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Why a honeybee stung me this morning

From: Jacqueline F.
Sent on: Sunday, July 8, 2012 3:11 PM

This morning I had a late season swarm buzz from my bee house onto a fence post while I was in the garden. I setup a hive next to the post and started moving bees in with some feathers. BTW, a few strong long feathers are the best idea I know of when they've swarmed onto something solid like a fence post.

I had a hive ready with comb in it and, as usual, I got my little vial of lemongrass oil out. Lemongrass oil smells like a Queen and a teeny weeny tip of a toothpick touch of it inside the hive makes them think the Queen has already entered the hive and they're more likely to head on in and get started building new comb. In the way back of the uppermost bar, I put the tiniest dot of lemongrass oil. Then I started transferring the bees into the box.

An hour later after working in the garden, I climbed up the ladder to have a look at another of my hives (this one lives in a tree!) through the viewing window.

While I was looking in, I got stung! I have never been stung by anyone in this hive and it totally surprised me. I have been in and out of this hive frequently, often look through the window and hang out with them. They know me well and we've always gotten along perfectly. Never a sting no matter what.

I was totally surprised why I got stung and then I realized why. When I was working with the swarm earlier, I tucked the vial of lemongrass oil in the shirt pocket of the sleeveless shirt I had on. While there wasn't any oil on the outside, my pocket still had a little whiffy scent of"Queen oil" on it.

The bee who stung me tagged me on my bare upper arm, just three inches from the pocket that had earlier held the oil. I'm sure that little guard bee noticed I smelled ... unusual. She sniffed me and knew immediately that smell was neither the normal Jacqueline nor her Queen, so she went on alert.

Soon as I figured out why I got stung, I came in and showered and threw all my clothes in the washer.

Seemingly random activity on the bee's part completely makes sense if you know bee behavior. I smelled like an interloping bee and she was doing perfect guard bee behavior in telling me to keep away from their hive. I SHOULD have known this but didn't think about it when I casually went from one hive to the next, smelling like someone else's Queen.


These are the kinds of curious and helpful things you'll learn in the next Meetup BEE Class, "The Honeybee Family" on Thursday, July 19 at the Venersborg Schoolhouse in Battle Ground. If you haven't been to this class, I invite you to attend. If you have or are thinking of keeping bees, knowing what everyone does and how they keep their community healthy and growing is good stuff worth learning. Friends are welcome. Hope to see you there.



Jacqueline Freeman

Bee Whisperer

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