Which Bees Sting?
One of the defining traits of the order of Hymenoptera (which bees, wasps, and ants are a part of), is the ability to sting. Thanks to this characteristic, practically speaking, most bees can sting. The good news is that at the very least, a good percentage of bees cannot.
There are at least 500 species of stingless bees, and it might surprise you to learn that they are closely related to honeybees and bumblebees.
There is something that many people overlook, though. Drones, or male bees, no matter their species, cannot sting either. Considering this, the number of bees that can’t sting is much higher than most people think.
A Guide to Bee Stings
Knowing that there are stingless bees and harmless drones is a comforting thought, but don’t disregard the pain that bees can cause just yet. The following facts could either be fun or horrifying, depending on how you look at it.
Why Do Bees Sting?
Bees have a reputation for being aggressive and vicious, but they are neither. They’re defensive and are only a threat to us when they feel threatened by us. The stinger is a bee’s best means of defense.
Bees choose to sting when they feel that their nest, hive, colony, or life is in danger of being attacked by other animals, and even other bees.
As far as we know, all bees sting in retaliation rather than out of spite. Bees do not have killer instincts as hunters do, and they’re generally quite passive.
Even in the case of the Africanized honeybee—a bee with a particularly aggressive stigma—their behavior is a consequence of their overreaction to external stimuli.
To summarize this point, bees are (generally speaking) only dangerous when they’re messed with. Leave them alone, and they’ll have no reason to sting you.
How Do Stingless Bees Defend Themselves?
If bees have stingers for defense, what do stingless bees do when they’re under threat? Surprisingly, they bite—to the death in some cases.
They’ve also been known to display other defensive behavior, including sitting on attackers, attacking them with resin and other substances, and ganging up on attackers to incapacitate them.
Why Do Bees Die When They Sting?
It’s a myth that bees commit suicide when they sting you. In fact, the only bees that are known for their kamikaze behavior are honeybees (and the stingless bees mentioned above)—and it’s not by choice. All other bees can sting you, repeatedly, without fatal consequence.
This is because of the biology of honeybees. They have barbed stingers, which is good for stinging other insects, but not so great for stinging people. Once honeybees sting us, their stingers get stuck in our comparatively thick skin. When they pull away, the force rips the stinger from their bodies, and the internal damage it causes it too great for them to overcome.
How Much Do Bee Stings Hurt?
Most people who know the feeling will close this case by saying “a lot,” but there is actually an official answer.
Justin Schmidt, an entomologist with a taste for pain, created the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. In the process he allowed himself to be stung thousands of times by all kinds of insects. He then rated their stings on a scale of 1 (mild) to 4 (severe).
The honeybee sting is rated a 2. This is under ordinary circumstances. The pain from a sting can last for hours, and is made worse if multiple bees sting at one time. Of course, allergic reactions to bee stings can be deadly, and in these cases are considered severe.
Why Are Bee Stings So Painful?
The main reason why bee stings hurt as much as they do is that bee venom triggers an immediate response in your pain reception, which causes a burning sensation. Because honeybee stings remain in your skin, more venom is injected into you, causing it to hurt more.
Bee venom induces high histamine levels and causes a number of other irritations, some of which can be severe, or even fatal if not treated immediately.
It’s been documented that bee stings are one of the most common causes of animal-related deaths in the US.
The number of bees that can sting you is much lower than most people realize, but this doesn’t mean we should disregard the severity of bee stings. They hurt, a lot, and can be deadly to those with allergies. Bees can even sting us after they die!
Stings are a bee’s primary means of defense. Those who can’t sting have found other means of protecting themselves, from biting to ganging up on their attackers. Bees are passive; leave them alone and you’ll dramatically decrease the chance of being stung.