The Daily Mail By Dick Johnson for Columbia-Green Media June 24, 2014
Fourth of July is traditional picnic time. Among the uninvited picnic guests it’s likely to see some yellow jackets. Unlike gentle honeybees that are vegetarians, the aggressive yellow jackets are carnivores and feed on other insects. This is why they show up just at the time that the delicious aroma of hot dogs and hamburgers floats in the breeze from the grill. They also have a “sweet tooth” and go after the sugar in your ice tea or soda pop. Remind the kids to check for bees especially if the drink has been left on the table for a while. There are two types of yellow jackets that build their populations late summer and early fall. The native, most common type makes its nest in the ground and is actually small than a honeybee. The other type is one inch, double the size of the honeybee and is native to Europe. Both of these pests are shiny, bright yellow with black stripes - different from honeybees that are tan and black and “fuzzy.”
The other serious pest at the picnic may be the white-faced hornet. This is a large, shiny black bee with white markings on the head. These are the bees that build those big round gray nests hanging from a branch. Both of these bees are aggressive and can sting multiple times, unlike the honeybee.
It is unlikely that honeybees create a problem unless the picnic is in a beekeepers yard. Honeybees don’t want to sting as they lose their life, but they will use their stinger to protect their hive. Unless you threaten them, while honeybees are foraging in the flower garden, they usually are very gentle. Despite the hysteria associated with honeybee stings, they do not cause a medical crisis for 99 percent of our population.
The honeybee has a barbed stinger that continues to inject venom under your skin for a couple minutes. The best advice is to get the stinger out as fast as possible to prevent injection of the “full dose.” Fortunately, many persons develop a tolerance to stings, and their reaction is much reduced after frequent, repeated stings. Most persons do not experience any symptoms other than a burning sensation for two minuets, a red spot, and localized swelling. Occasionally, a mild allergic reaction may cause itching, a rash, or light-headed feeling and these symptoms usually respond to antihistamine pills.
The dangerous type of reaction is a drop in blood pressure and any difficulty breathing. This mat be an anaphylactic reaction and requires immediate medical attention. Persons hypersensitive to bee venom should carry the pocket bee sting kit available by prescription. Treatments to desensitize highly sensitive persons are available from specialized allergists to greatly reduce bee stings.
When a person accidentally receives multiple stings there will be significant swelling but a healthy adult usually recovers fully after 300 to 500 stings. There has bee considerable concern about the spread of the “Africanized” honeybees now found in most of the deep southern states. These bees are very aggressive but beekeepers in those areas have adjusted their management to be able to maximize their pollination of crops and honey production. These aggressive bees will not breed locally as they originated in the tropics and cannot survive our cold temperatures.
Don’t expect any problems from gentle honeybees but be careful with the “picnic bees.”