Honey Bee Sting

Honey bee inserting its stinger into human skin

Honey bees sting as a defence mechanism to protect the colony. When an intruder invades, the workers release pheromones to alert the others of the threat and lead them to its location. In this event, the pheromones stimulate their attack response.

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    How Do Honey Bees Sting?

    The difference between honey bees and other species of bees is that the honey bees stingers have the presence of small barbs. These small barbs are only found on the worker honey bees.

    It is believed that honey bees evolved the barbs on their stingers in order to protect themselves from larger predators. Scientists credit this to the fact that the stinger barbs only function when the fleshy tissue of an animal is stung. 

    The stinger will also not detach from the bee unless it is inserted into the flesh. The stinger can still perforate the membrane between joints in an exoskeleton of another insect, but this will not result in detachment.

    Containing a venom sack inside the stinger also means that when the stinger detaches, the musculature structure of the honey bee allows it to continue transferring venom to the recipient. The venom from the honey bee sting is known as apitoxin – it carries active components such as enzymes and melittin.

    While stinging is an option when honey bees are threatened in their colony by other insects, they also use a defensive tactic called “balling.” This strategy consists of the worker bees surrounding the threat, trapping them in the centre of a “ball” of bees. 

    The honey bees then rapidly vibrate their muscles, causing them to raise the temperature of their intruder to a lethal level. Honey bees will also use this method of defence to kill a colony’s queen if she is found to be defective, or a phoney.

    When a honey bee of the subgenus Megapis is provoked by activities such as harvesting of honey, they are capable of stinging a human being to death. These honey bees are known to be the fiercest stingers of them all.

    Do Honey Bees Have Venom in Their Sting?

    The honey bee is venomous. The stinging apparatus on a honey bee contains a venom sack, and the lethal, bitter, colourless liquid is known as apitoxin. It is a cytotoxic and hemotoxic compound and contains proteins capable of causing local inflammation.

    Melittin is the main component of honey bee venom, which makes up approximately 52% of venom peptides, while Adolapin supplies 2-5% of the peptides. Because of the way the honey bees’ stinging mechanism works, venom continues to pump into the stung victim even after the stinger has been pulled out.

    Do honey bees have venom in their stings
    When a honey bee stings a mammal, its stinger gets stuck into the victim's skin, causing the bee to die.
    This award winning Image taken by Kathy Keatley Garvey an award winning writer, editor and photographer from the University of California - Department of Entomology and Nematology.

    What Are The Side Effects Of A Honey Bee Sting?

    Someone who is not allergic to bee venom can experience topical reactions, such as pain in the spot where they were stung, red and itchy skin, and occasional swelling. These symptoms usually disappear after a few hours, but could last for up to a week in a large local reaction.

    It’s the melittin in bee venom that triggers pain receptors and histamine that causes the itch.

    Can Bee Sting Cause Death?

    People who are allergic to the venom produced by a honey bee, are at risk of a severe reaction called anaphylaxis. This reaction causes a drop in blood pressure and a constriction of breathing airways. If anaphylaxis isn’t treated immediately, it can be fatal.

    The yearly deaths caused by stings, on average in the United States, is less than 100 people. In the United Kingdom there are approximately 20 deaths, and less than one person a year dies from bee stings in Australia.

    Signs and Symptoms of Bee Sting Allergy

    While some people can be stung and suffer only minor discomfort, some are severely allergic. Signs of a severe allergy to bee stings include hives, itching, flushed or pale skin, and other skin reactions. Symptoms can also include swelling of the tongue or throat, and difficulty breathing. Weak or rapid pulse, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, fainting, dizziness and loss of consciousness are the most severe of the signs you are allergic to bees.

    Is a Bee Sting Allergy Common?

    A 2013 report, published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, found that 5% of the population is allergic to bee venom. But how people respond to a sting varies widely, even if an allergy is detected in a skin test. The good news is that very few people experience the most severe reaction – anaphylaxis. Approximately 1% of children and 3% of adults will experience anaphylaxis as a result of a bee sting.

    When Should Someone Seek Emergency Medical Care Due to a Bee Sting?

    If  someone is not sure if they have a bee venom allergy, but are experiencing any of the following symptoms, they should seek medical attention immediately:

    Breathing difficulty Hives, itchiness, and either flushed or pale skin
    Swelling of the tongue and in your throat Weak or rapid pulse
    Nausea or vomiting Diarrhea
    Dizziness or fainting Loss of consciousness

    Once a bee venom allergy is detected, a doctor will prescribe an epi-pen (epinephrine). Epinephrine can decrease swelling and increase blood pressure by causing constriction of the blood vessels, while at the same time relaxing muscles in the lungs to help keep airways open. It’s also able to increase heart rate to prevent cardiovascular collapse.

    It’s common for subsequent stings to bring on an even more severe reaction than the first one, so someone who knows they have a bee allergy should always have an epi-pen close by when they plan to spend time outside. 

    Common symptoms of a bee sting include red skin and swelling

    Do Honey Bee Stings Hurt More Than Other Bee or Wasp Stings?

    Ranking number 17 on the Schmidt’s Sting Pain Index, the sting of the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) has been described as a burning, yet tolerable, sensation, such as if one were to come into contact with a hot plate or match head.

    While ranking lower than many other stinging insects, the honey bee’s sting is considered more painful than that of other bee species. The only other species of bee to appear in the top 30 on the Schmidt’s Pain Index is the sweat bee and the Lasioglossum genus. 

    Do Honey Bees Die After They Sting?

    Honey bees have barbed stingers that get stuck in mammals’ skin. As the honey bee tries to pull out the stinger, it ruptures its lower abdomen resulting in the bee dying. However, honey bees do not always die after stinging. This is because the barbs must establish a solid hold in the flesh in order for detachment of the stinger to occur.

    Therefore, honey bees will not die when they sting another insect because insects lack the tissue needed to initiate the detachment process of the honey bees’ stingers.

    Is a Honey Bee Sting Common?

    While the Mayo Clinic states that bee stings are common, it is difficult to quantify the number of stings since they often go unreported unless the reactions are severe or result in death.

    Luckily, many experts agree that the likelihood of a honey bee sting is low unless someone’s deemed a threat to the hive. But there’s another reason to be extra careful near honey bee hives. Even though a honey bee will die after stinging a fleshy material like human skin, the honey bee that injected the stinger will send a pheromone to other bees in the colony, and that could result in revenge by multiple bees. 

    Fortunately, an adult can tolerate ten stings per pound of bodyweight – although being stung by multiple bees is likely not a fortunate situation for the stinging victim.

    Do Honey Bees Sting Other Animals and Insects?

    Honey bees sting when they feel their hives or colonies are threatened; they do not discriminate when it comes to potential intruders. In fact, insects and animals are much more likely to pose an active threat to honey bees, usually because they seek food – either in the form of honey or in bee bodies.

    And while the fleshy tissue of mammals causes honey bees to die, they can still sting insects many times without losing their stingers.

    Honey bees sting any living creature that they feel threatened by, including other insects and animals

    How to Prevent Honey Bees From Stinging?

    The best way to avoid being stung is to take preventative action:

    • Avoid wearing fragrances. Bees are attracted to fruity and floral scents, so to avoid drawing their attention, it is best to go fragrance-free. Besides traditional fragrances like perfume, cologne, or body spray, other products like body lotion or hair care products can also attract honey bees. 
    • Don’t wear bright colours. Just as bees are attracted to sweet scents, they also favour colours similar to the flowers they forage. Plus, their eyesight is poor, so there is a possibility they may confuse a human with a flower. To avoid being stung, it is advised to wear neutral or muted colours.
    • Don’t walk around barefoot. No one wants to take the chance of stepping on a low-hovering bee without shoes on, as bees will definitely feel threatened if someone steps on them. 
    • Cover food and be careful around sweet drinks.  Bees like nectar, so why wouldn’t they want to investigate sweet foods and drinks. When eating and drinking outside, leftovers should be tightly covered trach should be quickly disposed of.
    • If a bee flying in a straight line, get out of the way. The expression “make a beeline,” relates directly to the activity bees take when they are flying home to their nest or hive in a speedy, straight line. If a bee is flying in a straight line, there’s a chance their hive is nearby, so it’s best to quickly get out of the way.

    What to Do When Someone Gets Stung by a Bee?

    Here is what to do immediately after being stung by a bee:

    • Remove the stinger. If this is difficult to do, try using a credit card to scrape it out. While injected, the stinger continues to pump venom into the skin, so it is best to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
    • Apply ice – in 20-minute intervals – to alleviate some of the pain. To avoid freezing the skin, wrap the ice in a towel or cloth. 
    • Take an antihistamine to relieve itching and swelling.
    • For additional pain relief take acetaminophen. 
    • Cleanse the stung area with soap and water. If you’re still experiencing itchiness, you can apply hydrocortisone cream.

    Home Remedies for Bee Sting

    Common home remedies for bee sting:

    Honey – Honey has been used to treat wounds for centuries and could help to heal in addition to relieving pain and itching. Use a small amount on the sting site and cover loosely with a bandage.

    Baking Soda – Make a paste using baking soda and water, and this could help to neutralize the bee venom. Cover with a bandage to keep the paste intact.

    Toothpaste – Alkaline in toothpaste could help neutralize the acidic honey bee venom.

    Wet Aspirin Tablet – One of the most popular home remedies is to make a paste of water and ground-up aspirin and apply it to the site of the sting.

    Oils and Herbs – Some oils and herbs have antiseptic or anti-inflammatory properties which can relieve pain and itching, as well as reduce swelling. Try aloe vera, calendula cream, lavender essential oil, tea tree oil, or witch hazel. The oils should be diluted with a carrier oil like coconut or olive oil and applied by the drop.

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