Curious Fact: It’s commonly known that a worker bee can sting only once, for afterward she dies. What is less commonly known is that it does not have to be that way. In fact, she can sting other insects repeatedly without coming to harm. The reason for this lies in her barbed stinger. Mammals have elastic skin that tightens around the barbs and when she tries to pull away, the barbs stay in the skin and pull her innards out with the stinger (including the venom sac, which continues to pump venom even after the bee is deceased). Insects, however, have rigid skin that cannot close around the barbs, and so when she pulls away, the stinger comes out intact.
A queen bee has no barbs and can sting even mammals repeatedly. She is unlikely to do so, however, as the risk to her life is too great–she is much more likely to hide and let her workers take care of the dirty work.
Adventure Update: I’ve been baptized by stinger! And it was no big deal for me (that’s my big beaming face above, AFTER the sting). But not such luck for the unfortunate bee. We found the little gal’s lifeless body in my pants later. Yes. In my pants. Here’s how it happened.
My bee mentor came by today to help us open the hive and lift out the frames. Here he is with Monty and Eli and an open hive. Note all the bees in the air, seen mostly as black specks against the veils and suits (but click on the picture then zoom in on Eli’s shirt to see that he has one climbing on him):
Well, getting everyone suited up and ready to go took longer than actually opening the hive. And in the process I forgot to tuck my shirt in. Oops.
So we got out there and opened up the hive. Monty and Eli helped to lift out the frames:
There were bees everywhere, sometimes landing on us, occasionally even buzzing angrily. Mostly, though, they were very calm. In fact, they seemed to have very little interest in us, despite our interest in them. Eli spent quite a lot of time trying to get one to climb on his hand. Here he is with his hand atop a frame, and the bees moving calmly away from him (those are his white-gloved fingers in the bottom of the picture):
Then, while Eli was examining the frames:
I noticed my untucked shirt. Uh-oh. Still… everything would have been fine if I had left well enough alone. But I thought I ought to tuck it in. I thought to tuck it in… but I didn’t think to check for bees first. Well, you can hardly blame the poor little worker for what she did next, even if she did do it right in my keister. I suppose if you were minding your own business and someone just up and smashed you like that, you’d probably give a pretty good sting too if you could. Poor little thing just got tucked right into my pants.
Well, it hurt for a bit, but it passed pretty quick too.
And it was so totally worth it. It was great having Matt over–I would have been much more nervous trying to do it just the three of us, and I probably would have botched it pretty badly the first time. Plus, he told us what we were looking at. Here’s a frame of bees with Matt pointing out various elements of the comb (someday I too will be brave enough to do this without gloves!):
We saw pollen, honey, and plenty of brood. Matt showed us drone cells–they’re considerably bigger than worker cells–and we tried to find the queen. Didn’t see her, but it’s obvious she’s hard at work from the amount of brood in the cells. Matt says they look healthy, and he also commented on how calm they are. The frames are really neat to look at. Eli was bold, but Monty was right there looking at everything too. Here they both are helping me hold a frame:
Oh, and Everett slept through the whole thing–just peacefully slept on the bed, with his thumb tucked into his mouth. Perfect timing, little guy.
Maintenance: Everything looks great inside the hive. Yesterday, I re-filled their syrup jar. They have not yet begun filling out the super, and there are still two frames in the brood box that are not filled out. But everything looks great and it won’t be long before they’re starting on that super, I’m sure. We’ll check it again next week.