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BUGMAN Education




Bee Stings

There are a few different flying insects around this part of the country (Midwest - in Ohio) that can give you a nasty little bite or sting. Most of them look like dangerous BUGS. We have learned (and some scientists think we’re born to think) that “black and yellow stripes” is a warning pattern. Bright red is too.

Of course, many of us have learned that a bunch of color/shape patterns are dangerous when they are found on BUGS!

Some flies bite – and often they are not colored like bees. These guys bite for food, or nutrition for egg production, and would prefer not to be seen. Warning colors would make it more difficult to sneak up on food without being swatted! On the backcountry boat tours in the Florida Everglades, the first thing the guide does is pass out fly swatters. The greenheads (biting deer flies) are so bad there that even a BUG-Lover like P.R. Mantis resorts to self-defensive violence – he’s good at fly-swattin’ too!)

But “black and yellow stripes” is a classic. We all know to use caution around bees.


stingless bee
Small, cute stingless bee at yellow flower - harmless!
bee robber fly
A Bumblebee mimic! A harmless Robberfly
Yield sign in bold black and yellow - CAUTION!







honeybeesThese foraging Honeybees are very unlikely to sting you - but if they do, scrape the stinger out right away! If you go slowly and don't breathe on them, you can watch pretty closely!
polistes wasp
This wasp looks very scary and lives near people - they love wood fences! Sometimes they can be a little aggressive - especially on hot, humid days!
Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) are fairly slow and passive. Many people are made nervous by these big buzzers, but stings are rare and not too painful.
Click on pics!

While we all know at some level that bees are the major pollinators on the planet and most of the food we eat is directly dependent on this to survive, the first thing most people think about when they hear “bee” is “sting!”

Every stinging bee or wasp or ant stings for defense. To most of them there is a very high cost to stinging. Honeybees die (more about that below). But other stinging insects who don’t die when they sting still need to make the complicated chemicals in the venom. And that takes a lot of energy and resources – it’s expensive to make poison!

But, if you are out there in their world, you may get in a situation that results in getting stung. Usually, since the bees or wasps don’t want to hurt you unless they feel they have to (they are much more ‘protective’ around their nest and babies, of course), you can walk slowly away from where the bothered BUG is, and you will be safe.

What do you think is the first thing you should do if you do get stung?

Look at it!

Honeybees sacrifice themselves when they sting by leaving their stingers - and a bunch of other stuff from their guts - behind. And if you look at the place you got stung, you can see it there. We would have pictures here, but we couldn’t find any volunteer models – people or bees!

A Honeybee's sting is double-shafted and barbed. When she stings you (and it has to be a “she” since the stinger is a modified egg-laying organ - the queen lays all the eggs in a Honeybee nest, so the female workers don’ need their egg-layers), she leaves the stinger and part of her former reproductive system behind. There are two globs of muscles and a sack of venom. After the bee leaves, the muscles writhe with a life of their own, digging the stinger deeper into your skin. This also squeezes the sack of venom and empties more into you! That hurts!

Honeybee stings have the potential to hurt a lot more than Bumblebee or Wasp stings and they can be more dangerous, too. But Bumblebees and Wasps can usually sting more than once. Here's why...

Bumblebees and Wasps do not live within the same kind of structured social system as the Honeybees. All of the females are reproductive. They cannot afford to commit suicide because they are all responsible for making more Bumblebees or Wasps. So a Bumblebee or Wasp will jab, squirt some venom, and pull out. How much the sting hurts depends more on how much time she has to sting than her size.









Along the same lines, one of the most deadly spiders in the world, the Australian Funnel Web Spider is relatively small compared to some big tarantulas (it's plenty big enough! Just not the biggest). We respectfully hold big tarantulas all the time - we would never hold an Australian Funnel Web Spider!

A venomous bite or sting is made more painful by the amount of venom and the different chemicals that are in the venom. The longer a honeybee stays in you, the deeper it gets and the more venom is squeezed through it into you.

So, if a honeybee stings you - before you start screaming and crying - look at the place it stung you and see if the stinger is still there. If it is, use your fingernail and just flick it out as fast as you can. If you do it right away, it'll come right out and not hurt nearly as much.

Of course, if you're not a grownup then any time anything like that happens you always tell a grownup. Some of these things can get dangerous in cases of allergic reactions. Check how you are feeling over the next half hour to a few hours after the sting. If you start having trouble breathing or any unusual pain, get help!

What YOU Can DO!

If you do get stung

  • Look at it!
  • If you see a stinger, scrape it off with your fingernail
    • Don't squeeze!
    • Don't wait!
  • SCREAM AND CRY (if you feel like it)
  • Make sure a grown up knows
    • If you are a grownup, tell someone if you can
    • Pay attention to how you feel and if you feel lightheaded or have trouble breathing,get help!
    • If you are with a child who was stung, carefully monitor their health for any unusual signs and get help!
  • Put ice on it and relax
  • Exaggerate the story each time you tell it
    • That bee was THIS big!!

Now the good news... Neither Honeybees nor Bumblebees nor Wasps want to sting you. It's literally a pain in their butts (abdomens)!

But they are bothered by carbon dioxide - the gas we breathe out. So when you're out bee watching, keep your hand over your mouth and nose. You can watch pretty closely when bees and wasps are working on flowers if you go slowly and stay respectful. It is really incredible to see them at work!

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