank you for your fine work,


  • Hi Rusty,

    Something similar happened to my grandson, aged 3, a while ago and I’m still raging about it. He used to be quite happy with bees and used to practice his counting by counting them on my daughter’s lavender bush. One day he came into the kitchen screaming and in real distress. He told my daughter there was a bee in the garden and he had been told at school “bees hurt you.” Now if he sees what he thinks is a bee [he can’t tell he difference between a bee and anything else that flies] he gets very distressed and won’t go in the garden.

    I sell honey at a farmers market and because of this I am now on a campaign to educate people about bees and most of my stall is now to do with this.

    • Martin,

      It’s amazing the influence these teachers have. Since the teachers are authority figures, the kids believe everything they say. Thank you for taking the time to educate the public at your farmers’ market. It’s a valuable service.

  • I serve on a newly-appointed local Agricultural Commission. One of the most important things we need to do is to help people learn not to fear animals and insects. We have been disconnected from them for several generations and many people do not have even a basic understanding of animal science. I am amazed at how ignorant otherwise intelligent people are of the natural world. It is a failure of our educational system. I did a lot of teaching about nature, had classroom pets until they were “banned” because of allergy fears, planted a garden with the kids, tapped maple trees etc. but current curriculum mandates make it nearly impossible for teachers to offer a rich, experience-based program. Teachers need to stand up for what they believe but it is difficult to get them to do so.

    • Ellen,

      I don’t know what happened to basic animal science, but I am always appalled by this one frequently-asked question—one that comes in at least once a month: Is a bee an animal or an insect?

  • Honesty is always the best policy. We had a particularly defensive hive this year (I do not want to use the term aggressive as it carries a negative connotation). Both me, my wife, and my oldest son received several stings this year. This was completely my fault though as I had worked on the bees in late July without smoking them and it really set them off. They are calmed down again.

    At the beginning of the season, I would visit the hive with my daughter and we would watch the bees come and go. During their stint of defensive behavior, I told my daughter that the bees wanted to be left alone while they got ready for winter so stay clear of the hive. She did. She knows that foraging bees won’t hurt her if she doesn’t provoke them so she was content watching them in the flower garden. Now that the hive is relatively calm, she enjoys looking at them again.

    Education and honesty are key. It is far better to have truth and reason guide a child’s actions that to instill fear and hysteria. Children are much more capable than adults give them credit for. As trusting as children are, creating bogeymen out of daily aspects of the environment only instills in them ignorance. Giving them the truth and teaching them to respect the world around them empowers them.

    When I started out on beekeeping I thought it would just be my hobby, but it has turned out to be a family affair because the bees are always there and often right in your face (literally). Even the neighbors have taken notice – they claim they have better gardens, and I don’t mind sharing the honey with them. I take every opportunity to get the truth out there; it’s good for my beekeeping, and also good for the bees.

  • Ellen is right: it’s more than bees, it’s contact with the natural world and animal science knowledge in general.
    I don’t think it can be left up to the schools. Kids have so little chance to be outdoors, to swing on vines, to throw rocks in a creek, to get dirty, or just to observe. And science comes down to observing and wondering. Even country kids no longer walk the woods and fields with Grand-dad: a day at the farm is spent “fourwheeling” – making noise, burning fossil fuel, NO chance to turn over a rock or listen to a bird or insect.

    Sitting through a Disney movie about the Circle of Life doesn’t get it, and offers a distorted view of Nature. Being preached at about recycling and saving the Rain Forest, ditto.

    Families live in plastic houses on bulldozed “marginal” farmland that used to support bees. They would be better off living in an apartment full of books and being taken for a walk in the park once a week.

    There’s my rant.

    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, KY

  • Just wondering if I have bees in my backyard. Do mining bees burrow (like bull ants) and look about the size of a small blow fly???


      • Thank you!
        Certainly do not want to be “stamping” or killing any poor insects unnecessarily….
        they will definitely live (wasps wouldn’t have been so lucky 😉
        thanks again

        • Claire,

          I said, “could be.” They could also be solitary wasps which, by the way, are pretty gentle most of the time.

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