Should You Stay or Should You Go: The Truth About Avoiding Bee Stings
All you wanted to do was enjoy the afternoon sunshine. Maybe you had a book in your hands; maybe you were enjoying one final swim before the weather turns — but then disaster struck. You heard that ominous buzzing, saw a flash of a tiny, fuzzy, yellow-and-black body, and instinctively you were running for the hills.
It seems that humans harbor a natural fear of bees. Even folks who have never experienced a sting find themselves ducking for cover when the drone of wings starts to sound. However, the flailing and screeching you might do automatically does nothing to prevent you from being stung. To avoid the sting of bees, wasps, hornets, and other flying creatures, here’s what you should actually do.
Obviously, the best situation for everyone involved (human and bee) would be no interaction whatsoever. It is in your best interest to make yourself as minimally appealing to bees and other flying, stinging insects as possible. Contrary to popular belief, bees are not interested in investigating or attacking beasts bigger than them; rather, their only life goal is to find flowers and collect pollen for the hive. The more you can fashion yourself to look and smell less like flowers, the fewer bees you will attract. To that end, before you head anywhere where bees might be an issue, you should assess three aspects: your smell, your taste, and your clothing color.
Bees’ sense of smell is stronger and more acute than humans’, which means they can detect and follow even the slightest scent. If your smell is anything close to that of flowers, you should expect to attract a number of bees whenever you step outside. Generally, perfumes and colognes are inadvisable when trying to avoid the notice of bees, as are scented lotions or particularly odiferous body washes.
Most people don’t realize that bees have taste — their garish black-and-yellow stripes are so off-trend — but in truth, bees can taste sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Because sugary foods offer the sweetness bees look for in flowers, bees will always come investigate open containers filled with sweet eats, especially beverages like soda and alcohol. Conversely, bees are incredibly sensitive to saltiness and try to avoid that taste entirely. While you are outside, you should limit your sweet foods or at least keep them covered tightly.
On warm days, most people try to celebrate the season with brightly colored clothing, but yellows, greens, blues, and purples look exactly like the flowers bees are trying to find. If you value being bee-free more than being fashionable, you should try to stick to more neutral colors and patterns, like shades of khaki, white, beige, or other light, bland colors.
Finding a Hive
Bees on their own usually don’t pose much of a threat; because stinging you is the end of them, most bees will give you ample warning (including erratic flying and head butting) before they are about to attack. Plus, assuming you have no allergic reaction, a bee sting isn’t terribly painful and generally subsides in a day or two. However, when you encounter bees in a group, you have ample reason to be alarmed.
Inside a bee hive, there are easily 30,000 to 50,000 bees working to produce honey and tend the queen, and if their home is threatened, many thousands of bees will be ready for attack — especially if they are aggressive, Africanized bees. Hundreds to thousands of bee stings at once can send the body into shock, and in the very young and very old, this can lead directly to death. The best reaction when you come across a bee swarm or hive is to leave it alone and give it space. As soon as you can, you should call insect professionals to remove the bees to a safer location, for your sake and theirs.
Even if you limit your smell, wear dull clothing, and abstain from eating and drinking outdoors, you will probably encounter a bee at some point. You should remember that the bee hovering around you is not immediately interested in stinging; more likely than not, it is curious about your look and smell and wants to investigate further, and by staying still, you can let it do so and go on its way.
Conversely, if you manage to aggravate a swarm of bees, you should run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. You should avoid stopping or stumbling at all costs, including to hide in water; swarms are intelligent, and they will wait for you to resurface to make their attacks. Bees can fly about 15 miles per hour, but most will give up around a quarter mile, so if you can stay ahead of the pack, you might get out alive.
Shrieking and thrashing when you see a bee — or even a swarm of bees — will do absolutely no good. Now that you are armed with the truth about bees, you can save your energy and protect yourself (and the fragile bee population) from unnecessary stings.