Bees have venom that they use to defend their colony as well as paralyze other insects for food. Not all bees have venom, and the proteins inside the venom itself are what make a bee sting painful.
Do All Bees Have Venom?
Many bees do not have the ability to sting. There are several genera of bees that are stingless, including Dactylurina, Melipona, Meliwillea, Partamona, Plebeia. If they cannot sting, they do not have venom.
Most of the bees found in the United States, Europe, and Asia are venomous and will sting in order to defend their colonies from predators.
It is also important to note that male bees do not have venom, as venom is injected by the ovipositor. The other function of the ovipositor is to lay eggs. Since male bees cannot lay eggs, they do not have an ovipositor and cannot sting. That is not to say those male bees cannot defend the colony, merely that they do not inject venom to do so.
Where Do Bees Store Their Venom?
Bees store their venom in a sac attached to their ovipositor, more commonly known as a stinger. There are also two glands that work together to pump the venom out of the ovipositor. The two glands are called the venom gland and the Dufour’s gland.
Do Bees Inject Venom When They Sting?
Bees inject venom when they sting. Bees sting when they feel threatened by outside elements. The proteins inside of the venom, such as phospholipase A2, acid phosphatase, and alpha-glucosidase, contribute to the pain and immune response felt from a bee sting.
Do Bees Inject Venom When They Bite?
Not all bees bite, but biting is another way bees protect themselves. Bees do inject venom when they bite, as the stinger’s venom has the intended purpose to paralyze its target so the bee’s mandibles can then be put to use.
This was not discovered until 2012 when researchers began studying how to control wax moths and block them from the bees’ hive. Bees bite wax moths because they can’t sting them; they and other types of insects are too small for a sting.
What Is the Lethal Dose of Bee Venom for Humans?
The lethal dose, often abbreviated as LD50, is a measure of how much of a particular substance is needed to kill half the test population. All substances have an LD50, including water.
In the case of bee venom, the lethal dose for humans is between 2.8 and 3.5 mg of venom per kg of body weight. Researchers discovered that the average human weighs roughly 62 kg or 136 pounds.
This means that the lethal dose for the average 136-pound human is roughly 173.6 to 217 mg of bee venom.
How Many Bee Stings Would Kill a Human?
According to the Merck Manual, the average person that does not have an allergy to bee venom can withstand quite a few stings: 22 stings per kilogram of body weight. Using the average 62 kg human, that means an adult could withstand well over 1,300 stings. Children are smaller and may not tolerate a sting as well. Their smaller size means that the risk of dying from bee stings is much higher.
One aspect that influences the number of bee stings that could kill a human is sensitivity to the bee venom itself. Those with bee venom sensitivity or allergies would experience worse reactions to stings than their non-sensitive counterparts. Therefore, someone that is allergic to bee stings would fare far worse than someone else that has no allergy.
Unless there is no recognized allergy or sensitivity to bee venom, humans and pets should always receive medical attention if there’s a reaction to a bee sting or an attack from a swarm.
Is There an Antivenom for Bee Venom?
At this time, there are no commercially produced antivenoms for bee venom. This differs from snake venom, which does have antivenom therapies available. Researchers are continuing to examine the production of antivenom for bee sting incidents.
In the interim, bee sting allergies may be treated with antihistamines or steroid medications, like other allergic reactions.
Why Haven’t Researchers Come Up With an Antivenom for Bee Venom Yet?
The lack of antivenom for bee venom is not due to a lack of research or attempts. There are multiple issues found within the production of antivenom.
In order for a bee antivenom to be successful, it has to generate the appropriate immune response in the target population (humans). The primary component of bee venom is melittin, a toxin that is very small as well as very hydrophobic.
Melittin does not produce a strong antibody response in humans, thus making it difficult to have a successful antivenom therapy. Research on the toxicokinetics of bee venom is still ongoing; the current scientific research is very limited.
Researchers continue to explore bee venom and how to build a successful antivenom. While human trials aren’t on the horizon, researchers have done multiple studies using rats, ewes, and other animals.
What Are the Most Important Compounds in Bee Venom?
One of the key compounds in bee venom is melittin. However, other important compounds in bee venom include: histamine
- Phospholipase A
What Does Melittin Do to the Human Body?
Melittin is toxic and produces several reactions in the human body quickly. It causes pain, releases cortisol, lowers blood pressure, and destroys blood cells. Melittin is what is responsible for the pain response after a bee sting. Too many bee stings can flood the body with not just melittin but other compounds within bee venom, causing a pain response.
What Is Phospholipase and Why Is It Dangerous?
Phospholipase is an enzyme found in bee venom and it makes up roughly 12% of its components. As an enzyme, it’s designed to help break down cells in the target organism. Remember that bee venom is used by the bees to defend the colony from invaders.
Phospholipase is dangerous because it breaks up phospholipids, which make up the main component of the cell membranes.
Can Venom Be Collected?
Bee venom can be collected. In the past, harvesting bee venom often meant destroying the bees. New harvesting techniques are designed to keep the bee colony healthy and avoid killing the bees.
Modern collection methods include using a collector that sends small electric pulses just outside the hive. The bees in turn sting a glass plate that collects the venom.
Bee venom is not the only bee product collected. Other products include beeswax, royal jelly, and propolis. Propolis is a bee product composed of beeswax, saliva, and tree buds. This product is used by the bees to patch open spaces in the hive.
Bee venom collection is not a new practice. It has roots in ancient collection practices around the world for its health benefits, as well as its use as a toxic weapon.
Who Collects Bee Venom?
Multiple entities collect bee venom, including researchers looking for new insights and skincare manufacturers that are looking for innovative ingredients for their products. Beekeepers can also collect bee venom to promote in a small market for reselling the bee venom to larger companies.
Bee venom is a delicate item that requires sanitization, careful handling, and protected transport in order to remain pure, as bee venom is used in intravenous therapies. The venom is protected from start to finish to avoid introducing bacteria or other foreign substances into the body.
What Is Bee Venom Used For?
Humans use bee venom for multiple health therapies, ongoing research, and further specific research projects like anticancer therapies. Bee venom is complex, with over 60 components within this compound.
Researchers have successfully isolated components from the compound and used them in multiple research studies.
What Are the Benefits of Using Bee Venom?
Since melittin is the primary component of bee venom, it can be isolated and used for a wide variety of benefits. For example, melittin can reduce inflammation. The key to using melittin in a beneficial way is dose control. Bee stings contain a lot of melittins as the purpose is to deter predators as quickly as possible.
However, scientists can not only isolate melittin but control how much is used in terms of reducing inflammation. The key inflammatory markers measured during melittin therapies include tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a) and interleukin 1 beta (il1-B).
TNF is a protein that occurs in the body naturally by macrophages, specific cells designed to destroy invaders like bacteria, viruses, and foreign substances. However, too much TNF can trigger other issues in the body, such as circulatory collapse, shock, and prolonged weight loss (cachexia).
Interleukin 1 beta, like TNF, is also a protein made by macrophages to fight infections around the body. Both proteins trigger immune responses in the body, such as fever, while an active infection is present.
Skin health is a growing field of concern for many, especially in countering the ageing process. Some skin care manufacturers are exploring bee venom research and including this ingredient to reduce wrinkles and improve acne conditions.
Acne is caused by bacteria living both on the skin’s surface as well as within the skin layers. Bee venom has multiple antibacterial characteristics that make it an excellent way to fight acne. Like with other therapies, bee venom has to be in low concentrations in order to provide an effective response that is not dangerous to those that may have sensitivities.
Immune health is another arena where bee venom is beneficial. Autoimmune conditions such as lupus have responded to bee venom therapy in terms of reducing symptoms, allowing lupus sufferers to conduct normal life activities without increased inflammation and allergic responses.
What Is the Difference Between Bee and Wasp Venom?
There are several key differences between bee and wasp venom. Melittin is the primary component of bee venom. This component is responsible for the pain of bee stings and the possible allergic reaction and lethality. Phospholipase, another key component of bee venom, is also not present in wasp venom.
Generally speaking, humans that are allergic to bee venom are not allergic to wasp venom, and vice versa.
Wasps use their venom in two ways: not only to defend against predators but also to stun insects long enough to bring them back to the nest. This is an effective way to hunt for necessary food to take care of the entire collective.
Wasp venom is well known for producing a sharper pain response than bee venom. Wasp venom includes norepinephrine, hyaluronidase, and mast cell degranulating peptides.
Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter and a hormone with a specific purpose. In the human body, norepinephrine helps humans handle stress and acts as part of the evolutionary fight-or-flight response. This neurotransmitter is intended to motivate humans to defend themselves or escape a threat.
When wasps sting, the desired outcome is for the larger predator to go away from the area so the wasp can fly to the safety of the nest again. The other components in the wasp venom are designed to disable prey to bring it back to the nest, another important function.