Tag Archives: bees

Nature Red in Claw and Sting

Yes, I know the quotation is “nature red in tooth and claw” and it refers primarily to beasts that have those appurtenances, like lions and tigers and bears. But those don’t scare me much, because I seldom run into them in my day-to-day life.

(There was the time, years ago, when a group that should have known better brought a baby lion to the mall and offered to take pictures of people holding it. I couldn’t resist. They handed me the bundle of joy, which weighed at least 50 pounds. It proceeded to lick my ear. Afraid that the lion was just testing whether I was tasty enough to eat, the handlers swooped in and grabbed the lion, but not before they took this picture. But I digress.)

I will readily admit to being afraid of bees – an apiphobe (which, despite appearances, does not mean someone afraid of apes. That would be a pithecophobe.) If a bee gets near me, I freeze and scream until someone braver shooes it away. If it lands on my drink or my person, game over. Even the gentlest of bees terrifies me. My husband swears that carpenter bees don’t sting humans, for example. But I know wasps do, and one once got into the house while Dan was away. Now whenever Dan sees a flying insect in the area, he tries to convince me it was a butterfly or a dragonfly.

In fact, some people will tell you that’s why I got married – so I would have someone who could defend me from airborne attacks. And it would be hard to deny. When he wasn’t home and a wasp got in, I had to hit it with a shoe, then scoop it into a bottle with a lid and take it outside where, if it lived through all that, it could choose a different victim.

Ironically, I took beekeeping in college, in hopes of overcoming my fear. It didn’t work. I was okay during lectures, when we looked at diagrams and tasted samples of honey. But I had to take Valium to go to lab, where we interacted with real, live bees.

But now we have new threats. First came the killer bees, also called Africanized bees, that somehow lost their way and were invading the US through Mexico, last I heard. I think a border wall would have been sensible then, not later, when human beings were the supposed threats. Somehow they never made it to Ohio – at least that I know of. (My husband may have been censoring the news.)

Then came the 17-year locusts. (I’ve had to endure these twice in my life.) I don’t know if they actually bite or sting, but they have a terrible reputation. If they can be a Biblical plague, I might as well be scared of them. As far as I can see, though, the most harm they produce (to people, not to crops) is to drop down from trees in massive numbers and make an icky squishing sound when you happen to step on one, which is unavoidable. Seventeen years ago, I knew a woman who carried an umbrella to protect herself from the falling ones, though I don’t know how she avoided the squooshing noises.

This past year came the murder hornets. I could never steel myself to even read anything about them, but I assume they tied people up, stuffed them in the trunks of cars, stung them, then rolled the bodies down the nearest ravine. At least, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.

What will come next? Serial killer scorpions? Kidnapper tarantulas? Predatory lady bugs that look all cute and harmless until they attack? By now, I don’t trust any insect (or arachnid) to stay in its place, which is at least ten feet away from me. Not that I would want to touch them with a ten-foot pole.


How I Faced My Fear … And Failed

This is my idea of hell:

A semitruck rolled early Friday, spilling a load of honeybees on the Interstate 5 median at the Interstate 405 interchange near Lynnwood….As temperatures warmed and the bees became more agitated, firefighters sprayed a mixture of foam and water on the hives to slow down or kill some of the bees. Television reporters swatted at swarms of the insects surrounding their cameras and clumps of bee carcasses littered the roadway.


Yes, I am an apiphobe (1), also known as a melissophobe.(2)

In actuality, I’ve only been stung by a bee once. I was in my early teens and given to going barefoot whenever possible. While walking through someone’s yard, I happen to step sideways and the outside of my baby toe brushed up against the backside of a bee.

I know the bee had no intention to sting me. It was an accidental encounter on both our parts. A little baking soda and a bandaid and I was fine. Physically. My lack of reaction to the sting proved that I was not allergic – except in my own mind. Although I hadn’t panicked during the actual stinging, now panic is my instant reaction to the approach of any bees, wasps, or other stinging insect.(3)


I tried to overcome this fear. I really did.

During my college years, I had a relationship (4) with a man who intended to keep bees. Somehow I thought that if I studied beekeeping, it might be beneficial to the relationship.(5) As it happened, the college I was attending had on its faculty Roger Morse, one of the world’s most noted authorities on bees. He did mostly research, but also taught two courses, Anatomy of the Honeybee (which was highly technical) and Beekeeping 101.

I signed up for the beekeeping course.(6) It consisted of lectures and a lab component. Lectures were sort of nice, and quite interesting. We passed around samples of honeycomb and honey made from the pollen of various flowers and plants – buckwheat honey, orange blossom, and the like.(7)

Lab was something else again. I was OK when we were dissecting honey bees,(8) but when we got to tending beehives and interacting with live bees, my old fears came to the fore.

At first we were given netted helmets, heavy gloves, and smokers, which were supposed to calm the bees.(9) The rest of the class gradually got away from using these crutches, but I clung to them the entire time, along with a dose of Valium before lab. I would even eat almond cookies before lab, because I had heard that bees don’t like the scent of almonds.(10)

I managed to pass the course, but failed at the relationship and at conquering my fear. To this day, when a stinging insect appears anywhere in my vicinity, even if it is paying no attention whatsoever to me, I freeze, try my best not to scream, and wait in terror for someone braver to shoo the thing away.(11)

And now, National Geographic tells us, bee enthusiasts and scientists are trying to create artisanal (12) and genetically altered bees, in what they call “The Quest for a Superbee.”

To a geneticist, blindly breeding two bees that have a desired trait is like banging together two handfuls of marbles and scooping up the result. It’s much more effective to identify specific genes responsible for the desired traits and insert them.


Great. Now I get to be a superapiphobe.


(1) No, I don’t fear apes. That would be pithecophobia. Didn’t you get the idea that this was about fear of bees?

(2) No, not fear of people named Melissa, either. Seriously? Apis mellifera is the scientific name of the bee.

(3) Ticks, too. Anything that impinges on my bodily boundaries. It’s a wonder I’m able to have sex at all.

(4) Mistake!

(5) Mistake!

(6)  This despite the fact that I was an English Major in the College of Arts and Sciences and the courses on bees were in the College of Agriculture. The university insisted we broaden our minds by enrolling in several classes unrelated to our majors.

(7) Since then I’ve also had lavender honey, which has to be my favorite.

(8) When I got to the bee’s tiny intestine, I learned that bee poop is bright orange-yellow, which makes sense, because pollen. Everyone poops, and that’s how bees do.

(9) I still don’t get why spraying smoke into their homes would calm them. It would panic almost any other animal. Although capnophobia, fear of smoke, seems to mean only cigarette smoke. I would think that nearly all bears have agripyrophobia, or fear of wildfires. But I digress. As if you haven’t noticed.

(10) Which leaves the question, Do they like the scent of almond flowers, but not the nuts?

(11) My husband always tries to convince me that it was not a bee, but a dragonfly or a hummingbird. This does not fool me for a second, but I suppose he’s trying to be helpful.

(12) Artisanal honey, okay. But artisanal bees?