The Bees Stinger. The stinger is similar in structure and mechanism to an egg-laying organ, known as the ovipositor possessed by other insects. In other words, the sting is a modified ovipositor that ejects venom instead of eggs. Thus, only female bees can have a stinger.

The sting is found in a chamber at the end of the abdomen, from which the sharp-pointed shaft protrudes during the stinging process, at which time, the bee tucks her abdomen downwards and under her which pushes the stinger out and towards its' victim.  

The stingers shaft is approx. 3mm/1/8-inch long. When the stinger is not in use, it is retracted within the sting chamber of the abdomen. The shaft is a hollow tube, like a hypodermic needle. The tip is barbed so that it sticks in the skin if the victim has elastic skin such as humans. In stinging other insect foes such as wasps, the bee stings under the abdominal segments, after which the stinger can then be retracted.

The stingers hollow needle actually has three sections. The top section is called the stylet and has ridges. The bottom two pieces are called lancets. When the stinger penetrates the skin, the two lancets move back and forth on the ridges of the stylet so that the whole apparatus ratchets itself deeper into the skin. The poison canal is enclosed within the lancets. 

In front of the shaft is the bulb. The ends of the lancets within the bulb are enlarged and as they move they force the venom into the poison canal, like miniature plungers. 

The active portion of the venom is a complex mixture of proteins, called Apitoxin which causes local inflammation and acts as an anticoagulant. The venom is produced is a mixture of acidic and basic secretions. Apitoxin is acidic (pH 4.5 to 5.5). A honeybee can inject 0.1 mg of venom.

More on bee venom at:; and on bee & wasp venom at :- 

When the stinger becomes embedded because of the natural elasticity of the mamals skin, as said, does not allow release of the barbed stinger, as in the illustration above, in its struggle to free itself, a portion of the stinger is left behind. This damages the honey bee enough to kill her within minutes. It can be seen that the stingers poison bulb continues to contract byreflex action, continuously pumping venom into the wound for several seconds unless removed or becomes empty. 

Bees tend to sting when they are trapped e.g. in a crease of a bee suit, other clothing or, when they are defending the colony from attack e.g. wasps.

If they feel threatened by you or, by sudden movements, such as banging of the hive, this can stimulate an attack by the hives 'guard' bees. 

If a bee has stung someone or something and, it releases the 'attack pheromone' wherit has stung. This 'attack pheremone' marker can often trigger many other bees to attack the same small area of the original sting. Many stings will be targetted almost on top of each other. THis can be observed , when someone is wearing a white bee suit and the bees attack, this angry behaviour is clearly seen as a patch of many stingers stuck in the suits' material in very close proximity to each other.


The scientific technical bit.

In response to bee stings the body releases IgG and IgE antibodies.

IgG – the most common type of antibody, found in all body fluids and protects against viruses, bacteria and foreign particles

IgE – triggers cells to release the chemical histamine, which causes some of the symptoms we recognise as allergies which can affect a victims lungs, skin and mucous membranes.

How we react to a bee sting depends on how good our antibody response is. Most people react in the following way:

After 2 minutes - redness

After 27 minutes – swelling

1 day to 1 week – itching and swelling

Some areas will have a more dramatic reaction as the skin is looser and, if combined with the affects of gravity, swelling is more dramatic e.g. on the face especially around the eyes, under the chin or, the underarm areas.


What to do if stung - Common Sense First Aid.

It is important that the sting is removed as quickly as possible. It has been observed that the method of removal is less important than the speed with which it is done. The conventional advice is to scrape it out with a fingernail, bank card or, a quick flick out with the back of a knife blade. Most stings are at an angle as the bee has curled her abdomen under her body to push out her stinger and for it to sting you. I

Whenever possible, don't grab the sting, but try scraping it back as you remove it and if at all possible at the angle it has entered the skin. This backward removal, reduces the chance of squeezing more venom from the venom sacks or, even pushing the sting further into yourself. 

Your skin maybe absolutely clean or, it may not, but please consider that your clothes, bee suit or, even a bees body is not sterile! 

The bee that stung you, may have minutes before been collecting water from a dirty pond, puddle or even in some instances from animal dung, therefore the bee itself is far from clean. If you are stung make sure all areas around the sting area are cleansed properly as soon as possible. Leaving a bee sting uncleaned can cause an infection. Think of this, before any medical injection, the area of the coming injection is always cleaned with an alcohol wipe to prevent any bacteria on the skin entering the injection site. 

N.B.  A stated above bee stings can become infected and may need medical care. Infections can occur when the affected area is scratched and broken open. Dirt and bacteria seep into the open wound and cause contamination. see   ( I personally prefer to wipe the area with TCP  a.s.ap. (which I always keep in my apiary shed,) this sterilises the area and assists in reducing further symptoms such as itching).  Ed.).

The NHS at offers the following advice.


 Minor bites and stings can be treated by:-  a] washing the affected area with soap and water, b] placing a cold compress (a flannel or cloth cooled with cold water) over the affected area to reduce swelling, not scratching the area because it can become infected (keep children's fingernails short and clean).

DO see your GP if the redness and itching worsens or, does not clear up after a few days.

Additional treatment

If the bite or sting is painful or swollen, you can also:

  • wrap an ice pack (such as a bag of frozen peas) in a towel and place it on the swelling.
  • take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (children under 16 years old should not be given aspirin)
  • use a spray or cream that contains local anaestheticantihistamine or mild hydrocortisone (1%) on the affected area to prevent itching and swelling
  • take an antihistamine tablet to help reduce swelling -  Hayfever tablets contain anthistamine which can be purchased over the counter without a prescription at supermarkets and pharmacies. They are very inexpensive.  [ I take an antihistamine tablet (non-drowsy type)  prior to attending to my bees - 'Prevention is always better than First Aid' Ed.]

If local swelling is severe, your GP may prescribe a short course of oral corticosteroids, such as prednisolone, to take for three to five days.

As I do, as a preventative measure, many beekeepers will have taken antihistamine tablets ( Hayfever tablets) before they inspect their bees. This usually reduces the effect of a sting and helps deal with the itching which is usually a later symptom which appears after being stung. There are of course some people don't use anything at all. Try different methods until you find what works for you. The choice is yours.

If you need even more medical sting information it can be found at :-


Severe reactions to a sting.


Rarely, someone may be hypersensitive to a sting and you or they will need urgent medical attention. When the reaction is severe, (anaphylaxis ), people have difficulty breathing and may become confused, disorientated or anxious/stressed.


If the person feels unwell, collapses or goes into shock after being stung, a paramedic and ambulance should be called immediately. Dial 112 or 999.


Tell the emergency operator what has happened and why. Tell them exactly where you are if you can. If you are not near to habitation always carry a mobile phone, dial 112 not 999 ' With using this number the operator can get a GPS fix on your phones' position and will stay on the line until released by an emergency services medic attending to you.


Anaphylaxis is serious!  Time is an important factor or a fatality could occur! In some instances, there may need for the response of a "Helimed" crew to rush the victim to a hospital.  


If you do have an 'out apiary', it is most sensible to make an EMERGENCY  notice which can be fixed prominently to a hive or fence.


The notice to carry information such as the 112 & 999 emergency telephone numbers, plus the 6 figure map reference of the apiary, [can be obtained from Google Maps] the nearest road from which vehicle or, on-foot approach can be made and importantly notice of any area close by where an air ambulance helicopter could safely land.


An update on what to do if stung - well, one mans remedy!

Hi Bee folks,
I thought I had better pass this tip about bee stings on to you.
A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine (a non-beekeeper) got stung on his forehead while he was near my hives. My son said go and put some TCP on the sting telling him there was some in our bathroom cabinet. We always use TCP for stings and, our friend rushed into my home only to find my wife was taking a bath and he couldn't get to the TCP !
Instead, he went into our separate loo and seeing no TCP, spotted some toothpaste on the sink shelf, he squeezed some onto his finger and applied it to the sting. He reported that within minutes the pain had gone.

When I was told of this I thought "Yeh right!" this can't be true and thought my friend was just being macho and pretending the toothpaste had worked while quietly suffering from the sting.
Today while painting a fence by my hives, I was stung twice once on my neck and once under my eye. I decided to try the toothpaste treatment and low and behold it worked! The pain of the sting dissipated totally over the next ten minutes. All that was left were two white spots of dried toothpaste which easily washed off.
All I can say in conclusion, why not try toothpaste on your next sting? If it doesn't work for you then go back to using your own treatment or, try TCP which I can guarantee did work more me and it also sterilises the sting site as bees have dirty feet.

Graham Robinson - Editor:-

As a preventative measure, many beekeepers, as I do, will have taken antihistamine tablets ( Hayfever tablets) before they inspect their bees. This usually reduces the effect of a sting and helps deal with the itching which is usually a later symptom which appears after being stung. There are of course some people don't use anything at all. Try different methods until you find what works for you. The choice is yours.

If you need even more medical sting information it can be found at :-


There are some benefits to being stung – bee venom is thought to cure many chronic illnesses including rheumatism and multiple sclerosis and some medical research is being conducted along those lines in New Zealand.


The record for sting survival is from 2243 stings & the victim then made a FULL recovery.


Usually for most folks one sting is enough!