“One can no more approach people without love than one can approach bees without care. Such is the quality of bees…” ~ Leo Tolstoy
I live in an suburban cul-de-sac. This last weekend, we had one of those parties where the whole street is invited to congregate and get to know each other.
Straight up, I didn’t want to go. I’m a card-carrying introvert and would much rather hang out in my greenhouse or otherwise eat glass.
But along we went. My neighbours are nice people. Some of them I have known for over 20 years.
And because I have a huge veggie patch in my front yard, my neighbours are always polite and inquisitive about my garden. Since I have zero talent for small talk, I tend to bore people with stories of Russian seed revolutionaries, or how mealworms could be the new superfood or the virtues of suburban agrihoods.
So when they ask as to what I do to keep myself off the streets and out of mischief while the kids are at school, pretty soon, I’m going to steer talk to my all-time-favourite-conversation.
And the reaction is always interesting, as it is varied.
Tell some people you keep bees in suburbia and they will recoil from you as quickly as if you told them you bake meth in your garage. Or if you let your kids juggle fire for sport.
Reckless, public menace! Shoooo!
Others are instantly curious and what to know more. They’re my favourite kind of people. Then I’m all…
“Pour yourself another glass of wine and prepare to be amazed!”
But naturally, there’s always a fear of the unknown. And one neighbour, who said his kid was allergic* to bees, asked me an intriguing question…
“What are the odds of someone actually dying from a bee sting?”
I didn’t know!
This last week, I’ve delighted in researching this very subject. And while that may seem morbid, I assure you it is much more interesting because as it turns out, humans are actually really rubbish as determining relative risk.
While you might freak out because you discover your neighbour has a beehive, chances are you’re more likely to die from falling out of bed, slipping over in the bath, or driving to work in the morning.
Here’s my master list of all the things that are more likely to end your time on earth sooner than a bee sting, in likely order (with a little sting at the end of the list)...
Odds of dying from heart disease: 1 in 6.
Odds of dying from cancer: 1 in 7.
Odds of dying from stroke: 1 in 28.
Odds of dying from accidental poisoning by toxic substances: 1 in 130.
Odds of dying from a fall: 1 in 171.
Odds of dying from a car accident: 1 in 303.
Odds of dying from a gunshot: 1 in 306.
Odds of dying from a motorcycle accident: 1 in 770.
Odds of dying from accidental drowning: 1 in 1,123.
Odds of dying from exposure to smoke/fire: 1 in 1,177.
Odds of dying from cycling: 1 in 4,717.
Odds of dying from air and space transport accidents: 1 in 7,032.
Odds of dying from exposure to electric current, radiation, temperature or pressure: 1 in 9,943.
Odds of being injured by a toilet this year: 1 in 10,000.
Odds of dying from exposure to excessive natural heat: 1 in 12,517.
Odds of being murdered today (in the United States): 1 in 19,000.
Odds of dying from an asteroid or comet: between 1 in 3,000 and 1 in 250,000.
Odds of dying in a cataclysmic storm: 1 in 46,044.
Odds of getting struck by lightning in your lifetime: 1 in 84,079.
Odds of dying from being bitten/attacked by dog: 1 in 120,864.
Odds of dying from being in an earthquake: 1 in 148,756.
Odds of dying in a flood: 1 in 175,803.
Odds of dying from a fireworks discharge: 1 in 386,766.
Odds of getting killed by a shark: 1 in 3.7 million.
Odds of dying from a bee sting: 1 in 6 million.
Odds of winning the Lottery: 1 in 13,983,816. Dammit!
But the real moral of this story is, please do not fear bees in your suburb or neighbourhood.
Provided you are not threatening or trampling their hive, bees will most likely ignore you, as they have far more important work to be doing rather than loitering around, harassing humans. A stinging bee is a bit like a Kamikaze pilot. They will only sacrifice their own life if they have reason to believe that you intend harm to their hive, or as a last resort defence.
Unless you are one of those very rare souls who experiences anaphylactic reaction* to bee stings (estimated to be about 3% of the general population) rest assured you would need a good serve of bee venom to experience a fatal dose. That’s about 1000 stings for adults, 500 for children.
So if your neighbour confesses to being a backyard beekeeper, how do you think you would feel about it now? Of course, not all backyard beekeepers are created equal, so that’s a post for another time. But as long as your neighbourhood bees are well cared for, I bet you wouldn’t notice bees were there at all.
I’m actually more amazed at how frequently people just don’t notice the bees that are around. I’m usually the one looking up at the blossoming trees saying “Wow! Look at all the bees!”
Do you have an urban hive? Do live near one? Please drop me a comment and share your experience, I love to hear from you!
*Usually, when people tell me they’re allergic to beestings, I ask if they carry an epi-pen everywhere with them. An anaphylactic reaction is life threatening business. But 99% of the time, the answer is no. “But when a bee stings me, my skin goes red and it gets itchy.” So if this is your “allergic reaction” you’re talking about, you can relax a little. Bees sting with venom. A bit of swelling, pain and itchiness is a normal skin reaction to the toxin. Applying raw honey and ice will ease the sting.