Haaalp, I've Been Stung by a "Bee."

   Knowledge is the best protection you can have.

    Bees are many times falsely blamed by people for the actions of yellow jackets, which, along with fire ants in the south, are the source of most stings. 

   The first thing one must do when encountering any of these feared creatures is to identify them. For some people, anything that stings is a "Bee" (and must be destroyed!). Paranoia and ignorance can backfire on us in many ways.

   There are lots of myths about "bee stings" even in the medical community.  Being told by an emergency room doctor that "The next sting could kill you!" is more of a statement to "cover his bee-hind" than it is a legitimate warning.

   "Bee stings are usually not by bees at all, but the medical community and the statistics on them do not distinguish between stinging insects. Yet the venoms are quite different. Honeybees sting to protect their home, and the primary purpose is to cause irritation and pain. Wasps and hornets sting to parallize their prey, and their stings contain more powerful toxins. Fire ants have yet another venom formula.

   Panic can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; indeed systemic reactions can be caused by panic. The physical condition of the "stingee" is quite important. Healthy folks are extremely unlikely to have more than discomfort with a sting or two. But people with high blood pressure, heart problems, or diabetes can suffer much greater effects.

Identifying the "Bee"
See also: What's Buzzin' in My Garden?

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Polistes wasp        Yellow Jacket


White Faced Hornet

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Mud Dauber
(image thanks to Rick Matthews)

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Mud Dauber on Nest
(image thanks to Rick Matthews)

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Hornet Nest Entrance

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Mason bees in cracks in tongue and groove. Note pollen on abdomen. Must be grabbed to incur stinging.

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Carpenter Bee Drones will hover around you. They are curious, not aggressive and cannot sting.

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Carpenter Bee Female
While capable of stinging, she generally is so busy with the flowers that she will ignore you

     The most frequent cause of stings by honeybees are from going barefoot in the clover. Honeybees, while visiting flowers are never aggressive, and will move away when threatened. But they will sting (reflexively) if stepped upon. Sometimes gardeners who pick cucumbers or summer squash without looking, will incur a sting when they grab a bee. These crops have bloom and maturing vegetables at the same time.  Otherwise the most frequent cases of being stung by honeybees are at the "homes" of the bees, the hives, which bees will defend, sometimes vigorously. If you keep bees, you will get stung; beekeepers have to accept that, or they will not be beekeepers long.

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Yellow Jackets
are NOT Bees.

Yellow jackets, particularly the introduced german yellow jacket, which has no native enemies, will overpopulate and become a pest in late summer and fall. They are often encountered while mowing lawns, as they frequently choose to live in an old mouse hole, which they enlarge. Simply running the mower over them will cause great numbers to fly out, in "attack" mode. Hornets and paper wasps, build large colonies made from a paperlike material, and both are extremly territorial, responding to any perceived threats with great numbers of stings.  We create many of the fall problems with yellow jackets by our own ignorance.

    Some species of bumblebee can be quite defensive, others are very docile. Bumblebees, because of their important role as pollinators, are protected by law in some areas of the world.

   Mud daubers, digger bees, cicada killer wasps, sand wasps, carpenter bees and the semi-social polistes wasps are capable of stinging, but rarely do, and should all be protected, because they are highly beneficial.   A person with the attitude of "all MUST die"  is going to do a lot of environmental damage.  Even those who can sting with vigor should be protected whenever we can do so. We have had a nest of hornets by our back door this past summer. When we use the door, we pass within about 8 feet of the nest. It is a large and busy nest. The only time there has been a problem with them is when we were loading the car for a trip, one morning, and we thoughtlessly slammed the door several times. Then they got sassy! But we simply left them alone, and they were fine in an hour.   Meanwhile they have kept our lawn and garden free of many different worms. This is the first time I ever raised tomatoes without seeing a single tomato worm.  Hornets are also protected by law in some places.

   (This is an unfinished work, hastened to publication because this is yellow jacket season (9-10-00) and so many folks are asking.  More is to be forthcoming as soon as we can get it together.)

Coming soon:

Alergia a las picaduras de abejas y avispas  (in Spanish)