Before we begin this tutorial, let me say that I have always loved the term, The bee's knees. There are a number of origins for this phrase but all of them seem to meld into something that means you're pretty good at what you do. Think about it. The basic, "You did good," pales in comparison to being told you are the The bee's knees. On the other hand, you could have a "bee in your bonnet," which means you must be downright angry about something. Either way, I fear some bees are being blamed for stuff they didn't do.
About this time of year, EVERY YEAR, most of us are plagued by yellow jackets. You folks have again forced me to find out what the facts truly are. Why? You got stung, or bitten or believed you were attacked and in any or all cases could probably and most likely have blamed the wrong critter for your grief.
Let us straighten this one out right away. Yellow jackets are not bees. They are wasps. They have a near relative which looks very much like them and and is called the European paper wasp. To know the difference, try to approach the bee. The true Yellow jacket will attack you. The European paper wasp will continue collecting pollen or whatever food it is dining on. My best advice? Never approach anything that looks like a wasp, hornet or yellow jacket. They will bite and sting you because they have a nasty temperament and get especially low on food this time of year which makes them have a bee in their own bonnet.
You may wonder what they do the rest of the year and some of you may wonder what Noah was thinking when he included them on the Ark. It turns out that those nasty yellow bees and their wasp relatives feast on caterpillars and other insects in the spring in order to keep their own hives alive. That feast continues for a good portion of the summer as their numbers increase. By Fall, they are hungry and over populated, which means they go for the big game. This could mean anything from a cow nose to a dog muzzle or a lovely human bit of skin. Garbage and picnics are all the same to these guys... food is food and they will attack if you try to fight back.
I have also not discussed the bumble bee. Bumble bees pollinate but do not produce honey and their hives are relatively small. They will chase you if you provoke them, but their numbers are so small that this is rarely a problem. Like their cousins in the wasp family, they can sting multiple times so it is best not to tick them off. In fact, I'd say that you shouldn't upset mason bees, mining bees, leaf-cutter bees or sweat bees. Though they rarely sting... who really wants to find out?
Now, let us to the hero of our story who is truly The bee's knees... good old, all around heroes of the REAL BEE world... the honey bee. Bless their little hearts. (Don't you dare write a letter to me telling me they don't have hearts). I like to believe they do have hearts because they do so much good. They pollinate green growing things and take time out to visit cactus in the heat of the desert and wildflowers in the timber lines. Who else has this kind of patience and perseverance? While they spend time making sure our crops will grow and our dahlias will bloom, they make billions of gallons of honey to feed people all around the world. Yes, they will sting you, but with the exception of one aggressive strain from South America, they will not do it on purpose. They are busy at the work of saving our planet, keeping their Queen and their hive living and producing.
The bee stings I remember from my childhood were mostly caused by honey bees, dandelions and bare feet. I lived through 'em all. The honey bee can only sting once. I have shed tears over this. The others are multi-talented. As a child in Rhode Island, a wasp stung my wrist while we were berry picking. The following morning there was a bright red highway up my arm and the entire side of my face was swollen. After that, I knew what a reaction was. Of course, later on there was that yellow jacket sting on the tip of my nose which gave me two black eyes. OK... dang it, I guess that's another reaction. I give. Oh, and there was that yellow jacket that turned my leg black and blue. This makes me the kind of gal who should carry an Epi-Pen in my holster.
The moral of this story is that you should know your bees. Be aware of their types (wasps and/or bees) and be aware of how much damage they can do. If you have prior reactions and you are old (like me), talk to your doctor and arm yourself. Otherwise, look up the correct ways to treat a bee sting and try not to get one. I have found that this time of year it is best to stay in the house. A good, hard freeze will slow those yellow jackets and wasps down until next year and that's The bee's knees. :)
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