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Debunked: Will a bee die if it stings you?

Will you be taking less pity on the next bee that stings you?

A lil' bumblebee.
A lil' bumblebee.

IN THIS SERIES, TheJournal.ie takes a look at an urban myth, old wives’ tale, or something that your mammy told you years ago to see if there’s any truth in it.

A bee sting is rarely, if ever, desirable.

It’s a pretty unpleasant and painful inconvenience, and in some cases can even lead to fatal allergic reactions.

However, the common belief is that bees die after stinging, so most victims find it in their hearts to forgive the bee, who in a desperate attempt to defend their honey has sacrificed their own life.

But do they die, or are they actually gleefully whizzing off to sting another day?

Honey bees defend their honey

Firstly, the three different kinds of bee we have in Ireland all have different attitudes towards stinging.

Honey bees are the most likely to sting as they have to protect their large stores of honey. Bumblebees and solitary bees don’t, and so have to be in a pretty bad mood to want to defend themselves.

The honey bee is the only one which will probably die after it stings you, and even then there’s a chance they can survive.

image

A honey bee (Image: Orangeaurochs via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Stuart Hayes of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations explained to TheJournal.ie that there is a physical difference between the stinger of the honeybee, bumblebee, and solitary bee.

“The stinger of a bumblebee is similar to that of a wasp. It can inject the poison into you, and be retracted out. It’s similar to how a snake would inject venom into its prey”.

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The same goes for solitary bees, who will not die after stinging, but the honey bee isn’t so lucky.

“The sting of a honey bee is barbed, which hooks into your skin,” he explained, “If left alone, it might be able to wiggle its way out, but generally people aren’t keen are letting that happen. Swatting the bee away often results in its stinging sac being pulled from its body, which leads to the bee’s death”.

The stinging sac can then continue pumping venom into your skin for a limited time.

And if you are unlucky to have been stung? Stuart recommends using a credit card or long fingernail to lever the sting gentle out of  your skin.

Pinching the wound may cause poison to be injected further.

Is there a myth you’d like debunked? Email nicky@thejournal.ie

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About the author:

Nicky Ryan

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