We went camping last weekend and the bees were everywhere! This time of year they seem to be particularly annoying because they seem almost sluggish and way more persistent.
Even though you’ve taken steps to keep the bees away using suggestions in our previous post, “How To Keep Bees Away From Your Next Outdoor Party…and You!“, we discovered how to take steps to keep them away from you. But what do you do if they aren’t fazed by your prevention efforts and won’t go away?
Let’s pretend we’re a bee for a minute…
What Bees See
The pollen and nectar of flowers is a source of food for a bee. Their favorites are, blue, yellow and white. Bright orange and purple flowers come in a close second, and their least attractive flower color is generally red.
Bees see similarly to a color blind person, and because they see colors differently, they interpret the world differently than we do. Bees don’t see the color red, and have trouble distinguishing it from the green background of leaves. Bees that prefer red flowers is not that they are attracted to the red color, but that they perceive them in a color that they can see, such as hues of oranges and yellow. Bees can see UV fluorescence. As long as you’re not wearing a flourescent yellow shirt that glows in the sun, bees will most likely find their flowers more interesting than you!
What We See
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What Bees See
Which are Which?
Because of the many species of bees, and the many variations of body type, coloring, and behavior, the below descriptions and facts are only a very general description of each.
Something I was surprised to learn is that the term wasp is a general term that includes both hornets and yellowjackets. A wasp is not the name of a particular bee, it’s the name of a type of bee. In other words, all hornets and yellowjackets are wasps, but not all wasps are hornets or yellowjackets. Interesting, huh?
- Hornets grow to a size of .75 inches. They come in different variations of black and yellow.
- Despite their larger size, most hornet species (but not all of them) are less aggressive than the yellow jackets
- Hornets usually stay above ground, nesting in trees, shrubs and perhaps under eaves of homes.
- Hornets build their nests from a papery substance that is produced from chewing wood and mixing it with their saliva.
- Hornets have a smooth stinger, and can sting many times. Their sting can be very painful.
- Yellowjackets are slightly smaller than hornets, with a much smaller head. Their face is primarily yellow with dark eyes. They have black and yellow markings on the front of the head, and yellow banding around the abdomen.
- Yellowjackets build their nests out of wood materials ground up into paper, and are often found nesting underground in areas that have been hollowed out by rodents or other animals.
- They are attracted to meat, fruit and sweet drinks.
- Yellowjackets have a smooth stinger, can deliver a very painful sting, and can sting many times.
- Honeybees are normally about 3/4 inch long. Normally their bodies are hairy, reddish-brown and black, with orangish-yellow rings on the abdomen. The head, antennae and legs are black.
- Their hives are usually located in a hollow tree.
- Honey bees will usually leave you alone, but can get confused and be attracted to some soaps, hairsprays or perfumes.
- Their stinger is barbed. The sting apparatus is pulled from the bee’s body when she moves away causing massive abdominal rupture and death. Despite common belief, it is the only species of bee to die after stinging.
- Bumblebees have a roundish-square-shaped body, 3/4 to 1 inch in length. They come in a range of colors,and are generally more hairy than the honey bee.
- Bumblebee is slow and gentle, wandering around collecting nectar and pollen. They are less aggressive than the honeybee.
- Only worker bumblebees and Queen bumblebees have a stinger. It’s smooth, and they are able to sting as many times as they want.
- Bumblebees nest in a variety of different places. Some nest underground, in places such as abandoned rodent holes, under sheds and in compost heaps. Others make nests in thick grass, bird boxes and in trees.They can nest in leaf litter or soil.
What To Do When a Bee Lands on You
Photo credit: bbc.co.uk
Unless someone accidentally collides quite hard with or swats at a bee or wasp, it is not likely to sting. If you remain calm when a bee or wasp lands on your skin to inspect a smell or to get water if you are sweating heavily (good luck with THAT!), it will eventually just leave. If you’re not patient enough (or calm enough) to wait, gently and slowly brush it away with a piece of paper. Never swat at it. Bees sting when they feel threatened. Don’t alarm them or piss them off by moving quickly. Just gently direct them away from you. Some experts believe that if you don’t show fear of bees, they won’t sting you and that it’s often the one running away who gets stung.
Bees most commonly sting in skin around clothing with high contrast areas, like collars and cuffs. Because bees’ sight is so hindered by color, those clothing areas are perceived as the “weak spots” of their predators i.e. their eyes and noses.
What Will Happen if I Get Stung?
If you’re stung, you’ll usually experience an initial sharp pain that lasts a few minutes, then it becomes a dull ache. It’s normal to experience pain, burning, itchiness, redness and swelling. The pain should only last for a few hours. If swelling of your hands or fingers should occur, be sure to remove any rings you’re wearing. The sting area may be sensitive to the touch for several days.
A beesting can lead to very large swelling around the sting site or in a whole portion of the body. The area is quite likely to itch. Try not to rub or scratch the sting site because microbes from the surface of the skin could be introduced into the wound and result in an infection.
A very limited portion of the population is allergic to bee or wasp stings, but if you or the person you’re with has a bee allergy and is stung, get medical help ASAP!
When the sting is caused by a honey bee, the stinger usually remains in the skin when the insect leaves because the stinger is barbed. Remove it as quickly as possible by scraping it out before treating. Venom from the stinger continues to flow into the skin for 45-60 second following a sting, so the faster you remove it, the better, and the severity of the sting will be reduced. After the stinger is removed, wash the wound and treat it.
This also means that a dead bee’s stinger can sting you.The force of your weight on the bee’s body can result in venom injection. So, don’t step on, sit on, or play with dead bees!
Bee Sting Remedies
Before trying a remedy, make sure the stinger has been removed from the skin. Keep the wound clean with soap and water to prevent a skin infection (wash regularly for several days). You can also sterilize with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. Oral and topical antihistamines (such as Benadryl or Claritin) can help prevent or reduce the itching and swelling. We found some home remedies that people swear by. The below remedies are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The below information is for general knowledge purposes only.
- Ice: Place an ice cube or ice pack on it and press for about 20 minutes, will help reduce pain. Ice can also be used to help reduce the swelling that will occur. Make sure to protect the skin by covering ice with a thin cotton towel or paper towel first.
- Baking Soda: Cover with a thick paste of baking soda and water.
- Salt: Same as baking soda above but using salt instead.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Soak a small cotton pad with apple cider vinegar and hold on wound until pain disappears (the acid content neutralizes the venom).
- Vinegar: Same treatment as apple cider vinegar, can also drizzle a few drops directly onto skin (the acid content neutralizes the venom).
- Lemon Juice: Same procedure as apple cider vinegar, can also drizzle a few drops directly onto skin (the acid content neutralizes the venom).
- Lemon: Cut a fresh slice of lemon and hold in place over skin (the acid content neutralizes the venom).
- Garlic: Smother with crushed garlic then cover with a bandaid.
- Onion: Slice an onion and press in place until there is no more discomfort.
- Cucumber: Place a freshly sliced piece of cucumber on top and hold in place.
- Potato: Cover with a sliced (uncooked) potato with the cut end side, hold in place.
- Olive Oil: Rub with olive oil for relief and to help with healing.
- Marigolds: Rub the flower head of a marigold over the area (must be a freshly picked marigold and not dried).
- Basil: Roughly crush a fresh leaf or two to release the herb’s natural oils and press directly on area, hold in place.
- Winter Savory: Crush the leaves roughly to release the herb’s oils then apply.
- Aloe Vera: Split open a leaf and slather the aloe gel directly to the area.
- Plantain: Chop roughly and mix with a bit of warm water then apply. You can also chew a leaf or two then apply to bite.
- Calamine lotion can be applied to help soothe things and relieve itching.
- A paste made with Epsom salts and water can provide relief.
Old School Remedies:
- Chew tobacco a bit to wet it, then apply it to the sting area. Wrap a strip of cloth around it to hold it in place.
- Mix dirt with water or saliva to make a mud then apply it to the wound.
- Press a penny on top of it and hold it in place for 10 to 15 minutes until there is no more discomfort (…umm??)
We hope you have fun this holiday weekend. Enjoy the rest of your summer…and be careful out there!
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The bees are out. We went camping last weekend. We had a leisurely morning. It was warm, quiet, pleasant, calm. We started to make breakfast and I swear the minute that bacon hit the frying pan, every bee in North Idaho was congregated around our camp stove.
Few things are more annoying or can wreck an otherwise pleasant meal than trying to eat when you’re dodging bees flying around your head, buzzing in your ear, and crawling around in your plate. In my case, there’s also a bit of fear that one will go psycho on me and try to set a world stinging record on my face.
Because of this irritation, I decided to go on a quest to find out how to at least minimize my close relationship with bees, and find ways to enjoy outdoor eating in the future without having to wear full body armour.
What Attracts Bees?
Unlike mosquitoes, bees are not attracted to the smell of humans. Bees are attracted to color and smells in their environment. They’re pretty simple insects, actually, and in my mind, unlike mosquitoes, they actually have a purpose. They’re pollinators. That’s usually what they’re out flying around trying to do, only to discover they’ve made a wrong turn heading for that rosebush and ended up on top of our soda can. We start flinging food and waving our arms around which either scares them or pisses them off and they react. So basically they get a bad rap for being an insect who’s guided by only his sense of smell and bad eyesight.
Bees are looking for flowers to pollinate. Flowers smell, well…flowery. So if you smell like one, you may end up with some hairy, big-eyed insect trying to suck up some of your nectar. Although bees are attracted to smells more than they are to colors, they still may mistake you for a flower if you’re wearing certain colors or prints. Contrary to popular belief, bees and wasps aren’t necessarily attracted to colors that resemble flowers so much as they are aggressive towards colors and textures that resemble their predators.
Strong food odors also attract bees, especially sweet smells, and once they get a whiff of your picnic food, they’re almost impossible to get rid of. Once wasps discover food, they will continue to hunt around that location long after the source has been removed, which means if they find your food right when you set it out, they (and ALL their friends), may be with you through your entire party.
Choosing Your Party Location
Choose Your Picnic Location Carefully
- Avoid choosing your party spot near trash cans, as they tend to attract lots of bees.
- If you do see a nest of bees nearby, or notice bees flying to and from a particular area, choose another location. Observe the area around your chosen spot to check for bees before you start to load in.
- Bees like tall grass for ground nests and quiet places such as unused play structures and sheds for hives. Watch for those.
How to “Bee Proof” Your Eating Area
Try These Tips to Prep Your Picnic Area and Help Keep The Bees Away
- Take a banana peel, cut into thin strips then insert strips into an empty 2 liter bottle. Combine 1 cup sugar with 1 cup vinegar, stir, then pour the mixture into the bottle. Fill the bottle up with water to 2 inches below the neck. Tie a piece of string around the neck and hang it from a nearby tree branch.
- Moth balls are another effective repellent for bees. Cut the feet off of a few pairs of pantyhose and fill them with moth balls. Tie the pantyhose off and hang them around your picnic area. The pungent odor will discourage bees and also keep other insects away.
- Bees are very territorial and by nature will attack anything that comes near their hives. Bees typically will avoid enemy hives, or what they think are enemy hives in fear of being attacked. Trick them by making fake hives. Blow up a few brown paper bags and tie them off. Hang them around your picnic area. I haven’t tried this, but it makes sense that the bees might be fooled that you’re surrounded by hives of another colony and stay away.
- Set out a bowl or cup with some flat soda, fruit juice, maple syrup, or sugar water a few yards away from your picnic. Bees are attracted to the sugary scent and will pursue this instead of your lunch. If possible, set out the bee bait 20 minutes or so before you begin your picnic. Bees can actually “talk” to each other, so this will give them time to all gather at the same spot and hopefully keep them busy while you enjoy your picnic. It may not get rid of all of them, but it will distract most of them.
- If you’re really bothered by bees, bring one of those netted tent canopies to seal the bees outside. It will keep the bees from being attracted to your food, and give you a safe environment to enjoy your day.
- Use a pot of marigolds as a centerpiece on your table. They’re pretty, and they naturally repel bees and other bugs. They find the scent unpleasant.
Prepping the Eating Area
- Set up the food table away from where everyone will be gathered.
- Bring some mint leaves with you and sprinkle them around your eating area. This plant will help to mask the sweet smell of your food so the bees will possibly completely ignore you and your feast.
- Avoid bright colors and floral prints for your tablecloth or picnic blanket. Be careful when selecting plates and napkins. Make sure they are all white or another non-floral color. Especially avoid using floral printed plates or accessories at your picnic.Bees notice bright hues as well as sweet smells. If something looks like a flower, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have some bees coming to check it out.
- Buy a few of those toilet bowl cleaners that you attach to the rim of toilets. Stick them to the bottom of your picnic table, chairs and BBQ grill. Pull the wrapper open slightly. Bees don’t like the smell.
- Put out 4-5 cloves on the table. Bees hate the smell and should stay away while your eating.
- When planning food for your outdoor party, try to avoid any foods with strong smells, as these will attract bees. Stick to foods that are bland, with very little odor. Basically, if you don’t want to attract bees, don’t bring fried chicken, smoked salmon, etc. or barbecue any food that smells good while it’s cooking. Whaaaat? ALL food smells good on a BBQ!
- Don’t bring out your food until you’re ready to eat. Open food will attract bees as well as a variety of other insects.
- Keep your food items in closed containers as much as possible. Use lids for your food containers and your beverages, or cover them with a plate, foil, or plastic wrap, in order to prevent the bees from climbing into the food and stinging someone in the mouth. If you can hide some of the aromas of your meal, the bees may not pick you up as quickly on their radar.
- Be particularly careful to cover high-sugar foods and drinks (like sodas). Bees are especially attracted to them. Yellow jackets, in particular, love to crawl into sodas, especially Dr. Pepper.
- The scent of barbecue is especially attractive to bees and wasps and brings them in to see what you’ve got cookin’! Do what you can to keep that delicious odor downplayed as much as possible.
- Keep the food and trash bins tightly covered when not in use. This will help reduce the wafting aromas that might entice these pesky insects.
- Dispose of any garbage right away.
What to Wear to Your Picnic
Kidding. Bees are attracted to scents and colors of flowers because they are gathering nectar for food. So if a person looks or smells like a flower, they are more likely to attract the attention of a bee.
How Do You Look?
- Don’t wear clothing that features highly contrasting patterns or colors. Bold, darker colors like red and black resemble natural predators and are likely to cause bees to become more aggressive towards you. Don’t wear floral patterns. Pastels are a good choice. White is best.
- Loose-fitting, flowing clothing may attract and trap bees.
- Wear clothes that have a smooth texture. Corduroy and other fuzzy clothes, such as wool, resemble the fur of predators (like skunks and badgers), Wear cotton or a lightweight fabric.
- Avoid wearing shiny buckles and jewelry. Any shiny metal on you creates a homing beacon of interest in the sun for them.
How Do You Smell?
- Don’t wear scented body lotion, flower-scented body sprays, scented soap, heavily scented shampoo, scented deodorant or other scented personal care products. Bees use their sense of smell to find flowers to pollinate. If you smell like one, you could be a target!
- The scent of perfume, hair spray, hair gels, suntan lotion, aftershave lotions and many other cosmetics attract bees. Try to avoid them.
- If you’ve washed the clothes you have on in scented laundry detergent, you may smell more delicious to bees. Also, if your laundry detergent contains UV brighteners, bees may be able to pick up on that, even if you’re wearing light colors.
- Wear a hat. Hairy animals often try to invade bees nests, so you may be misjudged as the enemy if your locks are flowing. According to our research, it has been proven that bees pay less attention to humans who wear hats to cover their hair.
- Wear close-toed shoes, not sandals or flip flops.Long grass can house ground nests. Be careful.
- Even though outdoor parties are usually held when it’s warm out, wearing long sleeves and pants reduces the amount of exposed skin available for stinging.
How to Protect Yourself
Aside from the above precautions, I found very little else that you can do to protect yourself once bees are around. I love the below idea and in researching this article saw it mentioned over and over, so it’s certainly worth a shot.
Dryer Sheets with Fabric Softener.
- Fold a fresh dryer sheet and put it in the pocket of whatever clothing you are wearing. If you are carrying a purse or beach bag, throw a few fresh sheets in that as well.
- Rub one across your skin before going out to keep the bees away.
- Stick a few under your picnic basket, around tables, and underneath your tablecloth or food containers to discourage bees from getting to your food.
- Put some under your picnic blanket, hang them from trees.
Hell, if this works, I’ll construct a complete summer ensemble out of them, complete with a cute little shrug and pillbox hat!
I’ve learned that a lot of commercial insect repellants contain ingredients that can be harmful, and if used over a long period of time can affect your breathing, cause nausea, memory loss, etc. Yikes! Below are some homemade herbal suggestions you could try:
Herbal Bee Repellent: This repellent consists of tea tree oil and Benzaldehyde (a colorless liquid with a characteristic pleasant almond-like odor). The combination of these two ingredients proves repulsive to bees, so they stay away.
Herbal Bee Repellent: The combination of lemongrass, peppermint oil, and citronella. Most herbal bee repellents are safe for use on children and pets. These should ideally be applied to collars, hair, wrists, and sock tops.
Natural bee Repellents: Citrus, Mint and Eucalyptus oils.
Though insect repellents are typically used to ward off mosquitoes, they are also effective at repelling bees. If you don’t like the smell or sticky feeling of a spray-on or roll-on repellent, a clip-on repellent is an excellent alternative to consider. Although a natural repellent is my preference, I’m not opposed to trying one of these. Just clip one of these suckers to your clothing and they’ll work to mask your natural odor that attract bees to you.
I hope these ideas and info help you to be able to enjoy your next outdoor party bee-free. I’d love to hear what helped you, what didn’t work, and any tips and tricks you have to keep these nasty insects away!
I started this post hours ago and have accumulated so much information that I’ve decided to write a Part II about bees. I hate them, but they fascinate me. What’s the difference between a hornet, a wasp, and a yellow-jacket? Do they see? Do they really lose their asses when they sting? Which bees can sting repeatedly? I can get sooooo distracted…