As wonderful and fascinating as honey bees are, we were taught to keep our distance from them, so they don’t sting us. As much as they make the world more colorful as its natural pollinators, bee stings can cause pain, and they’re even dangerous if you’re allergic to them. Even the most experienced beekeepers use protective clothing and other beekeeping equipment to prevent stings.
However, many misconceptions about why bees sting get spread around. Find out the truth with this overview of why honey bees sting people.
Many people think bees sting because they’re angry or aggressive, but the truth is, they are more likely to feel scared or defensive when they sting. When bees sting, the stinger gets stuck in your skin and is difficult to remove. This means it’s ripped out of the bee’s body, and they die as a result.
Stinging is usually a bee’s last resort when they feel threatened. If you keep your distance and respect bees when you come across them, they’ll also leave you alone.
Honey bees have a strong focus on protecting their hive. This is where the queen, her brood, and the entire colony’s food source reside, making it extremely valuable to bees—and one of the biggest reasons honey bees sting people. If you pose a threat, the bees will likely attack.
This is why it’s important to leave beehives alone when you find them. Don’t disturb or mess with the hive, watch where you step, and avoid blocking the hive’s entrance so the bees can come in and out as they please.
Despite being mostly peaceful and curious creatures, you may notice an entire bee colony quickly becomes agitated and aggressive if one colony member stings you. This is because bees release pheromones when they sting.
This pheromone acts as an alarm for their nearby brethren, agitating them so that they come to help defend the hive and join the attack. If one bee sting turns into many more, it’s because that first bee released pheromones.
Hierarchy in the Hive
Before delving into why people get stung by a bee, it’s important to know the interesting chain of command that buzzes inside the hive. The hierarchy inside each humble hive remains the same, from honey bees to bumble bees to carpenter bees.
At the top sits the queen bee, which is noticeably larger when compared to others in the hive. Its main function is to lay eggs and maintain the population. There’s only one queen in a colony, which lays approximately 1,500 eggs in a single day!
The honey may be sweet, but nature is not—for when a second queen emerges, the retinue of worker bees pushes the invading queen out, or the queens battle their way to the throne until one dies.
Swarming most of the time beside her are worker bees, usually responsible for the bee sting one encounters. They are also female bees but reproducing is not on their cards. They serve their queen by maintaining and expanding their hive and protecting her. Their work includes nectar and pollen collection, wax creation, and ensuring the queen is not left hungry.
Male bees are called drones. Unlike their female counterparts, you don’t need to worry about their bee sting. Drones don’t have stingers. Their primary role is to scout and keep the population steady by mating with the queen. Some live their lives unable to fulfill their function as there’s only one queen in the colony.
Knowing Your Stingers
A buzzing bee immediately alerts one’s mind that a bee sting could happen anytime. When provoked, receiving a few bee stings may happen to the invading party. These stingers are a force to be reckoned with. Let’s get to know the little buzzers and their unique characteristics.
This type of bee usually lives in large colonies, both in the wild and domestic settings, and uses pheromones for communication. This ensures they are always aware of their environment and ready to fend off any intruders. Without them, most would not be enjoying the goodness of honey in our homes.
They are famously known for their tan or yellow color combined with black. They are smaller than bumble bees and thinner—a detail people usually notice to mistake them for wasps. A bee sting from them is at the bottom of their list whenever confronted with danger.
Honey bees lose their stinger after stinging resulting in immediate death afterward. But their combined numbers in the hive make it fatal to the victims receiving a barrage of honeybee stings.
In general, they live in smaller colonies. But despite their smaller numbers, one stinging bumble bee can sting any threat as many times as it wants. When bumble bees sting, they don’t die, making them unique from honey bees. Also, they are less aggressive compared to honey bees. They’re only observed to sting when placed in disturbance, especially in their nests.
They are easily identified by their puffy fur and dominantly black coloring with a few orange, white, and yellow stripes. These bees are round and fly on their stubby wings.
Carpenter bees are also commonly seen everywhere and are mostly active during spring. Due to their shape and size, they’re often mistaken as bumble bees. Male carpenter bees act territorial but can’t sting. And like bumble bees, female carpenter bees are forced to sting only when pressed to a corner or provoked.
Bee Sting Remedy
When coming across a hive, instinct tells you to avoid bee stings. Anyone stung by a bee knows too well the pain a bee sting can give. Bee stings hurt and can even cause severe allergic reactions when not tended well. When prevention becomes inevitable, here are remedies to neutralize that bee sting.
In case of honey bee stings, the venom sac is usually removed and continues to pump the toxin through the attached sting. Thus, time is of the essence, and removing it is the top priority. Stingers are usually left latched in the skin.
When removing the stinger, scrape it off rather than pull it out. A pull might squeeze the venom sac and add more venom to the wound. Without the right tools, use your fingernail to remove this. Cleaning the sting wound with soap and water would be the last step for disinfection. Carefully observe any other reactions the sting may have caused to the victim.
When stung by a bee, swelling and itching are the most common symptoms seen. When this happens, it’s important to put ice and do a cold compress on the wound. This reduces inflammation and the pain that goes with the swelling.
Along with taking some painkillers, the pain and wound would subside. All that is needed is for the injury to heal in the next hours or a few days.
Venom from bee stings can also trigger allergies. Unfortunately, a percentage of victims that are stung experience anaphylactic shock, a term used when a severe allergic reaction happens after a bee sting.
Things to look out for associated with this are eye irritation, dry cough, hives, chest pains, and even loss of consciousness. Anaphylactic shock is life-threatening and should be responded to quickly.
Administer epinephrine to counter an allergic response in the body. This stimulates the heart and helps release a natural antidote to combat venom. A beta-agonist should also help relieve if symptoms affect the victim’s respiratory system.
When sting wounds do not subside, or pain and symptoms worsen, it’s best to seek medical attention in your nearest hospital.
Bee Stings Alike: Other Common Insects That Sting
Aside from bees or bumble bees, other insect stings are equally as painful or sometimes surpass regular bee stings. These stinging insects may differ in looks and where one might find them but getting them all upset will put them in their stinging mode.
Wasps are one of the insects you need to watch out for. They prey on other smaller insects and even spiders! They are closely related to bumble bees but have skinnier and shinier bodies in comparison. The most common ones spotted are hornets and yellow jackets.
Another small but terrible insect to watch for is ants. These creatures can be found anywhere and sting you at most unexpected times. Not all kinds of ants can sting; they commonly come in red and black colors. They usually live in nest colonies and are ready to sting away anyone who invades their homes.