The Sting

Aug 13, 2008

Ouch! So, you’ve been stung by a bee.

If you’re a beekeeper, an occasional sting is a natural part of beekeeping.

UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen says that the average beekeeper may be stung approximately 3000 times a year.

Mussen describes the sting as a “modified egg-laying apparatus, so only females can sting.” The queen bee can sting multiple times, while the female worker bee dies after stinging. Drones, or male bees, cannot sting. (Interesting that Jerry Seinfeld, who played the role of Barry B. Benson in The Bee Movie, could sting! Then again, he was a "pollen jock," too. However, only the worker bees (females) gather nectar and pollen.)

When bees sting, they inject a venom that can be temporarily painful. The pain may last a few minutes but may be felt up to a few days later.

How do you remove the stinging apparatus? “It doesn’t matter how you get it out as long as you remove it as soon as possible, within 45 to 60 seconds,” Mussen says. “Otherwise, venom will keep pumping into the body.”

He advises victims to "pull out or scrape off the sting (which some people call a “stinger”) with a fingernail. The sting is barbed. The sting also emits an alarm pheromone that marks the target for additional stings. Leave the area quickly.”

Some advise that you wash the wound and treat it with ice or a cold compress to alleviate the pain. Or, apply an aerosol or cream antihistamine preparation that contains a skin coolant. The important point: don’t scratch the itch as that could lead to an infection, Mussen says.

If you’re stung on the neck or mouth, or start feeling severe symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately, he says.

Allergic responses include hives, swelling, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and headaches. Life-threatening reactions—which require immediate medical intervention—include shock, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, unconsciousness, and a laryngeal blockage resulting from swelling in the throat.

“Only about one or two people out of 1000 are allergic or hypersensitive to bee stings,” the UC Davis apiculturist says.

To avoid being stung:

  • Don’t walk in front of a hive as you’re in the bees’ flight pattern.
  • Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
  • Wear light-colored clothing. Bees are more likely to sting black or red objects.
  • Don’t wear perfume, cologne or scented soaps.
  • Avoid going barefoot.
  • Remain calm if you’re stung. Don’t flail your arms at the bee; movement attracts more stings.
  • Remove bees from a swimming pool before entering the pool.


By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist

Attached Images:

Here's a close-up of what the stinging apparatus looks like in the skin. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Sting