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Be Warned: Not All Bees Die When They Sting You

You have probably learned that bees can only sting once and die after they sting you, but this isn’t entirely true. Honeybees do die after injecting their venom with their stinger, but other kinds of bees, along with hornets and wasps, do not. And many bee species don't have stingers at all.

A bee on  a person's finger.
(Photo via Shutterstock)

Using their stingers is fatal for honeybees because of their anatomy. Their stingers are barbed, and these barbs get stuck in your skin when they sting. They can't retract the stinger after using it. When it leaves its stinger in you, it also leaves part of its abdominal tract. This is fatal for the honeybees.

Once the stinger is injected, it keeps stinging, even after the bee has died. This stinging process can continue for several minutes, which is why it is important to remove a stinger as soon as possible after being stung.


Words to know

Antihistamine: A drug that can be used to treat allergies by reducing the effects of histamine.

Barb: A sharp projection angled away from the main point to make extraction of an object difficult.

Fatal: Causing death.

Mechanism: A process by which something takes place or is brought about.

Retract: To withdraw or draw back.


Other bees that are capable of stinging, including bumble bees and carpenter bees, have smooth, straight stingers, so they are able to remove them after stinging. This is good news for the bees, because using their stingers isn't fatal for them. But it's bad news for those of us being stung, because they can sting over and over again. Similarly, wasps and hornets can also sting multiple times because they have smooth stingers that can be removed after using them.

Only about 500 of the 20,000 known bee species on Earth can sting. And even among stinging bee species, it's only the females that have stingers. Bees that can't sting will bite as a defense mechanism.

The species that stings more than any other is the yellowjacket. They are more aggressive than most other stinging insects. Yellowjackets are often mistaken for bees, but they are actually wasps, which means they are capable of stinging more than once.

If you do happen to get stung by a bee, hornet or wasp, basic first aid is usually all that is needed. Ask a parent or responsible adult for help, and start by removing the stinger if there is one. If you don't have tweezers, you can use a fingernail, credit card or something similar to gently scrape it out. Once the stinger is out, wash the area with soap and water and apply an ice pack to help with the pain.

To reduce pain and itching, create a paste from baking soda and water and apply it to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes. Your parent or guardian may also have you use over-the-counter products such as calamine lotion, antihistamine creams or pain relievers to help with the pain and swelling.

If you are stung in the mouth, throat or nose, or if you develop signs of an allergic reaction, call 911 or seek immediate medical attention. Signs of an allergic reaction include wheezing, breathing problems, coughing, tickling or tightness in the chest or throat, hives, sweating, anxiety, dizziness, nausea, vomiting or fainting.


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