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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Bee Stings / Safety
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Stung by a bee

 

What do I do?

If you are stung by a honey bee, one of the most important things to do is not to panic. Panic by the person stung or those around him/her can produce a systemic reaction in itself. Many people believethey are allergic to honey bees when in fact they are experiencing symptoms of a normal reaction. Only a very limited portion of the population (one or two out of 1000) is allergic or hypersensitive to bee or wasp stings. The average person can safely tolerate 10 stings per pound of body weight. This means that although 500 stings could kill a child, the average adult could withstand more than 1100 stings. Most deaths caused by multiple stings have occured in elderly individuals who may have had poor cardiopulmonary functioning.

If stung by a honey bee, the first thing you should do is remove the stinger. The end of a sting is barbed and will remain stuck in the skin even if the bee is removed. Muscles in the stinger allow it to continue pumping venom into the victim, even if it is no longer connected to the bee, for up to a minute or until the stinger is removed. The sooner the stinger is removed, the less venom will enter the wound. Honey bees are able to sting only once and eventually die after they have released their stinger.
How to remove the stinger:
Do not pull the stinger out with your fingers or tweezers because this will squeeze out more venom. Instead, scrape the stinger out with your fingernail, the edge of a credit card, a dull knife blade, or other straight edged object.

Two kinds of reactions are usually associated with bee stings and those of other stinging insects as well: (1) local or (2) systemic, allergic, or life-threatening.

(1) Local Reactions:
A local reaction is usually characterized by pain, swelling, redness, itching, and a wheal surrounding the wound made by the stinging apparatus. Swelling can sometimes be severe. For instance, if stung on the finger, the arm may be swollen even up to the elbow. Swelling such as this is fairly common, even though it may be alarming. However, a more serious allergic reaction may be indicated if swelling occurs in other parts of the body besides the general area in which the sting occured. For example, if stung on the left hand and the right hand or neck shows swelling you should seek medical attention immediately. Normal swelling may last up to a few days. During the days following a stinging incident, the wound may itch.
This is the reaction of a majority of persons and those suffering it are considered to be at little risk of death, unless the mouth or throat is affected so that the respiratory tract is obstructed. Many in the general population continue to believe that because they "swell up," they are at risk of losing their life when stung by bees.
How to alleviate the sting: Swelling may be reduced by icing the wound and/or taking an antihistamine such as Benedril. Topical solutions such as calamine may also help to alleviate pain associated with stinging. It is beneficial to drink plenty of water.

(2) Systemic, Allergic, or Life-Threatening Reactions:
It is possible to have a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting that is not life-threating. Remember, if an allergic reaction occurs, do seek medical attention immediately, but don't panic. Panic will only worsen the reaction. Allergic reactions to bee stings can develop anywhere on the body and may include:

  • Rash or hives
  • Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Dizziness or severe headache
  • Swelling that is not in the general area of the sting site, especially in the throat, neck, or tongue.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty in swallowing.
  • Shock
  • Unconsciousness
  • Drop in blood pressure

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek emergency medical assistance immediately. Symptoms can begin immediately following the sting or up to 30 minutes later and might last for hours. Anaphylaxis, or the inability to breathe, may occur within seconds or minutes of a sting.

Anaphylaxis, if treated in time, usually can be reversed by epinephrine (adrenaline) injected into the body. Individuals who are aware that they are allergic to stings should carry epinephrine in either a normal syringe (sting kit) or an auto-injector (Epi-Pen) whenever they think they might encounter stinging insects. Epinephrine is obtainable only by prescription from a physician.


Attacked by a group of honey bees

Remember these important steps:

1. RUN away quickly. Do not stop to help others. However, small children and the disabled may need some assistance.

2. As you are running, pull your shirt up over your head to protect your face, but make sure it does not slow your progress. This will help keep the bees from targeting the sensitive areas around your head and eyes.

3. Continue to RUN. Do not stop running until you reach shelter, such as a vehicle or building. A few bees may follow you indoors. However, if you run to a well-lit area, the bees will tend to become confused and fly to windows.Do not jump into water! The bees will wait for you to come up for air. If you are trapped for some reason, cover up with blankets, sleeping bags, clothes, or whatever else is immediately available.

4. Do not swat at the bees or flail your arms. Bees are attracted to movement and crushed bees emit a smell that will attract more bees.

5. Once you have reached shelter or have outrun the bees, remove all stingers. When a honey bees stings, it leaves its stinger in the skin. This kills the honey bee so it can't sting again, but it also means that venom continues to enter into the wound for a short time.

 

6. Do not pull stingers out with tweezers or your fingers. This will only squeeze more venom into the wound. Instead, scrape the stinger out sideways using your fingernail, the edge of a credit card, a dull knife blade or other straight-edged object.

7. If you see someone being attacked by bees, encourage them to run away or seek shelter. Do not attempt to rescue them yourself. Call 911 to report a serious stinging attack. The emergency response personnel in your area have probably been trained to handle bee attacks.

8. If you have been stung more than 15 times, or are feeling ill, or if you have any reason to believe you may be allergic to bee stings, seek medical attention immediately. The average person can safely tolerate 10 stings per pound of body weight. This means that although 500 stings can kill a child, the average adult could withstand more than 1100 stings.


Avoiding a stinging incident

 

Things to remember:

Stay away from honey bee colonies. There are estimated to be about 250,000 wild honey bee colonies in Arizona. Because honey bees nest in such a wide variety of locations, be alert for groups of flying bees entering or leaving an entrance or opening. Listen for buzzing sounds. Be especially alert when climbing, because honey bees often nest under rocks or within crevices within rocks. Don't put your hands where you can't see them.

If you find a colony of bees, leave them alone and keep others away. Do not shoot, throw rocks at, try to burn or otherwise disturb the bees. If the colony is near a trail or near areas frequently used by humans, notify your local office of the Parks Department, Forest Service, Game and Fish Department, even if the bees appear to be docile. Honey bee colonies vary in behavior over time, especially with changes in age and season. Small colonies are less likely to be defensive than large colonies, so you may pass the same colony for weeks, and then one day provoke them unexpectedly.

Wear appropriate clothing. When hiking in the wilderness, wear light-colored clothing, including socks. Avoid wearing leather clothing. When they defend their nests, Honey bees target objects that resemble their natural predators (such as bears and skunks), so they tend to go after dark, leathery or furry objects. Keep in mind that bees see the color red as black, so fluorescent orange is a better clothing choice when hunting.

Avoid wearing scents of any sort when hiking or working outside. Africanized honey bees communicate to one another using scents and tend to be quite sensitive to odors. Avoid strongly scented shampoo, soaps, perfumes, heavily scented gum, etc. If riding, avoid using fly control products on your horse with a "lemony" or citrus odor. Such scents are also known to provoke or attract honey bees.

Be particularly careful when using any machinery that produces sound vibrations or loud noises. Bees are alarmed by the vibration and/or loud noises produced by equipment such as chain saws, weed eaters, lawn mowers, tractors or electric generators. Honey bees may also be disturbed by strong smells, such as the odor of freshly cut grass. Again, check your environment before you begin operating noisy equipment.

Pet safety. When hiking it is best to keep your dog on a leash or under close control. A large animal bounding through the brush is likely to disturb a colony and be attacked. When the animal returns to its master, it will bring the attacking bees with it. At home, be careful not to tie or pen animals near honey bee hives. The animals receive numerous stings because they can't escape the bees. If your animals or pets are being stung, try to release them without endangering yourself.


Bee proofing your property

 

The best way to prevent bees from establishing a colony on your property is to not provide them with an ideal environment for survival. Honey bees require three things in order to survive: food, water and shelter.  

Remember, honey bees also nest in a wide variety of locations and may enter openings as small as 3/16-inch in diameter (about the size of a pencil eraser) as long as there is a suitable-sized cavity behind the opening for a nest.



    Eliminate shelter. To prevent honey bees from settling in your house or yard, you will need to be vigilant in preventing potential nesting sites.
    • Caulk cracks in walls, in the foundation and in the roof.
    • Fill or cover all holes 1/8-inch in diameter or larger in trees, structures and/or block walls.
       
    • Check where the chimney meets the house for separation, and make sure chimneys are covered properly.
    • Put small-mesh screen (such as window screen) over attic vents, irrigation valve boxes and water meter box key holes.
    • Remove any trash or debris that might serve as a shelter for honey bees.
    • Fill or cover animal burrows in the ground.
    • Make sure window and sun screens are tight fitting.
    • Keep shed doors tightly closed and in good repair and exercise caution when entering buildings that are not used frequently.
     
  1. Inspect your home and yard regularly for signs of bee colonies. A single bee or just a few bees in your yard does not necessarily mean you have an established colony on your property because bees will fly some distance in search of food and water. Although honey bees use nectar and pollen from flowers as food, removing flowers as a source of food is generally not an effective bee deterrent.

    Look for large numbers of bees passing into and out of or hovering in front of an opening. Listen for the hum of active insects. Look low for colonies in or at ground level, and also high for colonies under eaves or in attics.

  2. If you find a colony on your property, consult a bee expert. If you do find an established bee colony in your neighborhood, don't panic. On the other hand, don't ignore them either. Small colonies that have recently swarmed may be docile at first, but tend to become more defensive with age. Have colonies located around the house removed as soon as possible.

    Keep everyone away from the colony. Look in the Yellow Pages under "bee removal" or "pest control" for the names of beekeepers or pest control operators in your area who are qualified to remove the colony. Do not try to remove colonies yourself!


Outdoor recreation safety tips

With the arrival of the Africanized honey bee in Arizona, people need to be more cautious when hiking, hunting, fishing, biking, or horseback riding, etc. out of doors. But remember, there is a variety of venomous creatures here and Africanized honey bees are only one potential hazard. So it pays to always stay alert.

About Africanized and European honey bees:
Honey bees are about 5/8-inch long, brown, hairy insects with black encircling their abdomen, giving them a subtle striped appearance. All honey bees look alike. Only an expert can tell them apart.
The sting from a single Africanized honey bee is no more harmful than one form the common garden or European honey bee. Africanized honey bees are known as the so-called "killer bees" because they defend their nests more readily (with less provocation), and in larger numbers than the European honey bee, so there is a greater chance of receiving many stings.

Do's and Dont's:

1. Look out for honey bee colonies when outdoors. There are estimated to be approximately 250,000 wild bee colonies in Arizona. Honey bees nest in a wide variety of locations, such as pipes, holes, animal burrows or even in cavities within saguaro cacti or trees. Be alert for groups of flying bees entering or leaving an entrance or opening and listen for buzzing sounds. Be especially alert when climbing, because honey bees often nest under rocks or within crevices between rocks. Don't put your hands where you can't see them.
Not all honey bees you see are a potential threat. Honey bees often visit campsites for water or sweets (especially soda containers) or may be seen visiting flowers for nectar. Bees gathering food or water are called "foraging" bees. As long as they are away from the nest, honey bees are not overly defensive. They will only sting if stepped on or trapped in some way. On the other hand, a large number of honey bees foraging in one area may indicate a colony is nearby. If you inted to camp in the area, look around for the colony first.

2. If you find a colony of bees, leave them alone and keep others away. Do not shoot, throw rocks at, try to burn or otherwise disturb the bees. If the colony is near a trail or near areas frequently used by humans, notify your local office of the Parks Department, Forest Service, or Arizona Game and Fish even if the bees appear to be docile. Honey bee colonies vary in behavior over time, especially with changes in age and season. Small colonies are less likely to be defensive than large colonies, so you may pass the same colony for weeks and then one day provoke them unexpectedly.

3. Keep your dogs under control. If a dog disturbs a colony when bounding through the bush, it is likely to bring the bees back to you.

4. Wear light colored clothes, including socks. Bees target objects that resemble their natural predators (bears and skunks) when they defend their nests, so they tend to go after dark leathery or furry objects. Keep in mind that bees see the color red as black, so flourescent orange is a better choice when hunting.

5. Avoid wearing scents of any sort when hiking. Africanized honey bees communicate to one another using scents, and tend to be quite sensitive to odors. Avoid strongly scented shampoo, soaps, perfumes, heavily scented gum, etc. If riding, avoid using fly control products on your horse with a "lemony" or citrus odor. Such odors are known to provoke or attract honey bees.

6. Be particularly careful when using hany heavy equipment that produces sound vibrations, such as chainsaws, weed eaters, tractors or generators.

7. Keep escape routes in mind. If at all possible, avoid areas where you cannot escape quickly if attacked.

8. If you know you are allergic to bee stings, always have someone else with you when doing outdoor activities.

What to do if you are attacked by honey bees:

If you are attacked while hiking or hunting, the best action is to run as far and as fast as possible. Pull your shirt up over your head to protect your face, but make sure it does not slow your progress. Run to shelter (vehicle or building) if available. Do not swat at the bees or flail your arms, since they are attracted to movement. Entering water is not recommended. The bees may wait for you to come up for air.
Once you have reached shelter (or have outrun the bee), remove all stingers. When a honey bee stings, it leaves its stinger in the skin. This kills the honey bee, so it can't sting again, but it also means that venom continues to enter into the wound for a short time. To not pull stingers out with tweezers or your fingers because this will squeeze out more venom. Instead, scrape them out using your fingernail, the edge of a credit card, a dull knife blade or other strait-edged object.
If you have been stung more than 15 times, or are feeling ill, or if you have any reason to believe you may be allergic to bee stings, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.


Protecting pets and livestock

Honey bee on flower Africanized honey bees (the so-called "killer bees") arrived in Arizona in 1993. Some colonies of Africanized honey bees defend their nests with more vigor and in greater numbers than the common European honey bee. When bees defend their colonies, they target furry and dark-colored objects that resemble their natural enemies: bears and skunks. Therefore your pets are likely to be stung when bees are disturbed. Animals that are penned or tied up near honey bees are in special peril.

About Africanized and European honey bees:
Honey bees are about 5/8-inch long, brown, hairy insects with black encircling their abdomen, giving them a subtle striped appearance. All honey bees look alike. Only an expert can tell them apart.
The sting from a single Africanized honey bee is no more harmful than one form the common garden or European honey bee. Africanized honey bees are known as the so-called "killer bees" because they defend their nests more readily (with less provocation), and in larger numbers than the European honey bee, so there is a greater chance of receiving many stings.

Do's and Dont's:

  • Do look regularly for bee colonies around your property. Honey bees nest in a wide variety of locations. They may nest in such diverse sites as animal burrows in the ground, water meter boxes, or in overturned flower pots. Sometimes honey bees may nest in the open trees or shrubs. Look for active bees and listen for a buzzing or humming sound in the ground, in trees and shrubs, or in block walls. If you find a colony of bees, consult the Yellow Pages for beekeepers or pest control operators who will remove it.
  • Do not pen, tie, or tether animals near known bee hives or nests. Keep animals away form apiaries and bee nests. Bees may seem docile at first, but don't take chances.
  • Do not disturb or tease bees EVER, and do not try to remove bees yourself. Do not shoot at, throw rocks at, or pour gasoline on bee nests. This will only arouse the bees. Also, do not attempt to control them with aerosol pesticides.
  • Do keep pets and children indoors when using weed eaters, hedge clippers, tractors, power mowers, chain saws, etc. Honey bees are sensitive to odors, such as the smell of cut grass, and to loud vibrations. Attacks frequently occur when a person is mowing the lawn or pruning shrubs and trees and inadvertently strikes a bee nest.
  • Do keep dogs under control when hiking. A dog bounding through the brush is more likely to disturb bees than one following quietly at your heels.
  • Do stay alert when horse-back riding through brush or under low hanging branches where bees might nest.

What to do if your animal is involved in a serious stinging incident:

Try to get the animal away from the bees WITHOUT ENDANGERING YOURSELF. Call your dog inside your house or car, or release the animal IF IT WILL NOT HARM THE ANIMAL OR OTHERS NEARBY. Do not attempt to approach a person or an animal being stung without some sort of protection (such as a bee keeper's suit) because the bees are likely to attack you as well. If you approach an animal that is being stung, remember that an injured animal may bite or attack unexpectedly. If you release penned livestock, be aware that an unrestrained animal may run into the road and be hit by a car, or may run away. And if the animal runs to you with aroused bees following it, you are likely to be stung.

If possible, douse the animal with a shower of soapy water which will kill any bees clinging to it. A mild solution of liquid dish detergent in water (approximately 1/2 cup soap per gallon of water) will immobilize honey bees and kill them within 60 seconds.

Covering the animal with a heavy blanket during a serious stinging incident may also discourage the bees.

Once the animal is away from bees look for stingers. When a honey bee stings, it loses its venom sac and stinger. This means the honey bee dies after it stings, but also that the stinger may continue to inject venom for up to a minute or until the stinger is remove. If you can see stingers on the animal, remove them by scraping them out with a credit card, knife or fingernail. Do not pull them out with tweezers or fingers because you will squeeze more venom into the animal.

If an animal has sustained numerous stings, you may want to consult your veterinarian. The number of stings an animal can survive depends on its body weight, the amount of venom it received, and whether or not it is allergic to bee venom. As with humans, even one sting may be dangerous if the animal is allergic (although rare).


Bees at your swimming pool

 

Honey bees and your swimming pool: not a good mix 

Honey bees are one of the most beneficial insects to humans. They help pollinate our crops (like apples, melons and almonds), produce the sweet honey and make beeswax, which is important in the cosmetic and candle industries.

Because they are a social insect, living in colonies of up to 60,000 individuals, they need lots of food and water to keep the nest alive. The queen lays all the eggs in the colony and the worker bees do all the work. Worker bees normally forage on flowers for nectar and pollen. Nectar is the sweet flower sap that bees make into honey by evaporating off the excess water. Pollen is the protein resource bees feed their young larvae.

Bees store their food and raise their young in the honeycomb nest. Honeycomb is made from beeswax, which is secreted by young worker bees, and fashioned into the familiar honeycomb hexagonal shape. Because bees live in these wax combs, though, they have to keep the nest at a constant temperature, not only to keep the colony from overheating, but also to prevent the wax from melting. In hot weather, bees cool the colony much like your swamp or evaporative cooler does - by evaporating off drops of water. Bees collect water and spread it throughout the colony in droplets. Then they fan the air to creat an air stream over the water drops, causing the water to evaporate and thus lowering the nest temperatures.

When bees forage for water, they are not too fussy about where they collect it. It could be from a small, muddy puddle, a stream or your swimming pool, irrigation system, swamp cooler or birdbath. It is when bees come in contact with people, especially at swimming pools, that people notice them. Then they are considered not only a nuisance, but also a hazard.

Here are some tips on how to keep bees away from your pools.

  1. When you first notice bees around your pool, mix a 1/4 cub of dish soap to a quart of water, and fill an empty sprayer bottle with it. Using the soapy mixture, spray any bees that are at your pool.
  2. This soapy mixture will kill the bees quickly and without harmful pesticide residues.
  3. Do this every time you see bees at a water source you want to keep bee-free.
  4. This will kill those foragers who are telling others in the colony where your swimming pool is located. Eventually, all those foragers who are not returning to the colony, will have died. Other foragers will find a different source of water, so do not worry that you are harming the colony. Your are only eliminating a few individuals.

In addition, you should monitor other water sources and discourage bees from frequent visits. Here are some tips.

  1. Evaporative coolers: add a few ounces of pine-scented cleaner to the water.
  2. Mix 2 tablespoons of vinegar per gallon of water to birdbaths or pet waterers.
  3. Cover or drain pools or tubs when not in use.
  4. Repair leaky faucets and faulty irrigation systems.

If you notice bees nosing around your shed, house or other small hole in your wall or foundation, these are probably scout bees looking for a new home site for a swarm. Make sure every hole larger than 1/4-inch in diameter (about the size of a pencil), is caulked up.


Why do bees sting?

 

Bees belong to an ancient species that has continually adapted to the many challenges posed by the environment. As a result, a highly organized society has evolved. The development of a community lifestyle to ensure survival is but one example of the species' evolutionary adaptations.

The hive of the honeybee provides a delectable prize for many predators. Insects such as ants, wasps, and other bees are common intruders, as well as many mammals - bears, skunks, badgers, raccoons, possums, anteaters, mice, and humans. The attack behavior of bees developed as a defense to certain stimuli that signal the hive is in danger from an intruder. When honeybees attack in large, they are defending their colony. A bee will rarely sting when it is away from the colony foraging on pollen, nectar or water. However, a bee may sting if it is handled roughly (swatted at or stepped on), or feels alarmed in any way. Generally, if you leave a bee alone, it will leave you alone.

The following is an excerpt about colony defense from Bees and Beekeeping - Science, Practice, and World Resources by Eva Crane.

The basic unit of colony defense is an individual worker whose venom sac contains venom and is thus able to sting. If stinging occurs, it is usually the last of the bee's responses to certain stimuli that culminate in an attack, as described below.

Venom is produced in the worker's venom gland and stored in the venom sac, which is likely to be filled by the time the worker is 14 days old. The age distribution of the bees in a colony is thus relevant, and colonies with many bees less than 2 weeks, whose venom sacs are not yet filled, show relatively little defensive behavior. A worker that stings another bee can usually withdraw her sting without injury to herself, but if she stings into thick skin (as of a person or animal) she usually dies, being unable to retract her sting.

The figure below sets out the time sequence of the behavior of a bee in defense of her colony.

The bee's response to the first (alerting) stimulus strengthens her guarding stance; for instance the abdomen is raised, possibly with the sting protruded, and the antennae are waved. In addition, the bee may recruit other bees to guard activity, by entering the colony with her sting chamber open and the sting prodtruded, thus releasing alarm pheromone. The second (activating) stimulus causes the bee to search for the source of disturbance. When she locates it, the third (attracting) stimulus makers her orient herself towards it and move there. As a result of the fourth (culminating) stimulus, she attacks the target: she threatens it, emitting a high-pitched buzz and making body thrusts towards it. The attack itself may consist of biting, burrowing into hair, pulling hairs, and stinging, which - if she cannot retract her sting - is her final act in defense of the colony. At stage 1, unresponsive bees may move away from the source of disturbance, and at stage 4, many are likely to do so, running to undisturbed combs (which the beekeeper tries to make them do, by the use of smoke), or flying away from the colony.

The behavior of different colonies varies greatly, according to the colony's general make-up, and to certain environmental and colony conditions. Environmental factors include: temperature, and variation between day and night temperatures; light intensity and rate of change of day length; atmospheric humidity, pressure and electric potential; magnetic field. Food availability is important, and its diminution (as at the end of flow) usually increases defensive behavior, as does robbing by bees of other colonies, which is likely to occur when forage has become scarce. Lack of water does so, probably also contamination of bees with some insecticides, and apparently foraging on certain nectars and pollens.

Overcrowding of bees in a hive, or of hives in relation to forage available, is likely to increase defensive behavior. On the other hand colonies weakened by disease, by a failing queen or by lack of food, cannot mount an effective defense; this situation is exploited by predators, and by honeybees from stronger colonies - especially after the last flow of the season has ended and many would-be foragers are searching for any food that they might collect.

Heritable factors are very important in determining defensive behavior, and give rise to differences between races and also within the same race or strain.


Last Modified: 4/26/2012