Have you ever felt that bees were out to get you? Perhaps you have the best of intentions and then -wham! Why do bees sting even when we are not bothering them? Honestly, they do not want to sting humans and only do so as a form of defense. This is especially true for docile insects like honey bees. But, they are very passionate about protecting their family. They will give everything they have to ward off an attacker.
Do Bees Want to Sting You?
World-wide there are thousands of species of bees. Some are social insects that live in large families and others live a more solitary life. Honey bees are perhaps the most well-known type of bee -followed closely by the Bumble Bee.
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Living in colonies with thousands of members, beehives are valued for making honey and pollinating crops. In fact, moving hives across the country for agricultural purposes is big business in the US.
These normally non-aggressive insects go about their daily routine taking little notice of us…. usually ! But, one of the most well-known facts about honey bees is that they are willing to die to defend the hive.
Why Do Bees Sting Me for No Reason?
Most stinging situations occur between humans and stinging insects because of these two situations:
- the bee feels threatened
- you are close to the nest
My childhood involved many days of running barefoot through the summer clover. This resulted in honey bee stings on more than one occasion. A sting in a bare foot hurts!
Full of frustration, I thought “why did this bee sting me?” I didn’t do anything wrong from my point of view. Actually, I did do harm to the bee – although I didn’t mean to hurt her.
Bees sting as a form of defense. They are defending themselves because they feel threatened. (i.e. They do not like being stepped on for example).
A sting is also an effort to drive you away from their nest. It is a rather effective technique – isn’t it? Workers guard the area near the nest. Inside is the next generation of baby bees and food the colony depends on to survive Winter.
When do Most Stings Occur?
Ask any young child to tell you what they know about bees. I was doing a school program one time and, I asked the 3rd graders to tell me “When you think about honey bees- what is the first thing to come to mind?”
One little boy yelled out “getten stung”. His answer generated a lot of laughs and agreement. I said, “Yes, they certainly do sting sometimes but the answer I was looking for was that bees make honey.”
This resulted in a good laugh for everyone and then we listened to several traumatic tales of getting stung by bees.
Getting an occasional bee sting is a part of enjoying life outdoors. And most of these stinging episodes happen during the warm months when the foragers are out looking for food and raising young.
Do All Bees Sting?
Not every species of bee has a stinger. In fact, some bees bite instead. Thankfully, honey bees do not have teeth. However, among honey bees – the females have a stinger and know how to use it.
All of the female honey bees have the capacity to sting. The males or drones, do not have a stinger. This is true in other insect families too. For instance the male carpenter bee does not sting.
Can baby bees sting? No, they can not sting at first. Even though adult bees emerge from their brood cell at full size, the stinger needs a few days to harden before it functions well.
Does a Queen Bee Sting?
It is understandable to be concerned about a queen bee stinger. She is the largest bee in the hive – so surely her sting would be a doozy. But, you have little to fear in regards to being stung by a queen. Though she has the ability to sting you – it rarely happens.
The queen stinger is different from that of a worker. It is longer and not barbed as that of workers. This smooth stinger is used to sting rival queens. This is normal queen bee behavior.
Do workers ever sting the queen? Worker stings are usually reserved for attackers. But sometimes, the workers will sting and kill a queen. This happens when the colony decides to raise a new one – the old one has to go!
When beekeepers want to replace a failing queen or give the hive a new queen with different genetics, the new queen must be introduced slowly. Simply dumping a new queen in a hive results in her being stung to death.
Worker Bee – Colony Defense
It is the task of the female workers to protect the hive against any predators. If the hive is attacked by another colony (we call this robbing), the workers will fly out by the hundreds or thousands to sting their rivals.
If a bear, skunk or um…. beekeeper, attempts to raid the hive (from the bee’s point of view), it is the workers who are on the defensive line.
This is another reason to have an electric bear fence if you keep hives in bear country. Bears will destroy colonies sometime even going through an electric fence.
Can Honey Bees Sting Multiple Times?
Normally, honey bees can not sting a mammal more than once if the stinger pierces the skin. They have a barbed stinger on the end of their abdomen. When this stinger is inserted into skin, it becomes lodged and usually can not be removed.
As the stinger and attached poison sac rip from the body of the bee, it continues to pump poison into the target. Alas, the worker will die – she has given her life to protect her colony.
How to Avoid Honey Bee Stings
A better understanding of why bees sting will help you avoid a painful encounter. Enjoy watching the gather nectar from flowers but give them space.
I know it is almost impossible to do but try to resist swinging your arms (swatting) when one flies close by. Threatened bees are attracted to movement.
Swatting will not encourage them to settle down. Move away. And don’t go outside in Summer smelling like a flower garden, insects are very sensitive to scent and may seek you out.
Stay Away from the Hive
Stay a respectful distance from any known beehive. Give them plenty of flying space especially in front of the hive.
If you see a wasp nest, stay back. Wasps are not bees. They are predators and have a much more aggressive attitude about you getting close to their home.
If you are out walking and bees are taking too much of an interest in you, walk quickly away. Try to avoid running. If the they follow you, get inside a building or vehicle. A thick stand of trees or bushes may help as well.
Many beekeepers use Caution Bee Hive signs to warn unsuspecting visitors about the beehives. In some areas it is the law that beehive locations must be marked, check your local regulations.
Bees May Sting Children at Play
Why do honey bees sting children? There are a couple of reasons that kids and bees may end up in a confrontation. These include:
- getting too close to a hive or nest
- teasing a worker busy foraging
- stepping on on near one in clover
Teach children that they should never throw stones or sticks at beehives or any type of bee nest. This activity could result in a strong defensive reaction by the colony.
We don’t want children to be fearful of bees – just respectful. Wearing shoes when outside in patches of clover is a good idea. Trust me. 🙂
Pets are also in danger of being stung. Sometimes a dog will eat a bee – but usually it will be fine. However, you need to watch for allergic reactions even in pets. Talk with your veterinarian.
What to do if a Bee Stings You?
If you get stung, walk away from the area quickly. When bees sting, they release a pheromone that attracts others.
Move inside or to a darker place, maybe among trees or bushes to get away and make it harder for them to find you.
Do you live in an area known to have Africanized bees? Africanized bees are very defensive – run, run and run some more. When disturbed they can be fatal – get inside, even if some of them come with you.
Do you see a stinger in your skin? As quickly as possible, use your fingernail to scrape the stinger out. The longer you leave the stinger in – the more poison you will experience.
If you know you are allergic or you experience any systemic symptoms (extreme swelling, trouble breathing, racing heart etc. ) seek medical assistance immediately.
For a normal reaction to a sting, you may try one of several Home Remedies for Bee Stings.
Why Do Bees Sting If They Die?
Honey bees are normally not aggressive but they are social insects. Every individual works together for the good of the colony.
They are trying to convince you to leave them alone. Most insects are not aggressive and do not seek out human targets. The secret to avoiding stings is to give them respect.