May 11, 2023

Memorable Stings (125)

Memorable Stings (125)

If you’ve been keeping bees for a bit, you probably already have a couple of stories about that “one time in a beeyard”, or honey house, or somewhere that gave a whole new meaning to the word “sting”. Teaching a beginner’s class is...

If you’ve been keeping bees for a bit, you probably already have a couple of stories about that “one time in a beeyard”, or honey house, or somewhere that gave a whole new meaning to the word “sting”.

Teaching a beginner’s class is absolutely the best time to make sure your students know as much as possible when it comes to getting stung: The best protective gear to wear, when to wear it, and including how to act around colonies so you don’t upset them. All of these should probably be repeated time and time again BEFORE the first time your beginners enter a hive.

Jim and Kim have a couple of stories about their memorable stings. Faulty gear, no gear, unexpectedly dealing with a colony or swarm… all can and did, leave them with stinging stories.

Of course, part of this is that a brand-new beekeeper needs to know about bee sting allergies. They need to know the symptoms of a dangerous reaction; What to do if they have an allergic reaction, what NOT to do, and what to do RIGHT NOW to avoid a really bad day in the Emergency Room.

Memorable stings. All of us have one… or five. Listen today so you can learn from Kim and Jim’s mistakes!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, All We Know by Midway Music, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2023 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 125 – Memorable Stings


Kim Flottum: How you doing? I got to tell you, I saw my first dandelion today. Spring has arrived officially.

Jim Tew: It's time. Get that lawnmower out. Change that oil. Make plans to sharpen the blade you didn't sharpen last year. Spring's here, buddy.

Kim: All those things. I got to tell you something, I don't know if you've noticed, I notice every day, I've got something going on I think with an allergy that's affecting my voice. If I sound weird, just don't pay attention to it.

Jim: Just don't pay attention to you. That's good advice there. I'll just not pay attention to you. I don't think being as old as you are, this has any effect on that voice. We'll just blame it on allergies.

Kim: It's been going on for a while. This is beginner season. A lot of them are in full bloom right now, pardon the pun, and going strong. The one thing that when I was teaching beginner's classes is, you're going to get stung.

Jim: That's a good point. Sooner or later, if you keep bees, you're going to get lit up. That's not even a dirty secret, is it? It's pretty well known.

Kim: Hi, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: Today I think we're going to look at the elephant in the room of every beekeeper. You're going to get stung.

Introduction: You are listening to Honeybee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today podcast. Each week on Honeybee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world. Get ready for an engaging discussion to delight and inform all beekeepers. If you're a long timer or just starting out, sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Kim: The beginner's classes like I said, are getting started. I always made it a point the first day, probably the second or third sentence that I uttered in the first class of the series of classes that I give is that, make no mistakes, there isn't enough armor in the world to protect you from a sting. At least once in a while, you're going to get stung.

Jim: I don't know how to help people with that. You're going to get a stung probably, even if you don't even keep bees with yellow jackets if you're outdoors. It's a common experience. It's not particularly enjoyable, but you're going to get stung. That's true.

Kim: You can talk all you want about protective gear. Over 40 years of keeping bees, I've probably owned one of everything. I have a box downstairs that's big enough to be a bedroom full of protective gear.

Jim: I do the same thing. Anything that comes out that's new with a veil that zips open, so you can drink some water while you're working, I'm all over it. Boy, I'll buy anything that helps me work my bees and not be chastised too much for working my bees. I like that new equipment. I try anything one time.

Kim: You keep trying and in the years that I've been in, and they've gotten better. The stuff we use today is a lot better than the stuff they used 50 years ago.

Jim: Really nice equipment we've got now. It's really nice, high-end stuff.

Kim: But you're still going to get stung.

Jim: You're still going to get stung. Some of those things stand out, don't they, Kim? Some of those things you just never forget. Out of all these things, to get popped here to get popped there. I need more smoke. It's a bad day. Maybe it's thunderstorming. We have all these reasons for it, but some of those things rise to the top and they're the ones that come to mind when people starts talking about the time they got stung by bees.

Kim: All that just brings up the question, don't you know? You yourself, but somebody you know probably has got a story that's memorable about getting stung. Not mentioning any names.

Jim: I don't know if I want to go down this path with you or not. I'm not having any legal disclaimers here. Not mentioning any names. Go ahead.

Kim: Watching somebody go through this. I've got one myself, but watching somebody go through this one. I'm working bees out in the bee yard and a friend comes up close, but not too close, six, eight feet away. There aren't too many bees in the air. I'm saying, you may want to put something on if you're going to get any closer. She goes, "No, I'm cool." I said, "Okay." Right about just as I'm going, "Okay," I'm lifting a frame out and there's a lot of bees on that frame and a lot of bees on the frames on either side of it. We put a bunch of bees in the air.

Not tons, but a bunch. Enough to know that there's bees in the air. One of those bees, pardon my expression here, made a beeline for her ear. I could see it. I lifted that frame and that bee took off. She was sitting on the top bar and she looked over and she said, that's the problem and made a beeline right over to that person's ear, and walked right in.

Jim: Went inside this individual's ear?

Kim: Yes, no veil, not a bee suit and pretty confident that nothing was going to happen, except for that one bee, that bee walked into her ear. Your first response is when you get something tickling in your ear, what do you do?

Jim: I'm going to put my finger in my ear and pull it out, get it out, do whatever.

Kim: That's what she did. She just squashed that bee right into her ear. It went down as far as that bee could go. Then that bee stung the inside of her ear.

Jim: Kid, does this story have a happy ending? Does everybody live happily ever after, because this sounds like a rugged sting. Wherever this nameless person is, they remember that day.

Kim: After the individuals mentioned here survived, one of them didn't, of course, and that was the bee.

Jim: Yes, that was the bee.

Kim: The aftermath was memorable. Long time, lots of discomfort, drainage, all sorts of things went on and once you see that happen to somebody else, even you, but somebody else, wear a veil.

Jim: You think, "Well, why would you not wear a veil?" Sure, you put a veil on, you're working bees. You just have to be there, Kim. Listeners, you just have to be there. I'm just going to have a quick peep. Did this colony die this winter? Let me just pop this top off and see if this colony is dead. There are all of these reasons why you just want to have a quick look and you don't want to have to put all those clothes on to do it. That's when you get sometimes the memorable stings.

Kim: While you're looking, let's give our sponsors a chance to maybe defend themselves and their protective gear here.

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Jim: Kim, some of my most early memories of memorable stings was when I was a brand new beekeeper. I've got a story far too long to go in here on a segment. The first time I went to a beekeeping class at Auburn University and saw all those people and all those packaged bees, I thought the whole world had lost their mind where I was at that moment around all these bees.

I settled down and I actually installed my package of bees and everything went fine. I didn't notice in my short sleeve shirt that a bee had gone up my right short sleeve shirt and up in my armpit, sent me a message that was loud and clear that I had done something seriously wrong. Here I am, 50 some odd years later, remembering that day that you don't mind dancing all around the apiary.

You don't care who thinks you're being funny. I have got to get that bee out of my armpit. It was one of my first ones. It was one of my very first stings that I knew was a honeybee. Up until then, it was a wasp, it was a hornet. I don't know what was, something stung me, but this time I knew it was a honey bee. I remember that sting. It's a good moment, it's a good memory. At the moment I was Mr. Athletic.

Kim: Maybe a good story, maybe not a good memory.

Jim: No, it's a good memory. I want it now. I want my sting stories. I'm a designated, committed beekeeper, if you'll pardon the pun on that. I want my sting stories. They're part of the story that goes with it. I had a student years ago who had a bee. I saw the bee land on the guy's ear. The guy just flinched a bit and just like your nameless person, bizarrely fast, the bee ran right in the student's ear. Well, that guy just went crazy. He was banging the other side of his head. He was screaming. He was just all over the place. He was just crazy. I didn't know what to do.

I finally calmed him down and I put him in the back of my truck. I had a cap on the bed of my truck, and I put him in the back of the truck while he's shaking his head and all upset about it. I had him turn his ear toward the light. Don't you know, the bee came out and just seems like a fraction of a second sat on the edge of the guy's ear and then stung him right there.


After we had been through all of that, after we had been about 35 or 40 seconds of us dealing with that bee in that man's ear, getting her out, and then she stung him. I wanted to ask the little bee, "Why?"


We were all home free. Why would you do that? That was about 35 years ago because I was trying to help someone else who had a bee issue that I really didn't know what to do with. These things come up. I lived in a house I've long since moved from, and I put two beehives behind my house in the city of Worcester. They were up against the house and they were quiet. Nobody knew they were back there. One day, my neighbor came over and said, "I didn't know you had bees here." I said, "I've had them here for about six months. I just work them." I just did the pollination happy story, bees are good for you thing.

He was all impressed and he said they had bees when he was a kid on the farm. At that moment Kim, one of my bees stung him right between his eyes.


I have to tell you that there's just no conversation. There's no words that you say at that moment. You just go into high overdrive response to get the stinger out of the guy's right between-- I'd never dreamed that I'd be touching my neighbor, but here I am trying to scratch that stinger out, and you get it out, he's okay. He's got a red spot literally right between his eyes. I'd like to know, Kim, what do you say at that moment? What is the most appropriate? I don't know.

I'm not asking for a trick answer. It's very awkward. I apologized to him. I apologized for the bee, that it made no sense. I don't know what went wrong. We did have our conversation, I might add, quite a distance away from the hives now but I kept them there. He knew they were there, and he was good about it. He didn't hold me responsible. It's a natural event, was the way he was wording it.

Kim: That's probably as good as you can get. Somebody who isn't prepared, isn't anticipating, and bang and you know enough about bees and stings that it's a natural event. The one I had that's indelible to me in the back of my brain someplace, I was over with a friend and one of his colonies swarmed. He had his bee suit on, nice full suit, veil and gloves and all that but he didn't own another bee suit. That swarm came out of that colony, zipped around a circle about three times, and went straight up above that colony about 10, 12 feet in the air. Then we're just watching it and it's fun to watch it. It's fun to watch.

I said, "I bet you got an eight-foot step ladder. We can get that thing down and get it, rescue it, get it, and you get to keep the bees." He just tried it off and he got that step ladder. I'm thinking, "Swarms are pretty mellow. I could probably get up there, reach above that swarm, grab a hold of that branch, and then cut the branch above my hand so that I'm hanging onto the branch and lower that branch down the ladder, give it to him, he's got the bee suit. He can go over and shake him into a box." Makes sense?

Jim: It makes sense to me but there's clearly going to be a but here, right?

Kim: When he went in before, he said, "I got this old veil, born to my dad. I forgot about it. You want this one?" I'm thinking, "Yes." [laughs] I put it on. It was one of those veils that you wear with a pith helmet and it comes down and you wrap it around. I don't even know. I've never worn one since, but what happens is you don't get the gap between your throat and your inside shirt closed. You got to have something there to tighten. I didn't have that.

Jim: That's what duct tape is for, Kim. You've got to have duct tape.

Kim: Well, I reached up there. I grabbed a hold of that limb above the swarm. I'm hanging, I'm looking at it and two bees are looking right at it. That swarm is 6 inches from my face. Two bees jumped and they went right for that opening in my veil, right on my throat, right on my Adam's apple, if you can believe that. I've been doing this for 10, 12 years, so I know, well, I thought I knew what would happen if you get stung in a pretty sensitive place, it's going to hurt a lot, but it's just going to hurt a lot. Well, this one hurt a lot and an unknown bee sting allergy surfaced. Boom.

Jim: An unknown allergy in you surfaced?

Kim: Yes. After a dozen years of doing this, I could feel those two bees in there and I tried to scratch them and my foot slipped on the first step to the ladder because I was so dizzy, I couldn't see. I went down the ladder, boom. My feet, my toes hitting each step, hanging onto the outside of the ladder. I hit the ground. He caught me. He picked me up, threw me in the front seat of his car. We went to the hospital and I got a shot. I'm still here today because of it. The one lesson from this is, you're going to get stung and it might really be bad.

Jim: Okay, I didn't know any of this. What a story. Well, I'm glad you're okay.

Kim: So am I.

Jim: Has the allergy expressed itself again ever in subsequent stings?

Kim: No, you do the desensitization thing. You go to the doctor once a week and they give you enough bee venom. You know those people that collect bee venom?

Jim: Yes.

Kim: This is what it's for. You collect bee venom and they send it to doctors and he gives you one, one-hundredth of a sting the first time. The second time it's two one-hundredths of a sting. You do this for about, depending on your allergy, anywhere from six weeks to six months. Mine lasted six weeks and I no longer had a reaction. I haven't had one 40 years on. That one I wasn't prepared for.

Jim: Well, I've known you for years. I've never had you go through this experience that you had been desensitized, that you were a participant in a desensitization process. Well this just throws me for a loop because all my sting stories are about running and screaming and jumping. Mine are not about hospital visits and whatever.

Kim: Well, there's that.

Jim: Mine are always about silly mistakes and worn-out equipment.

Kim: I'm looking at worn-out equipment because it was old and it wasn't very good. It wasn't manufactured very well, or it had worn out and broke something. I never did go back and look, but what it does give me is some insight into -- I can tell you what's going to happen if this happens to you, and I hope you're back next week.

Jim: Okay. Well, I would like to begin to wind down on this to tell you that, yes, bee stings happen, but most of the time, by far, nothing happens, except you're just briefly young again. You can leap tall buildings, you can run, you can move fast, and that's pretty much it. That's all the examples in my cases. It sounds like you had a more serious experience, but everything worked well and you're still here.

Kim: I'm going out real soon. Like I said, the dandelions are booming today. The redbud popped today. It's springtime. It's time to get stung.

Jim: All right. Go ahead and begin to develop your resistance for the season.

Kim: There you go.

Jim: All right. Remind me, Kim, when we work bees together, that I should be more cautious around you.


All right. Thanks for listening.

Kim: All right.


[00:19:19] [END OF AUDIO]