Bee Sting Facts: 10 Facts About Bee Stings - Some May Surprise You!

Bumble bee on restharrow.Bumble bee on restharrow.

Some people wonder whether bee stings are dangerous, and how likely they are to be stung by a bee.  Here are some common questions about bee stings:

'Could a bee sting be fatal?'

'Could I be stung to death?'

'Do all bees die when they sting you?'

'What is ‘anaphylaxis'?'.

'Do all bees sting?'.

'Are bees dangerous?'.


On top of these questions, there are many assumptions about bee stings, many of which are wrong.  So here are some facts about bee stings:

1. Not all bees can sting

Male bees, like this beautiful male white-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lucorum is not capable of stinging you.Male bees, like this beautiful male white-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lucorum is not capable of stinging you.


For a start, male bees cannot sting at all.  There is also a large group of bees known as stingless bees.
 

2. A sting is a defensive reaction to a perceived threat.


Most of the time, bees go about their business and don't bother us.  Think of the last time you walked through a garden or public park full of flowers.  The bees go about their business, and are largely unnoticed.

Worker bumble bee, foraging on ice plant and going about its business.Worker bumble bee, foraging on ice plant and going about its business.


Bees are generally non-aggressive and will only sting if they are provoked or feel threatened.  If (for example) you accidentally step on a bee, it may feel threatened and sting! It's also best to avoid trying to man-handle them - including the cuddly looking bumble bees, however, a sting from a bumble bee is unfortunate rather than common.  Bumble bees and solitary bees are usually very docile, and stinging is rare for most species.  

As a child, you probably grazed your knees in the playground, or had your hair pulled more often than you were stung by a bee!As a child, you probably grazed your knees in the playground, or had your hair pulled more often than you were stung by a bee!


A swarm of honey bees could sting if aggravated. Contact a beekeeper via your local beekeeping association if you need assistance to move a swarm.

If you are concerned generally about bee stings, there are actions you can take to prevent them.


3.  There is more chance of being struck by lightning than death by bee sting!

Consider this:

  • In the USA, you are more likely to die of the flu than bee stings.
  • Even lightning kills more people every year than bee stings!

In the USA, there is more chance of death by lightning strike than death by bee sting.In the USA, there is more chance of death by lightning strike than death by bee sting.

Here are the actual statistics:

  • More than 20,000 people in the USA die from flu every year (U.S. Centers for Disease Control);
  • On average, 90 people are killed every year in the U.S. by lightning. [NOAA Technical Memorandum NWS SR-193].
  • As for death by traffic accident?  I'll leave you to guess or find out what those figures look like!

Meanwhile, in the year 2000, the World Health Organisation reported that in the USA there were only 54 deaths attributable to bee stings – (from a population of 281 million people - Census data).

4. Some bee stings are more painful than others

Beautiful honey bee on purple loosestrife.The sting of the beautiful honey bee only has a pain index of 2.


A nobel prize winning entomologist called Justin O. Schmidt developed the 'Schmidt Sting Pain Index', which compares the impacts of stinging insects (including bees, wasps, ants and hornets) on humans.  Schmidt used himself as a gauge by allowing them to sting him! 

The insect stings are rated from 1 to 4, with 4 being the most painful.

On the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, most small bees are categorized into pain level 1 and the pain lasts 5 minutes or less, with the sting of the western honey bee being categorized at pain level 2 and lasting 5 to 10 minutes.

The sting from a tarantula hawk (wasp) only lasts about 5 minutes, but according to Schmidt is "blindingly fierce" and "shockingly electric". Not surprisingly, it's at pain level 4!   

The pain from some insect stings can also last quite a long time, such as the warrior wasp which has a very painful sting lasting up to 2 hours.

So perhaps bee stings are not too bad as far as pain is concerned!


5. Not all bees die if they sting you


It is correct that honey bee worker (females) will die if they sting you. This is because honey bee workers have barbed stings, causing the stinger to get lodged in the skin of mammals (including humans). 

A honey bee worker will die if she stings you.A honey bee worker will die if she stings you.


This is fatal to the honey bee when it tries to pull away from the victim, and the bee will die after the stinging incident.  However, honey bees can sting insect predators repeatedly. Male honey bees (
drones) cannot sting.

Queen honey bees are able to sting repeatedly, but queens rarely venture out of hives, and would be more likely to use their stings against rival queens.

However, bumble bees have a smooth stinger, and are able to sting repeatedly, but bumble bees are rarely aggressive.  You can read more about this subject here.


6. Bee stings are different to wasp stings

There is a misconception that bee stings are the same as wasp stings.

In fact, a bee stinger contains different toxins - or bee venom - to that of a wasp. Thus, a person who has an allergy to wasp stings may not suffer from a bee sting allergy! You can find out more about reactions here.

A wasp sting is not the same as a bee sting.  It contains different toxins.A wasp sting is not the same as a bee sting. It contains different toxins.


7. The average adult can withstand more than 1000 bee stings

Unless a person has a very severe and life-threatening bee sting allergy (which in itself is not very common) the average person can safely tolerate 10 stings per pound of body weight. 

In fact, the average adult can withstand more than 1000 stings, although 500 stings could kill a child.  

(Source: The Merck Manual of Diagnosis & Therapy)

Most solitary species rarely sting.  Here's a beautiful wool carder bee.Most solitary species rarely sting. Here's a beautiful wool carder bee.


Given that most bee species are solitary and not aggressive, and that bumble bees live in small colonies, a person is unlikely to receive so many stings in one go.

Realistically, the only way a person could be stung so many times in one go, would be due to the aggravation of a colony or swarm of honey bees.  Such scenarios can usually be avoided.


An extreme reaction to bee stings can include
anaphylaxis, which is a state of shock, but this is rare.  Learn more about treating stings on this link, and read about reactions here.


8. The bee's stinger is also used for egg laying


The sting is actually a modified ovipositor, and can be used for laying eggs. Worker honey bees may lay eggs if a hive or nest becomes queenless.

Bumble bee on Scabiosa - Pincushion flower.Bumble bee on Scabiosa - Pincushion flower.


Bumble bee workers may lay eggs when the queen begins to lay (unfertilized) eggs destined to develop into males.   This usually results in conflict within the colony between the workers and the queen bumble bee. 

Writings vary, but it is proposed that when the queen ceases to produce a pheromone (believed) to control the egg laying ability of her workers, (who may otherwise lay eggs – all of which would develop into males. 


9.  Bee venom is sometimes used in health and beauty products

Some propose that bee sting venom can reduce arthritis symptoms.  I have not seen any evidence to support or refute this claim (if you are aware of any, please let me know!). 

There is also a theory that bee venom can be used in beauty treatments - read more here.


10.  Elephants are afraid of being stung by bees

Lovely honey bee on knapweed.Lovely honey bee on knapweed.

Although an elephant has a thick hide that a bee sting could not penetrate, nevertheless, elephants have sensitive areas of their bodies, such as inside their trunks.  Elephants are thus afraid of bees, and this finding is being used by conservationists to actually help protect elephants.  Read more about this subject here.


Learn more facts about stings....here is an amazing book, in which one man set out to do just that, and in doing so, allowed himself to be stung by different insects!  The author, Justin O. Schmidt was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for physiology and entomology in 2015:

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