The reason bees can sting is the presence of stingers on their abdomen. Only the queen and the female worker bees have this extra appendage, and so they’re the only ones with the ability to sting. Male drones have much larger abdomens and can buzz quite aggressively, but they don’t have stingers.
The Queen’s Stinger
In queens, the needlepoint of the stinger is smooth and more like an actual needle. It allows the queen to sting multiple times and fly away.
A queen bee rarely concerns herself with stinging attackers, however, and only uses her stinger within the hive. She does this when she hatches, to ensure her position as queen by killing all the other queen larvae before they hatch.
Queens can go their whole lives only using their stinger once after they hatch. They won’t use stinging as a defense mechanism unless attacked by an external force.
The Worker’s Stinger
In worker bees, the stinger is barbed. This means that it has twists and ridges, and once it penetrates the skin, these ridges make it difficult to come out.
After getting stung, a victim will find stingers buried in their skin, along with a part of the bee’s abdomen. The sooner they can be taken out, the better — as long as it’s in the skin, it’ll continue to pump poison.
Why Bees Sting
Bees aren’t malevolent insects, despite popular belief. For starters, not all bees can sting. Only the female worker bee can sting.
Solitary worker bees in gardens, parks and other flowering environments don’t have any desire to sting without reason.
These bees are simply looking for nectar and pollen. They want to go back to the hive with their collection without incident. Bees aren’t interested in people unless they’re defending themselves.
A bee might buzz around someone curiously, but once it’s clear you’re not a flower, they’ll go away. A solitary worker bee will only sting you if you scare or hurt her. Be careful, though, as they can still sting if they’re dead.
With this in mind, be careful when you’re in an area that you know bees will be in — among flowers or near a known hive.
You should also avoid swatting a bee when it buzzes at you curiously. That’s a risky action as you just might scare the bee, or worse, hurt her. You’re more likely to get stung in this instance.
The only time that a bee would attack you unprovoked is if you’ve stumbled too close to her hive and she considers you a threat. In such a case, she will certainly sting you.
If a honey bee stings you, she releases strong pheromones that rile up nearby bees. All of a sudden, one stinging bee can become hundreds, or even thousands, just because you were considered a threat to the hive.
What Will a Bee Sting Do?
When a bee stings its victim, it releases melittin. This is a venom that immediately triggers pain receptors, causing a sharp, burning pain.
When a bee stings a human or another mammal, its stinger gets lodged in the skin of its victim. This is due to the barbed characteristic of the stinger.
Once the bee has stung its target, it flies away. At this point, the stinger is torn from the bee, along with a part of its attached abdomen. The result, sadly, is the bee dying from the stinging process since it can’t survive without that part of the abdomen.
However, the lodged stinger will stay in the skin and continue to pump more poison.
If you’re allergic to bee stings, you should have an adrenaline auto-injector close by. If you get stung, an anaphylactic reaction can be fatal.
A lodged stinger can cause pain for up to 10 minutes if it isn’t removed. This results in extended torment that can last for several days, depending on how each individual’s body deals with the toxin. Your immune system will send fluids to the area to flush out the melittin, and this will cause swelling. To combat this, you can soothe a bee sting with a cold compress or antihistamines.
Bees’ stingers are located at the end of their abdomens. To know if a bee can sting or not, you need to check for the needle-like point. If this is absent, then that bee can’t sting you.
Only female bees have stingers — the female worker bee has a barbed stinger while the queen has a smooth stinger. A female worker bee defends the hive, but can only sting once. Her stinger will get stuck in the victim and she will die trying to remove it.