Updated: 2nd March 2021
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?'.
In addition to the questions listed above, there are many assumptions about bee stings, quite a few of which are wrong. Here are 10 things about bee stings - some of which may surprise you!
For a start, male bees cannot sting at all. There is also a large group of bees known as stingless bees.
Most of the time, bees 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.
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.
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.
Here are the actual statistics:
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).
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Merck Manual of Diagnosis & Therapy).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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