Do All Bees Sting? Even Honey Bees?
Few people enjoy bee stings. And given the popularity of honey bees, we may hesitate to associate them with the pain of a bee sting. However, our honey bees can and do sting – but they do it for a special reason.
World-wide there are thousands of species of bees. And there are many kinds of honey bees too! Yes, honey bees are not the only bees around.
They are perhaps the most well-known bees. Honey bees are valued for making honey and pollinating crops. These normally non-defensive insect go about their daily routine taking little notice of us…. usually !
Honey Bee Stings – Don’t Take it Personally
My childhood featured many days of running barefoot through the summer clover. That resulted in honey bee stings on more than one occasion. I was in pain and angry at the bees.
Why do honey bees sting me, I didn’t do anything wrong. Or so, I felt. Actually, I did do harm to the honey bee worker although I didn’t mean to hurt her.
In truth, the little honey bees, working to collect food, had no wish to hurt me. Honey bees, in general, are not aggressive. The do not go out looking for trouble.
Honey bee stings are a form of defense. The bees are defending themselves because they feel threatened. (i.e. do not like being stepped on for example).
They are trying to drive you away – it is a rather effective technique – isn’t it? This is especially true if you get too close to a hive and a few thousand of their sisters come out to help.
Bee Stings are Common During the Warm Season
Ask any young child to tell you what they know about bees. The fact that bees sting will certainly come up in the conversation.
I was doing a school program one time on honey bees, 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 they make honey.”
This resulted in a good laugh for everyone and then we listened to several traumatic tales of getting stung by bees. Teaching others the reasons for bee stings will help them avoid stings in the future.
Do All Honey Bees Sting?
Allowing for some variation among species, yes most honey bees do sting. Inside a normal honey bee colony, you will have 3 types of bees – 2 are female (the queen and the workers) and 1 type is male (drones).
All of the female bees (queen and workers) have the capacity to sting. The male honey bees, or drones, do not. Drones do not have stingers.
Why? Because they do not need stingers. They collect no food and do not protect the hive from attack. Their only mission is to breed new virgin queens.
Worker Bees are Responsible for Most Bee Stings
Worker bees are tasked with the job of defending the hive. If the hive is attacked by another honey bee colony (we call this robbing), the worker bees 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 female worker bees who are on the defensive line. In fact, they can become the offense pretty quickly.
What Happens When a Honey Bee Stings?
Worker honey bees have a barbed stinger on the end of their abdomen. When this stinger is inserted into skin, it becomes lodged in and usually can not be removed by the bee.
As the bee stinger and attached poison sac rip from the body of the bee, it continues to pump poison into the target. Alas, the worker bee will die – she has given her life to protect her colony.
Keeping a product for sting treatment on hand is a great idea. Many of my beekeeper friends love this product. Yes, you can use homemade remedies but having something ready to go is a good idea.
Why do Bees Sting Their Queen?
A honey bee colony normally contains 1 queen bee. A queen bee is the mother of all as she is the only bee that can lay fertilized eggs.
The queen bee does have a stinger. However, her stinger is different from that of a worker bee. The stinger of a queen honey bee is longer and not barbed. It is used only to sting rival queens. So Yes, a queen bee could sting you but they rarely do.
Worker bee stings are usually reserved for attackers. But sometimes, the workers will sting and kill a queen bee. Why would they do this?
If the beekeeper wants to add a new queen to the hive, she must be introduced slowly. If the old queen is present, she is killed and the new queen installed inside a protected cage.
The cage allows the colony time to accept the pheromones of the new queen. Simply dumping a loose queen in a hive results in her being stung to death.
How to Avoid Honey Bee Stings
A better understanding of why honey bees sting will help you avoid the pain of bee stings. Honey bees sting to protect themselves when they feel threatened.
You can greatly reduce your chance of being stung by a honey bee. Enjoy watching honey bees gather nectar from flowers but give them space.
I know it is almost impossible to do but try to resist swinging your arms at the bees (swatting.) Threatened bees are attracted to movement. Swatting will not encourage the bees to settle down.
Honey Bee Stings Near the Hive
Stay a respectful distance from any known bee hive. Give the bees plenty of flying space near the hive and especially in front of the beehive.
Sometimes, I can stand very close to the side of my beehive and watch the bees coming to and fro. As long as I am quiet and make no sudden movements, the bees do not resent my presence.
If bees are taking to much of an interest in you, walk quickly away – try not to run! If the bees follow you, get inside a building or vehicle. A thick stand of trees or bushes may help as well.
A worker bee does have a stinger and she will use it to defend herself or her family. The sting (and venom) of the honey bee encourages predators to move away-away from the beehive.
Many beekeepers use signs like the one above to warn unsuspecting visitors about the beehives. This small effort is one step towards preventing honey bee stings.
Honey Bees May Sting Children at Play
Why do honey bees sting children? Usually it is because the kids get too close to the beehive or tease the bees.
Teach children that they should never throw stones or sticks at beehives. This activity could result in a strong defensive reaction by the bees. We don’t want children to be fearful of bees – just respectful.
If you are a beekeeper, place your hive well away from human foot traffic. The kids will have a safe place to play and your bees can enjoy their work too!
Remember, the honey bee is not out to get you. Stay a respectable distance away, and do not yell or flap your arms. Learn more about honey bee stingers – click here
What to If A Honey Bee Stings You!
If you are near a bee hive and get stung, walk quickly away. When honey bees sting, they release a pheromone that attracts other bees. This is why honey bees sting with such enthusiasm.
Move inside or to a darker place, maybe among trees or bushes to get away from the bees and make it harder for them to find you.
(This advice is for people who are NOT in an area with Africanized bees! Africanized bees are very defensive – run, run and run some more. )
Do you see a stinger in your skin? Ouch! 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.
Do not grab the stinger and pull it out! Grabbing the stinger (and poison sack) will force poison from the poison sack into you! Use a credit card, fingernail or hive tool to scrape the stinger out.
Home Remedies if You Get Stung By Bees
Are you allergic to bee venom? If you know you are allergic or you experience any systemic symptoms (extreme swelling, trouble breathing, racing heart etc. ) seek medical assistance immediately.
Honey bee venom is different from wasp venom. You can be allergic to one but not the other.
For those of us who are not allergic – we can still experience some pain, swelling or heat. And later – itching!
Placing an ice pack on the sting site may help the pain and swelling. Some people rub a small amount of toothpaste on the affected area. And, there are other home remedies in use for bee stings.
Why Honey Bees Sting Even Though They Die
Honey bees are a social insect. Their entire existence is focused on colony survival. They are not normally aggressive but will give their lives for the good of the colony.
Unlike wasps, which can sting you multiple times, a honey bee only has one shot at stopping you.
The secret to avoiding bee stings is to appreciate the bees. Leave them alone and stay away from their homes. Most bees, including honey bees will leave you alone if you leave them alone.
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