Honeybees are not as bloodthirsty as most people believe them to be. Which of the legends are true? How deadly are honeybees really? Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself from them.
Do Honeybees Sting?
Honeybees have practically become the standard for all bees, so when someone mentions bee stings, honeybees are probably the first to come to mind. This does not mean they’re guilty of everything they’re accused of, though.
There’s also the consideration that we have western honeybees and Africanized honeybees, the latter of which is a lot more eager to attack than the former.
Honeybee stings are no simple matter, but to answer the main question—yes, honeybees do sting. And their stings can range from mild to deadly, depending on the victim’s reaction.
Why Do Honeybees Sting?
As with all bees, honeybees have stingers as a means of defense. They are herbivorous foragers who, contrary to popular belief, have no killer instincts. Honeybees are territorial and highly protective of what is theirs. Their defensive behavior is often mistaken for aggression, but they do not attack unprovoked.
Honeybees only sting if they are interfered with or threatened, but one other trait that portrays them as vicious is their tendency to fight in packs. When a honeybee stings something—or someone, pheromones are released which alerts other bees to the perceived threat, inciting them to join the battle.
Being attacked by a swarm of bees is a nightmare scenario for us, so we’ve come to believe that this behavior is vicious, but again, it’s not intended as such. Honeybees are extremely ordered, and when they sting, they’re only doing what they think must be done.
They are not spiteful creatures and are only looking out for themselves and the greater good of the colony. Unfortunately, due to perceived aggressiveness, there is still a killing culture when it comes to finding bees and beehives in an unsuspecting yard or garage. However, there are many ways of getting rid of honey bees without resorting to killing them.
Africanized honeybees, as I mentioned, are a slightly different story. Of all the bees on earth, they’re seen as the most vicious. However, this is also a misconception.
Africanized honeybees are quick to attack, but there is a reason (and it’s not malice). Just as western honeybees respond to threats, so do Africanized honeybees; it’s that they are more sensitive to external stimuli, and are more readily provoked because of it.
Still, they will not attack just because they can. You just have to be extra careful around them because they’re not as understanding or forgiving as their western counterparts.
Why Do Honeybees Die When They Sting?
Honeybees are also known for their so-called suicidal behavior when they sting, but this is a misunderstanding, too. Honeybees don’t have a death wish. They’re just not built to defend against humans (or mammals in general).
It’s a myth that honeybees can only sting once. They can survive stinging other insects more than once because they don’t lose their stingers if they do. Their barbed stingers are what causes their downfall when they sting us, though.
When a honeybee stings a human, its stingers are implanted in our skin. You wouldn’t think it, but our skin is too thick for honeybee stings to fight, and their stingers get stuck. As the bee tries to pull away, it rips the stinger from her body. The internal wound is too much for her to survive.
Other bees don’t have barbed stingers and therefore do not have this problem.
How Bad Do Honeybee Stings Hurt?
How much a honeybee sting hurts depends largely on the circumstance of it. If you’re attacked by a swarm, it will obviously hurt tons more than if a single bee gets you. The longer a stinger stays in your skin, the more venom is released, the more it burns.
The part of your body that they sting also makes a difference in the amount of pain you will experience. Ig Nobel Prize winner, Michael Smith, determined that being stung on the nostril hurts the most, even more than being stung on the genitals. He also noted that the least pain was felt when stung on the skull, middle toe, and upper arm.
It’s a good scale that gives us an idea of what hurts the most. Remember, though, that your age, fitness, or body type could also factor into how much pain you feel. That said, although pain is subjective and circumstantial, there is a reference to give you an idea of how much a honeybee sting hurts.
The Schmidt Sting Pain Index rates honeybee stings as a 2 out of 4, where 1 is mild and 4 severe. Honeybee stings were the base for comparison between other insect stings.
How to Prevent a Honeybee from Stinging You
The best thing you can do to avoid getting stung is to leave the honeybees alone. Don’t probe them, meddle with their hives, or attempt to harm them. Deliberately threatening honeybees is the fastest way to be attacked by them.
Sometimes our interferences are accidental. A good friend of mine once mistook a honeybee for a fly, and so swatted it off of her face. The bee did not appreciate this, and by the end of the day, my poor friend had several bee stings to deal with.
If a honeybee lands on you or invites itself into your space, the absolute worst thing you could do is panic. Hold still and wait for it to go on its way. Flailing, swatting, or jumping out of your seat might give a bee a fright. If it does, you could be perceived as a threat and stinging could commence. Remember what we mentioned above, a stinging bee releases pheromones that alert other bees to come and help.
How to Treat a Honeybee Sting
If you do accidentally aggravate a honeybee, your best bet would be to get yourself away from them and put a barrier between you and the bee as quickly as you can. Getting into your car and closing the windows is an example of this.
Remove the stinger as gently (but as quickly) as you can. The longer you wait, the more it will hurt.
Wash the stung area with soap and water, and apply a compress to prevent swelling.
The pain could last anywhere from a few hours to two days. Feel free to take painkillers in that time.
Bee stings are only an emergency if you are allergic. Get yourself to the emergency room as fast as possible if:
- Pain, redness, or swelling spreads to other areas of your body.
- You feel nauseous or dizzy.
- You have difficulty breathing.
Avoiding honeybee stings is easier said than done, I realize, but now you know that honeybees are not out to get you. Stay out of their way and you won’t have to worry about getting stung.
The more awareness is raised regarding their passive nature, the less likely people are to harm them. Of course, the less frequently people harm them, the less incentive they’ll have to sting. It’s a win-win, so spread the word.