For some unknown reason, it seems like human beings have a natural aversion to insects. How many individuals are afraid of bees for no other reason than a secondary fear of being stung? The fear is so prevalent that some cannot imagine taking up beekeeping. They find themselves wondering, do honey bees sting beekeepers?
In a word, yes. However, understand that being stung is not the norm for beekeepers. It is not like they get dozens of stings every time they open a hive. The most experienced beekeepers can go years without a single sting. Just because bees can sting their keepers does not mean they will.
Why Bees Might Sting
A bee’s stinger is a defense mechanism. Stingers are built into bees to give them a fighting chance against predators. In that sense, they are no different than any other creature with built-in defenses. Where bees have stingers, elk have antlers. It is really just a matter of survival.
With that in mind, ask yourself why bees might sting. The simplest way to explain it is that they feel threatened. If a colony of bees has any reason to believe that the hive could be in trouble, they prepare to defend it. Mounting a proper defense might mean stinging anyone or anything that comes too close.
Honey bees don’t actively look to sting experienced beekeepers who know what they are doing. An experienced beekeeper knows how to manipulate a hive without creating a threatening situation. If there is any reason to suspect that a colony will be unusually aggressive, a beekeeper might resort to smoking the hive.
Smoking tricks bees into thinking that a forest fire is approaching. The bees gorge themselves on honey, slowing them down and making it difficult to fly. They are less likely to sting under such circumstances.
Only Females Have Stingers
Honey bees are like most other bee species in the sense that only the females sting. And even at that, it’s just the workers. This does not mean that drones (males) are useless when it comes to defending the hive. Quite to the contrary. Drones are very good about buzzing about and warning targets to stay away.
Getting back to the females, their stingers are actually comprised of two barbed lancets. Once inserted into the flash of a target, the bee’s abdomen begins injecting venom. That venom is generally not deadly to human beings. It can cause pain lasting anywhere from a couple of hours to several days, but that’s about it. The exception are people allergic to bee stings. A single sting could cause such a person to suffer anaphylactic shock.
Honey Bees Are Reluctant to Sting
When it comes to honey bees stinging their beekeepers, the latter has an advantage: honey bees are reluctant to sting. They only do so when absolutely necessary. Why? Because a worker bee will die after stinging a target. Would you be reluctant to attack if you knew doing so would kill you?
Despite being able to sting, honey bees have a big problem in that the barbs in their lancets will not come out once embedded. So a bee stings and then tries to fly away. She ends up ripping her own body apart in the process. The abdominal rupture kills her. Meanwhile, she leaves behind the stinger, part of her abdomen, some muscles, and nerves.
The interesting thing is that the muscles left behind continue to stimulate the stinger for a few minutes. They can drive the stinger deeper into the flash and continue releasing venom at the same time. That’s why it’s important to remove the stinger as quickly as possible.
One Sting Can Lead to Another
Though bees are reluctant to sting, beekeepers have to be aware that one sting can lead to another. A single sting results in the release of pheromones from the bee’s sting chamber. Those pheromones tell other bees that there is a problem. Thus, a beekeeper who accidentally instigates a single sting could find them self up against a number of angry bees.
This explains why beekeepers wear protective clothing. While the likelihood of being stung is minimal, the chances of experiencing repeated stings after upsetting just one bee are pretty high. Things are a bit riskier in the spring when bees are busy working to re-establish their hives after a long winter.
Beekeepers familiar with all of this know that their bees can sting them. They also know that being stung is generally not a big deal. When honey bees do sting beekeepers, it is because they feel threatened. So the keeper’s number one priority is to learn how to handle their hives in a non-threatening manner. Doing so will keep stings to a minimum.