Ouch! That Stings!
Bees aren’t usually aggressive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get stung if you inadvertently make them feel threatened. Like I accidentally did to one poor bumblebee who was caught in a blossom against my leg while pruning spent roses – ouch! Fortunately, we both survived relatively unscathed. Unlike wasps, bee stings usually occur in defence of themselves or their hive/colony. The most effective way to avoid a sting in a shared space is usually to avoid being perceived as a threat.
Bee Alert, Bee Aware
Remain conscious of bees in the vicinity when working in or enjoying your bee-friendly garden. Give them space when needed. Be particularly alert for bees when harvesting fruit near blossoms and when cutting/deadheading flowers. When birds have been thieving fruit in our garden, I often find bees on the pecked fallen fruit. Clean up requires extra caution to avoid accidentally squeezing bees. Bees are drawn to the sweet scent of the opened-up ripe juicy fruit.
If you have an active bee hive or nest in your habitat, take extra care around that area of the garden.
Avoid Being an Object of Interest
Away from the hive, foraging bees are usually too busy collecting to be interested in us silly humans. It can help to avoid looking or smelling like a delicious flower by limiting perfumes and other heavy scents before heading into the garden. As a bonus, this can help reduce mosquito bites as well.
Consider dressing in muted colours. Bees favour flowers in bright colours like blue, purple, and yellow as noted in our bee-friendly plant selection post earlier in the mini-series. Avoid shiny materials and jewellery. It can also help to avoid looking like a natural threat. Black and dark brown carry predator associations for bees. Not that you’re likely to be gardening in faux-fur (hehehe…), but if you have dark hair, like my wild and crazy mane, then wearing a hat can be helpful for bee safety.
Bee Calm, Bee Safe
If a typical garden bee is close to or alights on you, try to remain calm. You don’t want to transform into a perceived threat for defensive stinging. If possible, be slow and gentle. Try to avoid rapid movements or outcries, if you can. In my experience they usually take off quickly without any action on my part. I sometimes blow on them gently if they need a little encouragement to move.
Dress Safely When Gardening
Make sure that you are well covered for added sting protection, when feasible. Long sleeves/legs, closed toed shoes, gloves, and a hat can help. It will also keep you sun-smart and can help to avoid scrapes and other injuries from working in the garden. Avoid billowy clothing that bees may fly into or become trapped inside. Eek!
Educate Children on Bee Safety
If children are sharing your bee-friendly garden space, it is especially important to teach them about maintaining a safe distance and staying calm around bees. Take the opportunity to talk about how to identify garden friends from garden foes, and which insects may bite or sting. If you’re not sure, why not learn together? I still struggle sometimes!
Protect Pets from Bees (and Bees from Pets)
Position pet beds and houses away from high bee activity areas. If you have active hives in your garden, try to keep them isolated from your pets. Ensure that your pet bowls are not the only available source of water in the garden. Know appropriate first aid for your pets in the event of a sting.
Know Bee Sting First Aid
In the event that you or a family member/guest (pets included!) experience a sting, know how to apply appropriate first aid, including safely removing a stinger, if needed.
Remember, pets will sometimes sniff or bite/swallow bees, which creates a much higher risk of stings to the face than for us humans. This can be incredibly painful in sensitive areas, but also dangerous. Seek advice from your vet in the event of a facial sting, especially if localised swelling has the potential to affect vision or respiration.
Be attentive for signs of anaphylaxis (allergic reaction) in people and pets, and seek emergency assistance if a reaction is suspected. If you or anyone in your household is known to be allergic to bee-stings, do make sure that you always have the appropriate allergy kit(s) and knowledge to use them. If you are close with neighbours, consider making them aware as well in case they see an emergency unfolding over the fence and rush to assist and/or call assistance.