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The thing about stings

Bees are fascinating and in our line of work, we get a lot of questions about bees, getting stung in particular and yes. We do still get stung. One of the most popular questions is if a bee dies when it stings. The answer is really in two parts. A sting is a defensive reaction to a perceived threat. The truth is, most of the time, bees don't bother us. We walk through bees buzzing about every day and 90% of the time they couldn't care less that we are even there. Think of the last time you walked through a garden or public park full of flowers. The bees go about their business and are largely unnoticed.

Bees are generally non-aggressive and will only sting if they are provoked or feel threatened. However, if (for example) you accidentally step on a bee, it may feel threatened and sting! It's also best to avoid trying to handle them by hand - including the cuddly-looking bumblebees. However, a sting from a bumblebee is unfortunate rather than common. Bumblebees and solitary bees are usually very docile, and stinging is rare for most species. As a child, you probably grazed your knees in the playground or tripped and fell more often than you were stung by a bee. It is correct that honey bee worker (females) will die if they sting you. This is because honey bee workers have barbed stings, causing the stinger to get lodged in the skin of mammals (including humans). This interaction is fatal to the honey bee when it tries to pull away from the victim, and the bee will die after the stinging incident. However, honey bees can sting insect predators repeatedly. Male honey bees (drones) cannot sting. Queen honey bees can also sting repeatedly, but queens rarely venture out of hives and would be more likely to use their stings against rival queens. Bumblebees have a smooth stinger and can sting repeatedly, but again, bumblebees are rarely aggressive. The next question we get a lot, especially by curious kids of people afraid of bugs, is, "How many bee stings can I survive?" Hopefully, you never find yourself in a situation where you need to put this theory to the test, but the average adult can withstand more than 1,000 bee stings. Unless a person has a severe and life-threatening bee sting allergy, the average person can safely tolerate ten stings per pound of body weight. The average adult can withstand more than 1,000 stings, although 500 stings could kill a child. Given that most bee species are solitary and not aggressive, a person is unlikely to receive so many stings in one go. Realistically, the only way a person could be stung so many times at one time would be due to the aggravation of a colony or swarm of honey bees. And generally, these dangerous scenarios can be completely avoided. An extreme reaction to bee stings can include anaphylaxis, which is a state of shock, but this is rare. Or you can look at it this way; statistically, there is more chance of being struck by lightning than death by bee sting!

Stats of stings Some bee stings are more painful than others, and that's not just our opinion. It can be backed up by science. Bee stings can be a little painful, but generally, they are not as painful as stings from other creatures. The Nobel prize-winning entomologist, Justin O. Schmidt, developed the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which compares the impacts of stinging insects (including bees, wasps, ants, and hornets) on humans. Schmidt used himself as a gauge by allowing them to sting him for the sake of science. The insect stings were rated from 1 to 4, with four being the most painful. On the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, most small bees are categorized into pain level 1, with the pain lasting 5 minutes or less. However, the western honey bee sting is classified at pain level 2, meaning discomfort typically lasts 5 to 10 minutes. The time the pain last wasn't the only criteria, though. While the sting from a tarantula hawk (wasp) only lasts about 5 minutes, but according to Schmidt is "blindingly fierce" and "shockingly electric." This places the tarantula hawk sting at pain level 4. The pain from some insect stings can also last quite a long time, such as the warrior wasp which has a very painful sting lasting up to 2 hours. In the grand scheme of things that sting, bees are not too bad as far as pain is concerned! The sting of the honey bee has a pain index of 2.

If you do get stung, or if your children encounter a bee sting, here are a few tips. The first thing to do is to get the stinger out quickly. The longer the stinger stays in the skin, the more venom it releases, adding to the person’s pain and swelling.

To treat a sting from a bee, wasp, or hornet, dermatologists recommend the following tips:

  1. Stay calm. Although most bees usually only sting once, wasps and hornets can sting again. If you are stung, calmly walk away from the area to avoid additional attacks.

  2. Remove the stinger. If the stinger remains in your skin, remove it by scraping over it with your fingernail or a piece of gauze. Never use tweezers to remove a stinger, as squeezing it can cause more venom to release into your skin.

  3. Wash the sting with soap and water.

  4. Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling. However, if the swelling moves to other parts of your body, such as your face or neck, go to the emergency room immediately, as you might be having an allergic reaction. Other signs of an allergic reaction include difficulty breathing, nausea, hives, or dizziness.

  5. Consider taking over-the-counter pain medication. Bee, wasp, and hornet stings are painful. Painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve the pain. Always follow the directions on the label and use the correct dose.

Although most people do not experience severe reactions to bee stings, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on anyone who has been stung in case they develop more serious symptoms. If you notice any signs of an allergic reaction, or if you or someone you know has been stung multiple times — particularly if he or she is a child — seek medical attention immediately.

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