bees and the many benefits they provide to humans would stand a better chance of surviving if people weren’t so afraid of being stung by them. I grew up with bees and spent some time running from them when they zipped out of the hives in my backyard and chased me — only because I was drawing attention by moving too quickly near their work zone.
Looking back, I realize I was never stung. Nevertheless, danger seemed real because the bees dove at me and chased me a long distance across the yard, keeping me at what they considered a safe distance. But bees can learn that you’re not a threat if you move carefully when you’re near them.
I can think of two times when I was stung. One was when I was mowing high weeds in the countryside and stirred up a nest of hornets. The other was when I stepped on a honeybee in my backyard just before I flew to South America.
Two stings do not constitute a reason to consider bees, wasps and hornets intolerable pests. I’ve learned to expect them not to sting me, even when I am with thousands of them.
My previous home was on a property with a large grape arbor. When I mowed grass during late summer and early fall, bees and other stingers threatened to attack if I insisted on mowing close to the arbor. The threat to my children concerned me, too.
The harassment became bad enough that I determined to reduce the population accumulating at the arbor. I put about a half inch of sugary water in two plastic ice cream pails and put the lids on. I cut a two-inch flap in the lids and bent them back to allow all stingers to enter and feast themselves into a stupor. When I returned home in the afternoon, I walked somewhat slowly up to the pails, where the insects swarmed around me, and pressed the flaps on the lids to close them.
I repeated this technique day after day, collecting fifty to a hundred each time. I put my first catch in the freezer overnight and tossed them out onto the driveway in the morning. To my shock, they were nowhere to be seen when I returned home in the afternoon. They had thawed and flown straight back to the arbor.
The next approach was to flush the daily catch down the toilet. That worked like a charm, although some of my family were worried that they might get stung while sitting on the potty. If bees could resurrect after a night in the freezer, couldn’t they come back up through the toilet? Nope.
Out of necessity, everyone was soon using the bathroom again with full confidence.
I disposed of more than 1,000 bees and other stingers that year, and my yard offered enough of a habitat that they easily rebounded. This year, I’ve been working against carpenter bees. They bored holes into the cedar trim on my garage while I wasn’t looking. I thought they were just hanging out. I could’ve persuaded them to nest elsewhere by seeking guidance from the local Purdue Extension office.
I’ve certainly enjoyed picking off these oversized pollenators midair with a fly swatter, but I’ve decided to live in peace with them, as far as possible. If I move slowly — not too slowly — they will almost ignore me even at close range. So I filmed them in action and documented their stunning, rapid tunnel work. It is a sight to behold.
Farmers and naturalists say bees and other stinging insects are exceedingly beneficial to us. The Purdue Extension office can help us coexist with them.