I can't believe ib stung be ob by lip
April 4, 2006 7:00 PM   Subscribe

Are flying, stinging insects more likely to gravitate towards certain people than others?

I had a bad experience with a bee's nest as a child that led to me getting stung over a dozen times. Curiosity killed the cat and all that. Nothing serious, but it hurt and it scared the crap out of me. Since that time, I've had a near-irrational fear of bees, wasps, hornets, and just about anything that can land on your person and sting the shit out of you. I've been told more than once that it's quite humorous to watch a tall and husky fellow like myself desperately run away from a bumblebee while screaming loudly. Needless to say, I try to avoid critters like that at all costs.

The problem is, they make it difficult for me. For lack of a better word, they all seem to be attracted to me. It might not be limited exclusively to flying insects that sting, but naturally they're the ones that get the most attention out of me. When I'm outside, it doesn't matter what I'm walking past or what I'm doing- if it's bee season, bees buzz around me. I can be surrounded by concrete and still attract the attention of a wasp. I can be surrounded by other people, and trying my best not to do anything that might excite the insect (or embarrass myself), and watch with terror as it buzzes by everyone else to hang out with me.

I'm sure it sounds like I'm just being paranoid, but this has happened for years, and nearly everyone I've ever met and got to know really well has commented on it. I've gotten my share of accidental stings, but I've also tried just going about my business, and have gotten stung for it- twice. Once on the lower lip by a bumblebee and once by a red jacket that flew down the back of my shirt after buzzing around me for a few moments.

I'm not looking for hard-boiled scientific analysis here; just curious if anyone has similar problems with our stinger-sporting friends, or can explain why it happens. I usually wear dark colors and have facial hair- could that have anything to do with it? I like to think I don't give off BO of any peculiar sort, but could my individual human "scent" play a part?

Can they... smell my fear?
posted by kryptondog to Pets & Animals (21 answers total)
Anecdotally, it seems like mosquitoes prefer people who eat more sweets. I'm not sure about stinging insects.
posted by JMOZ at 7:16 PM on April 4, 2006

Of course they are attracted to certain scents, and I'm sure some humans produce these more than others. Bees live in a world of scent, and you walking by can be very confusing or interesting to them.
posted by parallax7d at 7:21 PM on April 4, 2006

My father always said they could. He used to keep bees as a young man, and said that bees (at the very least) can smell adrenaline, and that it upsets them. I don't know if it applies to wasps, but he was very sure about the bee thing.

I think it also had something to do with ammonia, because he mentioned spraying ammonia near a hive once when troublesome neighbor kids were nearby. They stopped messing with his hives after that.
posted by Malor at 7:22 PM on April 4, 2006

Yes, they are attracted bright colors, floral prints and flowery perfumes. See more on prevention here. I'd guess that you're wearing something that attracts them, and that you're more likely to make "aggressive" motions than people who aren't freaked out.
Problem solved.
posted by klangklangston at 7:25 PM on April 4, 2006

I've been wondering the same thing for a long time, and the similarities between my case and yours are interesting– I was stung by a bee at a young age, after seeing it on the window sill and trying to touch it. Since then I've never been able to not freak out in their presence.

I've felt that bees or yellowjackets harass me to the exclusion of other people a lot. Going swimming with my friends, for instance, usually results in a bee buzzing around my head at some point when I'm partially out of the water...not the best place to be when you need to escape and the only way is down. :p

I've wondered if it could be psychological, in that you wouldn't notice if it happened to others, because they don't respond so strongly, nor would they remember as well because they don't react the same way. If it's a physiological symptom then I can't say I know much about it.
posted by invitapriore at 7:26 PM on April 4, 2006

My vote is that a little of this is selective perception. Bees are attracted to all people equally. Some people really dislike stinging insects (/me raises hand) and freak out and furiously swat at them (/me raises hand again). These people vividly remember these few freakouts more than the significantly larger number of non-bee, non-freakout incidents.
posted by frogan at 7:27 PM on April 4, 2006

Anecdotally, I can say that it's not the same for all insects. I've never been stung by a bee, but I get absolutely devoured by mosquitoes. (For what it's worth, my diet is pretty unhealthy (lots of fried foods and red meat and a fair amount of sweets.)
posted by danb at 7:38 PM on April 4, 2006

I'm diabetic and seem to attract a lot of bugs, which I think is due to them smelling the excess sugar in my blood. This is just a guess though.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:57 PM on April 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

Spent mosquito season in Canada one year, and we all used the local voodoo bug repellants, which worked pretty well. Except for one guy, he used it too, but he always looked like Pigpen from Charlie Brown, with dots around him at all times.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:30 PM on April 4, 2006

Not sure about bee senses, but I was also stung as a kid and didn't like bees and wasps for a while. But then one day (years later) I went on a hike and got stung loads of times by waspy things, it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd thought, at all. Now me and the stinging ones have a deal, I don't bother them, they don't bother me (unless they go near the ears, that's just wrong). Just like with angry dogs, as long as you stay calm and don't move around too wildly, you'll be good.

Also, I read a couple of reports in newspapers that mosquitoes are repelled by vitamin B (I think) and eating spicy food. Could work for bees.
posted by MetaMonkey at 10:15 PM on April 4, 2006

I know that when I'm outside even after a fresh shower, flies will tend to hover above me, usually never landing on me. I remember a long time ago I was playing soccer, this was even before high school...so I probably wasn't as sweaty/stinky as I am now. But the flies were all around me, flying above me, there was 20+ other people on the field, and the flies all hovered ontop of me and nobody else, I'm sooo glad that nobody noticed.

I swear I take daily showers and use soap!
posted by Sonic_Molson at 11:21 PM on April 4, 2006

I feel your pain. I am an Apiphobic, raised by one. I try very hard not to freak out when around them, yet they continue to harrass me unprovoked. Everyone says "OH if you just leave them alone, they won't bother you". They apparently aren't bee magnets. I have issues with mosquitos too, where they eat me alive and nobody else in the area.

The last two houses I've lived in had bee problems. I tend to think I somehow bring them with me. I've found hives beginning in places such as my car, mailbox, and grill. In addition to the many other normal places I've found around me. ::shudder::

There has to be something attracting them, or maybe they just have it in for us. :)
posted by phox at 2:27 AM on April 5, 2006

I understand that mosquitoes are attracted by CO2; that's how those propane-fuelled mosquito-killers work.

Anecdotally, my wife gets bitten by mosquitoes at least three times as much as I do, despite being much smaller than me and eating a much better diet (spicy, too, for both of us). If we're outside together, it actually seems like they leave me alone so they can bother her.

Side question: has anyone found those electronic "mosquito repellers" to actually work?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:02 AM on April 5, 2006

My first partner had the problem with mosquitos and fleas. They'd bite hell out of him, and leave me alone. Bees and wasps? Never noticed such a thing myself. I used to freak out like you, for much the same reason (it was a yellowjacket-wasp nest, only one got me).

Today I call all bees 'honey', and help them find their way out of the house. No problem (in Africa, no less). Brown paper wasps and I have a deal: I look but don't harass, they don't bother me. We have these pretty black ones here (with orange legs) that do come around too much, and I kill them on site, indoors (truce this year, they stay outside more) (handy electric fly-swatter).

It is easy to suppose you have some scent which they find attractive. Consider scents from shave cream, shampoo, deodorant (to name the less obvious).

Oh, and yes, I too am a large tall man. I flipped out and nearly crashed a rental van once, when what I took for a bumblebee flew in my window and landed between my legs. It was just a cicada.
posted by Goofyy at 4:16 AM on April 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

I was always convinced it was something to do with our pheremones, so basically other scents you put on should not have a major impact. The old folks in a Spanish village where I lived for a time noticed that I was the object a a bit more attention from our winged buddies and used to say "sangre Dulce" or sweet blood which everyone seemed to understand and take for granted.
Try a test of a week on Garlic capsules and see if it makes any difference. At least it's healthy!
posted by Wilder at 7:22 AM on April 5, 2006

Can they... smell my fear?

You may not naturally attract bees any more than the average person does, but your fear (enough to make you run and scream) could cause you to perfume the air around you.

Any perfume (in your deodorant) you stick under your arms will be easier to smell if you panic and burst into a sweat. Your weight will make you sweat even more, and running around screaming like a little girl certainly won't help. All else being equal (perfume type, perfume amount, sweat capacity), you (afraid of bees) will be more likely than other folk (not afraid of bees) to attract bees, assuming you know you're in bee territory or actually see a bee.
posted by pracowity at 7:58 AM on April 5, 2006

The bumblebee thing might just be an accident. They tend to get confused when something -- like a walking person -- interrupts their flight path, so they back up and try again. That might be interpreted by the unlucky obstruction as an attack of some sort, but you really have nothing at all to fear from the humble bumble.

Wasps and hornets, on the other hand, are bastards -- the buggers just won't leave you alone -- yet I've never had any experience of being excessively bothered by them unless I've been eating or drinking something very sweet. Even so, they scare the crap out of me.
posted by macdara at 8:31 AM on April 5, 2006

Can they... smell my fear?

Well, YOU can smell THEIR fear -- that is, if we're talking about apis mellifera, ie honeybees. (Entomological discussion involving the generic term 'bee' are always problematic.) Disturbed honeybees emit a banana-smell beekeepers call "alarm odor."

I'm hoping someone chimes in here with the latest scientific thinking because I'm also one of the people biting (but not stinging) insects like mosquitoes are attracted too.
posted by Rash at 10:01 AM on April 5, 2006

I had the same problem. I tried everything, and kept getting stung.
My solution now?
I have developed an acute skill for killing flying insects. With my bare hands.

I know many people say, "Don't kill them! They release a fear chemical that attracts others!"
My response? Good. Let them come. They shall join their brethren in death.

I am the fucking Steven Seagal of bee-slaying. If they're agitated to the point where my hands won't do the job, I use whatever is closest. A newspaper or magazine is good - once you get really good with the newspaper you don't even need a flat surface to hit it against. Just a slight flick of the wrist and bam! They're down on the ground, ripe for my size 10 boot heel.

The hand technique takes a little longer to learn. You hold perfectly still, with your hands shoulder-width apart. Wait for the bastard to slow, then smack the shit out of him. You're not looking to crush the insect, only to stun it to the ground. Then stomp.

You must be fearless. Don't listen to the naysayers - kill 'em all.

Note: I don't advocate busting up beehives or spraying chemicals or all that insanity. I'm just advocating learning a few hand-to-hand techniques. You can do this. Be strong.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:58 AM on April 5, 2006

And I just read the title of this post and it made me laugh so hard I woke up my neighbor.

Remember. Quickness. You must smack like lightning.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:59 AM on April 5, 2006

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