The adage about a solitary bee rarely stinging a human being if it is left alone remains true.(1) Away from the hive, a honeybee worker, for example, will rarely look to sting a human while foraging for nectar, pollen and or water.
However, if when that been is swatted at or roughly handled, it can become aggressive. It’s difficult for kids and parents to ignore wasps or honeybees as the fly around the picnic blanket, theme park restaurant table, and so on. But this simple tactic remains the best approach.
Protecting the Hive
It’s when a human ventures closer to the treasured, honey-filled hive that bee sting attacks become a much more likely event. Over the centuries, bees of all stripes have become accustomed to protecting their hives from human and animal intruders. Many of the most egregious bee attacks on humans are caused when a person, or person(s), inadvertently stumbles into an area where a hive is located or accidentally disrupts one that is underground.
There are a number of ways people can reduce the risk of bee stings while enjoying the great outdoors. One is to be very careful while climbing any mountain or cliff-side surface, as bees often locate within crevices. Others include: being aware that the vibration caused by the use of motorized garden equipment may alarm bees; avoiding strong scented shampoos, soaps, and perfumes before hiking; and, believe it or not, nighttime leather and fur clothing, as these can be more easily mistaken by bees for their natural animal kingdom predators.
When a person is stung many times by bees within a very short amount of time, they can actually be killed if stung often enough.(2) It all comes down to the ratio of honey bee stings and body weight. The toxic threshold for bee stings is estimated at just under nine stings per single pound of human body weight. So for example, if a person weighing 100 pounds were stung by 900 or more bees—an obviously rare and catastrophic occurrence—their life could be put in immediate danger.
(1) United States Department of Agriculture – Bee Stings / Safety, Retrieved September 29, 2011 from http://www.ars.usda.gov/research/docs.htm?docid=11067&page=8
(2) West Virginia University – About Bee and Wasp Stings, Retrieved September 29, 2011 from http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/wildlife/bees.htm