Bee and Wasp Sting

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What are the types of bees?

Bees include the honey bee, the so-called Africanized honey bee (also known as "killer bee"), and the bumble bee. Bumble bees are large, furry-appearing bees that fulfill the beneficial role of pollinating many plants. Honeybees, also active plant pollinators, are found all over the world. While honey bees are not usually aggressive, they will sting if bothered or threatened. Because their wings flap so rapidly, their presence is associated with a buzzing sound. Although the venom of the "killer bees" found in the Western and Southern U.S. is no more potent than that of regular honeybees, their behavior may be more aggressive. Killer bees may chase victims when agitated and may also attack in greater numbers, thereby increasing the chances of a severe reaction to their stings. Overall, there are more than 20,000 species of bees found worldwide.

What are causes of bee and wasp stings?

Most stings arise because an insect perceives a threat to their colony. Bees and wasps commonly sting because an intruder has neared the hive or nest. Loud noises (such as lawn mowers), bright or dark colors, and certain perfumes or perfumed body products may also encourage stings. Some types of insect venom contain pheromones, which attract other members of the colony and induce them to sting.

When bees or wasps sting an individual, they inject venom under the skin of their victim.

  • Honey bees, including killer bees, have barbed stingers that tear off when they try to fly away after stinging, so these bees die after the sting and thus can sting only one time. In this case the stinger and venom sac typically remain embedded in the skin of the victim.
  • Bumble bees, hornets, yellow jackets, and wasps are able to sting multiple times, since their stingers are smooth and can be easily withdrawn from the victim's skin.

Bee and wasp venoms vary according to species but typically contain toxic components as well as antigens that stimulate an immune response.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/30/2015
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