The Sting

A Bee, Post-Sting.
A Bee, Post-Sting.

A honeybee sting is best avoided: the bee dies and you get a small dose of poison. It’s a lose-lose situation for both participants. So why do bees bother stinging at all ?

The sacrificial sting of a single member of a bee-colony is designed to deter you, and other predatory mammals, from further proximity to the bees. The demise of one bee is a small price to pay to safeguard the superorganism of the hive.

Let’s take a stab at de-mystifying the bee-sting. First of all, let’s be clear about one thing: bees sting. They don’t bite. All the action takes place at the bees’ rear end.

Stinging bees are all female worker bees and their sting parts are modified ovipositors. Even a queen bee possesses a poisonous sting, but hers is stiletto-like and is only used against other queen bees. Very Borgia.

It is a little-known fact that drones –  the male bees, which are larger and much buzzier – do not carry a sting at all.

The worker bee-sting, on the other hand, is barbed, which is why it will stick fast into human skin. For that reason, stings from the honeybee detach from the bee’s abdomen, together with its venom sac, which keeps on pulsating, pumping poison into the body.  That’s why you should always use a brushing motion to remove bee-stings – trying to pinch them out will only speed the injection of the poison into you !

And be aware that the bee-alarm pheromone released by a sting will incite other bees to sting in the same place, so it is important to cover up sting sites as soon as possible. As we have noted, worker bees will die once they have stung, so they will only sting as a very last resort. Mercifully, the effect on human health is rarely terminal, mostly limited to localized swelling and a twinge of pain, but anaphylactic shock as a result of a bee-sting is a genuine risk – see the British Beekeepers Association treatment guidance .

Beekeeper's Botox
Beekeeper’s Botox

Although some claim that the venom in a bee-sting gives a similar cosmetic effect to botox, bee-venom therapy should be applied by a qualified practitioner. If it is applied by an enthusiastic bee, the effects are likely to be unfortunate, unless you are attending an audition for a horror movie!

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