Why do Honey Bees Sting People?
One of the most well-known honey bee facts is that-they can sting. Even those of us who are the most ardent bee lovers, don’t like the bee stinger. Most honey bees die after they sting a human, why would they risk their lives? They do it in defense of the colony. You can prevent some stings by understanding why honey bees sting .
World-wide there are thousands of species of bees. Some are social insect that live in large families and other live a more solitary life.
Honey bees are perhaps the most well-known-followed closely by the Bumble Bee.
Honey bees 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 !
Bees Sting for Defense Not Attack
My childhood featured 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! I was in pain and angry at the bees.
Full of frustration, I thought “why did you sting me?” I didn’t do anything wrong. 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).
Little girls with bare feet and not the only victims of stinging situations. Getting too close to a nest of hive can result in stings.
A bee sting is an effort to drive you away from their nest. It is a rather effective technique – isn’t it?
When do Most Stings Occur?
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. And most of these episode happen during the warm months when the bees are busy foraging for food and raising young.
Do All Honey Bees Sting?
Allowing for some variation among species, yes most honey bees do sting.
All of the female bees (queen and workers) have the capacity to sting. The male honey bees, or drones, do not.
Worker Bees are Defenders of the Hive
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 workers who are on the defensive line.
Are bees born ready to fight? 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.
Can Honey Bees Sting Multiple Times?
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.
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.
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.
The queen honey bee sting is different from that of a worker. 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 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!
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 that allows the colony time to accept her pheromones. 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. 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.
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 hive. Give the bees plenty of flying space near the hive and especially in front of the beehive.
If you are a new beekeeper, keep this in mind when decided where to set up your beehives. Don’t place hives too close to the garden or high traffic areas.
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.
Many beekeepers use Caution Bee Hive signs (see on Amazon) to warn unsuspecting visitors about the beehives.
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.
What 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.
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.
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.