July 25, 2018
The first time I was stung, I was five years old and caught a bee in the crook of my arm while picking blueberries with my grandma. The second time I was a bit older and was stung on my elbow – again with my grandma, but this time picking raspberries. When I was a pre-teen, I landed on a bee while jumping rope barefoot in my friend’s garage.
As an adult, I was stung on the arm while walking to the pool in our complex, on the hand while unlocking my bike from a rack and on the other arm while mowing the lawn. And then there was the time I was tailgating before a Spartan football game and sipped a bee out of my can, causing a ridiculously painful sting smackdab in the middle of my upper lip. Ouch. Like really ouch. But, I certainly didn’t miss the game. We Spartans are made of tough stuff, even when we look like a lip-filler procedure gone wrong.
To be fair, my guess is the stings were a mix of bees and wasps, but in the painful moment, I never really took time to find out. All I know is that it hurt and the last time the reaction was a lot worse. Who knew you become more allergic the more you’re stung? Well, I do now. I have days when I can’t remember what I had for lunch, but I vividly remember every single time I was stung by a bee.
A few years ago on the first day of her internship, we had a really lovely young woman taking photographs for us during move-in day. She was a bit nervous since she was traveling with top-level administrators. I was told that as she bent down to snap a photo of the Bailey Hall Bee Project, she got stung right in the middle of her forehead. When asked if she needed to leave, she refused saying she had a job to do, even as the tears were welling in her eyes. But, that’s a Spartan for you – soldiering on even when it stings hard enough to make you cry.
But honestly? The more I learn about bees and how important they are to the environment and especially so much of the food we eat, I’ll happily take a few stings if it means they’re around and pollinating like they’re supposed to. Because, unfortunately, it’s not a given that honeybees will always be buzzing around. Colony collapse is a real threat not just to the honeybees, but our entire ecosystem and our food security.
Luckily, Spartans are on the job working on a new solution. Check out the short video in the MSUTODAY FEATURE: Eliminating the honey bee’s biggest enemy, to learn more about how researchers are trying to stop colony collapse disorder by wiping out a parasitic enemy at a facility in Midland. It’s another project that’s part of our #GreatStateDayTrips that my colleagues are taking this summer.
Liz Ritchie, a 2021 doctorate of veterinary medicine student, knows all about the importance of bees. While bees aren’t the first species to come to mind when someone hears “veterinarian,” Ritchie points out that a group of students in the college are working in collaboration with an academic specialist in the Department of Entomology to address the health of bees. Check out her STUDENT VIEW: Honey bees and veterinary medicine, to learn more about her and her work.
And while helping bees is relatively new to veterinarians, entomologists have been studying them for a long time. Nicole Wonderlin is an entomology graduate student who has a deep interest in all pollinators, particularly carpenter bees (which I never knew existed until recently when I found perfectly round, drilled holes in my deck railing). Check out her STUDENT VIEW: Three things I love, to learn about the other things she loves besides bugs.
Karen Hampton is a textile artist and assistant professor who spent the past academic year as an artist-in-residence in the Critical Race Studies Artist Residency. She’s an expert in the painful sting of stereotyping and racism in society and uses art to explore the issues. She recently completed a piece, “Prayers for Flint” that she created after spending months with residents impacted by the water crisis. Read her FACULTY VOICE: Prayers for Flint, to learn more about what motivated her work and what she wants for her students.
This summer I’m really hoping to avoid bee stings at all costs. But, instead of swatting at them when I see them, I’ll simply try to stay out of their way and thank them for the important work they do. The sting of not having them around would be infinitely worse than a few days with a sore spot. In a way, honeybees are a lot like Spartans – hardworking, collaborative, determined, resourceful and responsible for more positive impacts in the world than most people realize. Take care of the bees; take care of the world. #SpartansWill