Understanding Why Bees Sting
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. Why do bees sting and can you do anything to prevent it?
World-wide there are thousands of species of bees. Social bees, solitary bees, and bees of every size can be found.
And, there are many kinds of honey bees too! Yes, honey bees are not the only bees around.
Honey bees are valued for making honey and pollinating crops. Moving hives across the country to agricultural purposes is big business in the US.
In fact, honey bees are perhaps the most well-known bees-followed closely by the Bumble Bee.
These normally non-defensive insects go about their daily routine taking little notice of us…. usually !
Bees Sting for Defense Not Attack
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 bee – although I didn’t mean to hurt her.
Honey 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).
In truth, the little honey bees, working to collect food, had no wish to hurt me. They are not generally aggressive.
Sometimes bees sting for reason other than being stepped on. A bee sting is an effort 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.
Most Stings Occur 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 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 they 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 sting is a part of enjoying life outdoors. But, teaching others the reasons why bees sting might help them avoid stinging situations.
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 bee and the workers) and one male bee – (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 job 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.
Can baby bees sting? No. Even though adult bees emerge from their brood cell at full size, the stinger needs a few days to harden before it functions well.
What Happens When a Honey Bee Stings?
Can a honey bee sting more than once? No, she can not sting a mammal more than once if the stinger pierces the skin.
Workers 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 too.
Does a Queen Bee Sting?
It is understandable to be concerned about a queen bee sting. 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.
A honey bee colony normally contains 1 queen bee. The queen is the mother of all as she is the only female that can lay fertilized eggs.
The queen honey bee sting is different from that of a worker bee. The stinger of a queen is longer and not barbed.
This smooth stinger is used to sting rival queens. This is normal queen bee behavior. So Yes, a queen bee could sting you but they rarely do.
Do workers ever sting the queen? Worker bee stings are usually reserved for attackers. But sometimes, the workers will sting and kill a queen bee.
Why would they do this? This happens when the colony decides to raise a new one – the old one has to go! Also, beekeepers can cause the problem by introducing a new queen into a colony to quickly.
Beekeepers may want to replace a failing queen. The new queen must be introduced slowly. If an old queen is present, she is killed.
The new queen is 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 (swatting) when a bee flies close by. But it is never a good idea.
Threatened bees are attracted to movement. Swatting will not encourage the bees to settle down. Move away.
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. Keep this in mind when decided where to set up your beehives.
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.
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. Or like myself, they step on a working bee.
Wearing shoes when outside in patches of clover is a good idea. Trust me. 🙂
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. This only promotes your chances of being attacked. Learn more about honey bee stingers.
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.
There are many other things to try. If you want to know more, read my post: Home Remedies for Bee Stings.
Honey for Sting Relief?
Can you put honey on a bee sting? Yes, but it sure didn’t help mine. 🙂 Some folks believe that honey is good for bee stings – I don’t see how it could hurt as long as you do it well away from the beehive.
How Long Does a Bee Sting Hurt?
Bee stings do indeed cause pain for most of us. How long does a bee sting hurt? Well, that depends in part on 3 things.
- what kind of bee or wasp stung you
- how much venom got into your system (get stinger out quick)
- how allergic is your body chemistry to that particular venom
In general, expect sting pain for a few hours, followed by some swelling, heat and itching for 24-48 hours.
Why Honey Bees Sting Even Though They Die
Honey bees are social insects. 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. She gives it all she has got.
Most bees are not aggressive and do not seek out human targets. The secret to avoiding bee stings is to give them respect. Leave them alone and stay away from their homes.
If you do come into close contact with an aggravated bee, don’t swat. But swiftly leave the area – most likely you are near her home. Most bees, including honey bees will leave you alone if you leave them alone.
Tips on becoming a better beekeeper and how to to live a more bee-friendly life.
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