Why Do Bees Sting?

The buzz of a bee may cause you to freeze in fear of its painful sting. But should you be worried every time you see a bee? And why do bees sting anyway?

Photo courtesy of Paul Dacko

Honeybees and bumblebees sting for the same reason opossums play dead: It's a way of defending themselves.


Bees away from their hives are searching for pollen and nectar. They aren't bothered by people nearby, so they rarely sting unless they are provoked or stepped on. And while you may have heard that a bee can only sting once, that is not entirely true.


Many honeybees die after using their stinger, but not all honeybees. The queen bee can sting multiple times, although it rarely leaves the hive. Drone bees in the hive don't have stingers at all. The worker bees can sting only once. This is because the stingers cannot be removed without damaging their abdominal tissue.


Bumblebees have smooth stingers that are easy to remove, so these bees can sting more than once. But bumblebees are usually less aggressive than honeybees, and less likely to sting.


If you get stung by a bee, it is important to remove the stinger as soon as possible. Have an adult use tweezers or a credit card to pull or scrape the stinger away. If nothing else is available, they can use their fingers.


Once the stinger is out, wash the area with soap and water. Once clean, apply an ice pack.

Bee stings hurt because the stinger contains venom that enters your body. This venom has chemicals in it that affect your immune system and skin.


For most people, bee stings are minor and cause pain, swelling and redness that go away after a few hours. Some people experience more moderate or even severe reactions.


While bees are unlikely to sting unless provoked or stepped on, you can do a few things to lessen your odds of being stung. Be careful when drinking sweet beverages outdoors, and inspect them before drinking from them. If you're spending time outside, wear close-toed shoes. Avoid wearing bright colors and flowery prints, which can attract bees. And don’t wear loose-fitting clothing, which can allow bees to get trapped.