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 12 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 also known as Meliponini.
Stingless bees have evolved different ways to defend themselves, for example, by using tree resin as a type of 'glue' or sticky weapon against enemies such as ants.
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 docile.
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, there are actions you can take to prevent bee stings.
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).
Bee stings can sometimes be a little painful, but they are not as painful as stings from some other insects, and some bee stings hurt more than others.
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 to find out which stings hurt most. 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 or less, 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.
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. Read more about this subject: 'Do All Bees Die If They Sting You?'
There is a misconception that bee stings are the same as wasp and hornet stings. In fact, a bee stinger contains different toxins - or
bee venom - to that of a wasp, and some stings are more painful or toxic than others.
Further more, bee stings are a little acidic, where as wasp stings are neutral (not alkaline as some reports may suggest).
Thus, a person who has an allergy to wasp stings may not suffer from a bee sting allergy!
Likewise, bee sting venom differs from hornet stings in their chemical make up, and level of toxicity.
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(1). Find out more about reactions bee sting reactions.
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 bee stings.
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.
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.
Believe it or not, a scientist took the time to find out which part of the body is most sensitive to the pain of a sting, by subjecting themselves to stings on their own bodies.
Read more on my page: Where Do Bee Stings Hurt Most?
It's a lovely old wives' tale that marks on watermelon flesh indicate bee sting, which in turn is a sign of watermelon sweetness. Well, I'm afraid it's not quite true!
Bees do, however, pollinate watermelons, which may improve sweetness.
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 for his book "Sting Of The Wild" available from good book sellers.
1. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis & Therapy, Seventeenth Edition, 1999.
- See other pages on this site.
Is bee and hornet venom the same? Do hornet stings hurt more than bee stings and are they more toxic?
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