Bee Stings: Facts and Treatment
There seem to be a lot of misconceptions
about bees and their sting.
The vast majority of North America's female bees do sting. However male bees do NOT sting.
Consider that there are nearly 4,000 native bees in this country alone, and they range in size
from pinhead to cotton ball. Trying to characterize something like the painfulness of bee stings
into one category across that many bees is like trying to sum up the super powers of all the
Avengers in one word.
Bees use their stings to subdue prey and to defend themselves or their colony. While various
species display different degrees of aggressiveness, the same basic reasons for attacking and
stinging are the instinctive desire to feed themselves or their colony members and to protect
and defend their colony.
If you've ever been stung by a bee, you likely recall the nasty side effects that followed the sting
— like the pain, redness, and swelling at the site of the attack. When we get a bee sting, our bodies
do a whole lot of work to fight against the bee's venom
A bee’s stinger is a modified version of an ovipositor (egg depositor). The stinger itself
consists of three main components: one stylet (the penetrating “needle”) and two
lancets (small barbed tips). Each of these components is hollow.
They connect to another hollow chamber called a bulb at the top of the stinger. The bee’s
venom is stored in a venom sac above the bulb. The venom sac deposits venom into the bulb via two
When the bee stings, they insert the stylet into the skin like a needle. As the bee inserts the stylet, the barbs
of the two lancets catch on the flesh at different points. This creates a small gap between the tips of the
lancets, exposing the hollow space inside the stylet. Meanwhile, venom flows from the bulb and down
through the canal-like hollow structure of the stylet. When the gap opens, venom in the stylet flows out
into the wound created by the stinger. Honey bee stingers are also barbed at the end, which prevents
Bee venom is called apitoxin which is a complex mixture of protein substances that affect
cellular function. It breaks apart fat layers in cells and destroys skin mast cells. When skin mast cells die
they release histamine, which dilates the blood vessels.
Besides destroying red blood cells and it activates pain receptor cells in both direct and indirect ways. It’s
primarily responsible for the pain that accompanies a bee sting.
Apitoxin also contains anti-coagulation factors to prevent local blood clots near the sting. This which helps
the venom circulates further in the blood stream.
Bumble Bees and Carpenter Bees have smooth stingers and are capable of stinging multiple times without
dying. Fortunately, they are both relatively docile species.
For Honey Bees however, stinging is typically fatal. This is because, unlike other species, honey bees have
barbed stingers. These can get stuck in the skin of animals, including humans. When the bees fly away,
the stinger is left behind, effectively disemboweling the insect and causing it to die a gruesome death.
Common reactions include pain, swelling, warmth, redness at the site of the sting and itching. Symptoms begin
soon after a sting and may last several hours. Less common is excessive swelling, which occurs in large local
reactions, may last up to a week. Other symptoms related to large local relations include nausea and fatigue.
A mild bee sting reaction should subside within a few hours. A moderate reaction
might last up to ten days. And a severe reaction (anaphylaxis) can be life-threatening.
1. As soon as possible get the stinger out of the site. The sooner that happens the less intense the pain and swelling
should be. Sometimes the stinger is not left in the skin, you can tell by gently running a fingernail over the sting area.
Do not squeeze or use tweezers or scissors to remove the stinger because that can cause more venom to be
2. Wash the sting area with soap and water. Apply ice to the area to reduce the swelling. An over-the-counter pain
medication might help as well. It might also help to elevate the area that has been stung.
3. A hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion can help the pain and itching. An oral antihistamine might also help
if the bee sting continues to bother you. Try not to scratch the area.
4. Go to the emergency room or call 911 immediately if the swelling spreads or if there is trouble breathing, swelling
of throat and tongue, dizziness, rapid pulse, nausea, or hives.
Epipen and Bee Allergies
If you're allergic to bee stings, your doctor is likely to prescribe an emergency epinephrine autoinjector
(EpiPen, Auvi-Q, others). You'll need to have it with you at all times. An autoinjector is a combined syringe
and concealed needle that injects a single dose of medication when pressed against your thigh.
Always be sure to replace epinephrine by its expiration date.
Have you ever wondered how bees fly? Scientists first
realized that bees seem to flout the laws of mathematics in the 1930s.
Bees can learn faces, add and subtract and even process the concept of zero. In a new study
they studies bees to understand how they acquire information.
To talk of bee tongues is to vastly oversimply the complex apparatus that makes up bee
mouthparts. They vary considerably in size and shape, depending on the need.