Bee Stings! Ouch!

Bee stings! Every beekeeper has had that experience!

First of all, honey bees are usually only defensive and not aggressive. That means if they feel you are threatening their hive, they will attack. Bees have a flight path in and out of their hive. If you walk in front of that path they assume you’re a threat. They are alarmed by dark colors and furry looking fabrics, the assumption being that you look like a honey robbing bear. Drones, the boy bees, don’t have stingers so they won’t join in the fight. The queen has a stinger but almost never leaves the hive. Her army of worker bees takes care of her.

Bees foraging on flowers for nectar and pollen are seldom aggressive. Clumps of bees that you might see hanging on a tree limb or fence in the spring are called swarms. They might look scary but these swarms of bees have no home or offspring to protect and are generally very gentle.

In Texas, everyone is wary of Africanized bees. Africanized bees are Western or European honey bees that have hybridized with African queens brought to Brazil in the 1950’s. These queens escaped and their offspring have spread over much of South and Central American. Africanized honey bees are now in the Southern United States as well. African bees are unusually defensive because of the harsh environment they must survive in. South Texas must deal with Africanized bees regularly, but in East Texas we haven’t had the same problem. That’s not to say they aren’t around, they just don’t like our cold, wet weather and haven’t thrived here. That being said, Africanized honey bees are great honey producers and handle pests and diseases much better than our Western honey bees. Not everything is bad.

So back to stings… what do you do if you’re stung by a honey bee? First of all, act quickly to remove the stinger from your body. The venom sac of the bee is likely to be attached to the stinger so a scraping motion will prevent more venom from being pumped into the wound. Fingernails work great for this. Cold water, Campho-Phenique or a sting-eze type product will relieve the initial pain. If you have a more serious reaction, Benadryl or another antihistamine may also help.

Bee Leaving Stinger

How serious is your bee sting? About 5% of people actually have a serious allergic reaction to bee stings. That reaction includes swelling of the lips and tongue and difficulty breathing. It requires an immediate trip to the emergency room. Never delay in getting medical attention if you have a severe reaction.

For everyone else, bee stings are painful for a short period of time but only cause localized swelling, redness and itchiness. It would take more than 10 stings per 10 pounds of body weight to cause a serious reaction in an adult. In other words, a 180 pound man would need to be stung more than 180 times before he would have a medical reaction to the bee venom. That is, of course, assuming that he’s not in the 5% of people who are severely allergic to bee stings.

When a bee stings it releases an alarm pheromone that signals her sisters to join the attack. The pheromone doesn’t wash off easily so diving into water doesn’t usually help. The bees will be waiting for you when you surface.

All stinging insects are not honey bees. Wasps and hornets can sting multiple times and, as a beekeeper, I find their stings hurt much worse than honey bees.

While you nurse your wound, take comfort in the fact that the bee that stung you will die from the loss of her stinger. The consequence of her sting is much graver for her than it is for you.

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