Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bee Attack!

It finally happened. I was stung. Attacked, really. A story in pictures:

It was an overcast day in the end of May, heavy with fog. Through thick air, I approached the hive armed only with a spray bottle filled with bee tea, having read somewhere that bees needn't be smoked. I can no longer remember where I received this information, and now suspect that I may have dreamt it.

I approached Hive #1, now called "She-Ra's hive" after her newly-named majesty. I cracked the lid and fired a few mists of bee tea into the hive as a peace offering. I opened the hive and saw this:
As you can see, the girls have started drawing out the comb.
She-Ra was also spotted, sporting a kelly green dot that the bee dude in Mass must have adhered to her abdomen. How did he immobilize her long enough to mark her? Perhaps he used a tiny stretcher.
It seemed that She-Ra's colony was progressing healthily, albeit slowly. I replaced the old bee tea with a new one, took some photos (She-Ra's girls are total hams!), closed her up, and shimmied over to Hive #2, now called "Beula's hive." Although I've never seen Queen Beula in action, I imagine her to operate in a similar manner to Ursula, the obese octopus in The Little Mermaid. Just as Ursula enacted complete control over her poor, unfortunate souls, Beula's army labors endlessly for their majesty, as illustrated in the over-production of comb in the photo below:
As you can see, Beula's girls devoured the bee tea. I decided they were ready to lose the feeding jar and start foraging in the big, bad world. (I left the feeding jar outside the hive, just in case the world was too big and bad.) Plus, I would need to remove the excess comb to make room for the... AAAAGGHHHHH!!!!!!
Beula's armed guards charged. The green sweep of blurred ivy in the photo above indicates swift movement. I threw the camera to the soft grass and simultaneously clutched my head and flinched from the tiny bee fingers that crept across my own. I am 100% certain that if anyone saw me doing this, they would a) call the police, b) run to my rescue, or c) write me off as a lunatic and call it a day, depending on the witness.

Option A would be pointless; by the time the police arrived, the perpetrators would be long gone. Option B would most likely precipitate the attack by introducing another victim to the mix. I conclude, therefore, that Option C is the most desirable. Which is fortuitous, because the neighbor's groundskeeper did, in fact, see me from a distance, and stared in confused amusement at my Ally-Sheedy-Breakfast Club-ish "dance." The bees used psychological tactics as well, such as buzzing crazily in my ear and then stopping abrubtly, causing me to pause in naive hope before violently delving deeper into my mane. The struggle lasted a solid five minutes. I held my hair in two fistfuls and squeezed hard. Silence. I cautiously released and the buzzing resumed, though muted. The hard, round pellet of insect body wiggled itself closer to my virgin-white scalp and thrust its sharp tail through the fragile flesh. At first, a sharp pain lasting about 30 seconds, then a short reprieve during which I thought, "Hey, this isn't so bad." I retrieved my camera from the grass and took this picture, a deep breath, and my first step back toward Beula's hive:
I acted quickly, as I knew the other bees would sense the attack pheromones lodged in my skull and charge. Knowing that this will happen does not make the happening any more pleasant. I fulfilled my duties mechanically, like the man who sees a kid drowning in a pond and finds himself neck-deep in a new suit before he even gets the chance to weigh the intrinsic value of a human child against that of an Oscar de la Renta suit. Signed, sealed, delivered, and out.

After another 3-4 minutes of the Ally Sheedy dance and at least 2 more stings, I inhaled deeply, collected myself, and waved to the neighbor's groundskeeper as if to say "I'm okay, don't worry about lil ol' me!" He looked at me sideways and turned around.

Around this time, the pain from sting #1 began its crescendo with a sharp, spreading prick that continued to climb to a stab until eclipsed by the crescendo of stings #2 and #3. My tender scalp felt lumpy. I thought of my haircut scheduled for the following day and shuddered. I ran my fingernails through the base of my hair in an attempt to dislodge the multiple stingers.

It hurt. It really did. I began to wonder how bee stings compared to hornet or yellowjacket stings in terms of pain. Luckily, instead of donating my body to science, I discovered that someone had already extensively researched the relative pain of the stings of tons of stinging insects. What I find so interesting about Justin O. Schmidt is not that he is an entomologist, or that he was "stung" through a bee veil by hornets launching venom into his eyes from 4 inches away. No, what I find so interesting is the way that he writes about the pain sensation from each sting. A few insects that he rates on a pain scale of 1-4:

1.0 Sweat Fly: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.
1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet & reaching for the light switch.
1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.
2.0 Bald-faced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.
2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
2.0+/- Honey bee and European hornet: Like a matchhead that flips off and burns on your skin.
3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.
3.0 Paper wasp: Caustic & burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.
4.0 Tarantula hawk: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair dryer has been dropped into your bubble bath.
4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail
in your heel.

I find myself returning again and again to phrases like "someone has fired a staple into your cheek." Fascinating. It sounds like a clue given to teammates for a card in Taboo. Are we talking heavy duty staplers or mini kindergarden ones? Because taking a staple in the cheek is a big step up from the pain you encounter "walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch."

I should point out that Schmidt claims that he has sampled the stings of 150 insects on 6 continents without deliberately trying to get stung. Now this stumps me: how can you get stung 150 times, by 150 insects, without putting insect to skin and forcing the sting or inciting the insect to attack, like hitting a hornets' nest with a baseball bat? Just wondering.

But I digress. The language is so... nonscientific! Almost poetic! There is an intimacy to each sting; the sweat fly's sting is "almost fruity," like a summer wine. The yellowjacket's sting is "hot and smoky, almost irreverent," like the seasoned Madame of a 1940's brothel. And of course, the Bullet Ant, who scores off the charts with a 4+. (Why didn't he just make the scale 1-5?) The Bullet Ant's sting incites "pure, intense, brilliant pain." (Sounds like somebody's having fun!) The Bullet Ant's sting is so pure, so brilliant that it doesn't even register on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index! I wonder if Schmidt ever poured a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut...

Either way, I love Schmidt's literary lilt. It kicks some color back into Entomology, makes it alluring to us number-phobes. I must, however, dispute Schmidt's description of a honeybee's sting "like a matchhead that flips off and burns on your skin." What, no adjectives? And that's supposed to be worse than a staple in the cheek? Schmidt really dropped the ball on this one, as if he were writing a paper in Entomology 101 and by the time he got to "honeybee sting" he'd been awake for 28 hours and scribbled something thoughtlessly. (Which was unfortunate, because he was saving honeybee sting for last because of its popularity! Ain't that a shame...)

I would describe a honeybee sting, in classic Schmidt style, as:

"Throbbing, increasingly insidious. Like a burst appendix pumping poison."

The bottom line is this: I was too bold. I'd gotten too comfortable with the girls, perhaps thinking I was one of them for a short period of time. But I am NOT a honeybee. I'm a real human girl, and I am not immune to bee attacks, even though they love me like a sister and vice versa. Whatever was going on in Beula's hive was obviously important enough to warrant a scalp-attack. No biggie. Next time, I'll use the smoker and wear a hat. (And bee camo to be incognito, of course. Nothing like blending in.)


  1. i believe this is why you're supposed to always wear a protective wig when opening hives etc.

  2. maybe your wig can bee a beehive! hehehe

  3. ah, you're giving me costume ideas!

  4. Is that so the bees don't recognize you as the person who has been stealing their honey? Clever...