10 Things to Know About Being Stung

Like a bee, we distill poison from honey for our self-defense - what happens to the bee when it uses its sting is well known
— Dag Hammarskjold

I don't know a beekeeper who hasn't been stung. I think it's inevitable. However, my bees are gentle. I am exposed to hundreds of thousands of bees every week and I only get stung a few times per year, usually when I'm being careless. Here are a few points from my experience.

  1. A worker bee will not typically sting unless threatened or pestered. Once they sting they die. Their stinger is attached to a venom sack which is inside the bees abdomen, and the stinger is barbed. Once the stinger is planted in your skin, the only way for the bee to remove itself from your body is to crawl away from the stinger, now an anchor, which rips the stinger and venom sack from its body. It will die a short time later. 
  2. The best way to remove a stinger is by scraping it out using a dull blade or credit card or whatever resembles a dull blade and is close by. The venom sack has an attached muscle that pulses venom into the sting site even after the bee liberates itself from the sting site, so the sooner you can remove it the better. If you try to use your thumb and index finger like tweezers to pull the stinger out, you'll likely just squeeze all the venom into your body in the process. 
  3. They say it takes approximately 1000 stings to kill an adult human. This is good to know, but not especially comforting. The most I've been stung is about 25 times within an hour, which is pretty miserable. After taking a few dozen stings, my hands started tingling and I began breaking out in hives. I called it an afternoon before anything started swelling closed. 
  4. Although Benadryl should be the first step to control an allergic reaction after being stung, beekeepers are wise to keep an epinephrine pen handy. 
  5. Some veteran Beekeepers can take a sting and hardly bat an eye. I find it extremely difficult to keep my adrenaline from rushing after an initial sting, leading to a fight-or-flight moment. I'm usually not up for sticking around to fight angry honeybees. 
  6. When bees sting and their stinger is left behind in your skin, a unique pheromone is released at the site of the sting. The other bees can detect the pheromone  and target the sting site. It's like a bulls-eye marking the spot for more, searing pain.
  7. The pheromone bees release when they sting smells like bananas. If stung repeatedly, the air will be permeated with the smell of bananas.  
  8. Using a smoker to blow smoke at the site of a sting can mask the sting pheromone and protect a beekeeper from an ensuing onslaught. 
  9. The Queen bee can sting repeatedly, but will rarely sting the beekeeper, even if she is handled. She commonly uses her sting to kill competing queens in the colony when she is born.
  10. Drone bees do not have a stinger. They don't sting. You can really mess with people by putting one in your mouth, then letting it fly away.