Article for July - August 2008
But bees will sting me!
by David L. Green
If you keep your own beehives, you certainly can expect to get stung—that’s the first big hurdle for beginning beekeepers. But honeybees sting to guard their nest, so if you fear them, you might entice a beekeeper to place some hives in a wild area near your home. He’ll take the stings and you’ll have the pollination.
Honeybees among the flowers haven’t the slightest interest in stinging you, unless you grab one in your hand—and then it’s a reflex. This is because when a honeybee stings, tiny barbs on the stringer latch into the animal being stung, tearing the stinger from the bee, killing it. If you are worried about stings while picking your produce, wear latex gloves, which their stingers can’t penetrate. If you still are scared, pick your produce before or after the bees do their job.
Few wild bees pose a stinging threat. Little “sweat” bees might sting, if they are on you and you accidently pinch them, but it’s not much worse than a mosquito bite. Even the huge Eastern carpenter bee, which often gets in your face, is simply a curious male who has no stinger. The female, who could sting, is so busy working in the flowers or at her nest, that she will ignore you. Most solitary bees will flee their nests when threatened rather than try to protect them.
Bumblebees can pose more of a threat because they can build nests in unexpected and easily disturbed places like a birdhouse or a mouse hole. One South Carolina species, Bombus pennsylvanicus, will defend its nest with great vigor, but it is not common.
Most people who report being stung by a “bee” are actually stung by yellow jackets, which are wasps, not bees. The most common South Carolina yellow jackets nest in the ground. Run a lawn mower over them in August and they’ll chase you quite a way. The colony becomes established early in the season but won’t bother you until it gets strong in late summer. Around Labor Day, yellow jackets quit brood-rearing and become sugar-crazed, climbing into soda cans, garbage cans or dumpsters in search of sugary substitutes for their normal foods, which are in short supply this time of year. They all die with the first good freeze.
Through the summer, yellow jackets are more benefactor than pest, because their primary food is the pest caterpillars that eat your garden. They also eat flies and other nuisance insects. If they nest in your lawn and you can’t avoid them, pour a bucket of hot, soapy water into their hole at night (don’t use a flashlight or they’ll come to it). Never use gasoline, which quickly moves through the soil to contaminate ground water.
Dave Green was a commercial beekeeper who specialized in crop pollination service for growers of watermelons, cukes, squash, cantaloupes, strawberries, peaches and apples. He sold his business and retired a few years ago. After awhile he took up a second career as editor of a small-town weekly newspaper.
© 2008 South Carolina Wildlife Magazine, July - August 2008 - www.scwildlife.com