The stuff of nightmares

My worst beekeeping nightmare came true within ten minutes of me stepping foot in the apiary today. Two prospective beekeepers had arrived and Andy asked me if I could show them round the apiary quickly before they put their beesuits on later. Big mistake. Big, big mistake. I took them round and all was fine until someone asked one of the other beekeepers what the entrance reducer in one of the hives was. He, also un-beesuited, took it out and showed them. He then slid it back in. The bees didn’t like this, and one flew straight out and landed on my face, even though I was standing some way away. I instinctively tried to grab it because it was crawling towards my eye, and then she stung me. I now look like this:

My beekeeping nightmare come true

…only worse, because that was taken when I’d just got home. Now it has swelled up a lot more, and is very swollen and painful. Liam, another beekeeper, told me that he got stung just above the eyebrow one day, and didn’t feel too bad before he went to bed. Then he woke up…and he couldn’t see. His eyes had swollen up that much. So I’m scared now, and annoyed that tomorrow is meant to be a beautiful sunny day and I’ll be stumbling around in agony looking like a grotesque swollen monster. Never again am I going near the hives without a bee suit on!

At least it was good news inside our hives, and none of our bees tried to sting me, because they’re nice like that. This is Queen Rosemary’s hive. They have nearly filled up a whole super and are taking up most of their brood box.

Queen Rosemary

Queen Rosemary, the blue dotted dark beauty above, is a new queen born this year. She is the daughter of Rose, our previous queen, who we split into another colony while Rosemary was still growing in her queen cell. Emma had marked Rosemary on May 21st, after which she gave us a bit of a shock by promptly flying right off.

Rosemary is rather feisty and enjoys giving us the run-around on the frames. However, this must be the ultimate symbol of her rebellious nature:

An unravelled queen marking cage

It was once a queen marking cage! We used it to pin Rosemary down whilst Emma marked her, but during the shock of her flying off it fell to the bottom of the brood box where we forgot to rescue it until today. That string would normally be crisscrossed in a grid pattern across the top, allowing us to mark the queen between the gaps but not allowing her to escape. There have clearly been orders given direct from the top: the queen marking cage could not be tolerated! Who knows what they would have done with the unravelled string if we’d left it in there longer.

All was well in Queen Rose’s hive too, her colony is gradually expanding since been transferred into a full size hive from the nuc a couple of weeks ago, and is now across about seven frames.

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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18 Responses to The stuff of nightmares

  1. Smoky Zeidel says:

    Ouch! I hope at least you had some Benadryl at home to take!

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  2. Hannah says:

    Sorry you got stung, ouchy for sure – I also got stung and tried a product called stop the sting – it did not stop the sting. Antihistamine is a must – I use a childs dose and an ice pack 🙂 Reminds me to suit up.
    Best of luck to ya
    amazing hideaway

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  3. svengali says:

    Nasty place for a sting! Got my first beekeeper sting the other day on my wrist. I was told that fresh lemon/lime juice reduces the venoms strength. Not sure if it worked but my wrist was slightly swollen for a week.
    Hope its not too bad

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Thanks. It’s pretty bad by now – woke up this morning and can’t see through my left eye unless I try pulling the swollen skin apart. Really hope it won’t be like this for a week, I look like a monster!

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  4. I agree, on the face has got to be the worst. Frank got it on the ear when we were rehiving a swarm. It wasn’t from a swarm bee, but one from the main hive who was generally hacked off at the world that day. A Benadryl prevented it from swelling too much, but it did itch a lot afterwards. Were you able to get the stinger out right away? My friends know it doesn’t pay to be an innocent bystander with exposed flesh. It’s happened to one friend photographing while we were examining the hive. The bees weren’t even in that bad a mood. Hope you are feeling better.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Ears sound bad too. Someone scraped the sting out for me but that didn’t stop my face swelling up like a balloon! Went to local eye hospital yesterday and got given antibiotics. Won’t be going near any bees without full body protection again!

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  5. whitt98 says:

    They seem to like to go for the face. I don’t know why but that’s the way it is. I’ve grown very brave and have been working my hive in shorts (it has been over 90 F here) – but I always always cover my head and face – you never know – even the sweetest girls can have a bad day and pull out the attitude.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      I’ve heard that they can detect the carbon dioxide we breathe out, which helps them identify a mammal’s weak spots! It’s definitely worth covering your face, yesterday was incredibly painful, much more gruesome than being stung in other parts. It’s gone down a lot now, I just look like I’ve been in a fight now.

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  6. Liz C says:

    Oh no! This looks and sounds incredibly painful – hope you’re getting better now! I imagine it was pretty offputting for the prospective beekepers too…

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Yeah, I was going to help at a beekeeping info stall at a local festival the next day but decided the sight of my grotesquely swollen, misshapen face would make any claims that bees are gentle creatures seem very un-plausible.

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  7. Sorry to hear about the sting Emily. I had the same thing two weeks ago, but that was six stings to the ankle. Similarly, there was a lot of swelling of my foot, until it got to the stage that it no longer fitted into a shoe. A dose of steroids will sort you out! In the meantime however, your blog is looking great. It’s a wonderfully informative read. Keep it up!

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Oof, that must be very tricky if you can’t wear shoes, leaving the house must be difficult! Wonder how my manager would react if I used that excuse to call in sick to work. Thanks for the nice comments!

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  8. karcuri13 says:

    Sad Face! Sorry to hear you got stung on the face. That has to be zero fun.

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  9. willowbatel says:

    That’s a horrible place for a sting. Last time i got stung (the the back of my arm) the skin got really tight and red and was itchy for at least 4 days and randomly tender for about 2 weeks. At least you didn’t run screaming in terror like other people (me) might do in that situation. That’s one of the reasons i’m thankfull i’ve got so much hair. The bee can get stuck in my hair where i can manage it safely. If it’s flying around at my face there’s nothing that can be done except run.
    fun fact: bees are ‘programed’ to recognize a face. Meaning, They are able to identify the face of a creature (not that they can tell one face from another and know who you are). They prefer to sting the face first since that’s always a sensitive part on their major intruders (humans, bears, badgers etc) and requires less bee deaths to scare the intruders away.
    Glad to hear your hive is doing well. We’ve got a big nectar flow going on over here at the moment (I think it’s the blackberries) so the bees have been really active.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      The carbon dioxide we breathe out also alerts the clever ladies to where our faces are. I have lots of hair too but find if a bee gets stuck in my hair it always ends up burrowing in and stinging my head! The blackberries are so useful for the bees, they go on flowering for ages.

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      • willowbatel says:

        Bees are the best creatures ever. They don’t destroy anything to live where they live. They have a perfect system devised for living as a comunity, as well as for breeding. And they can recognize a potential threat just by what’s in the air! They have got to be my favorite species.
        My mom got stung on her temple once because a bee got in her hair. She didn’t run away fast enough. I’m one of those spaztic people who are slightly terrofied of bees if they fly right at me, so if one comes near my head i automatically jump 4 feet away in less than a second. I look like a fool but i haven’t been stung yet!

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