Posted by: buzzybeegirl | February 19, 2009

My Stinger is this Looooong

The subject of today’s post may be incredibly uncomfortable for many of you. Especially those of you that may be afraid of bees. But, I have to talk about it. I really do. I promise that you will learn something that many of you may not have known. Here it goes…

The photo below is what you think it is. A closeup of a bees stinger. OUCH!


There it is. The main reason why many people fear bees. It is scary, I mean look at it! Think of the damage and pain. But, here are a few facts that many may not know about “The Stinger.” (I wanted to make it sound like one of those 1950’s scary movies).

First, the stinger is a modified ovipositor (egg laying tube). As bees evolved, they lost the egg laying function of the tube. Now their egg comes out directly from the body at the base of the stinger. So the long ovipositor was no longer needed for egg laying and it was modified to become the stinger, which female bees use for defense.

This brings us to our second fact. Since it is a modified ovipositor and male bees do not lay eggs, male bees do not have stingers. Yup, defenseless. You can grab em and they can’t sting you. It’s a cool trick if you can tell males apart from females…painful if you can’t!


Third fact. The bee above is a honeybee. Most people know that when these bees sting you they die. They sting you, the bottom part of their abdomen (butt) falls off and the stinger stays on your skin pumping venom. But they die. Well, natives (non honeybees) are different. Their abdomen doesn’t come off. They can retract their stinger and jab you several times. Oh yeah, and let me tell you, if a bumblebee stings you she will go after you. I have never been stung by one, but my friend has. 3 times by the same one. In the back. She got stung in the back by the same bumblebee 3 times! I have been stung by a native bee (Osmia sp.) and it hurt. But, I did not swell up like I do when I get stung by honeybees.

Bumblebee Stinger

Bumblebee Stinger

Fourth fact. The reason I didn’t swell up is because many native bees have lost the valve that pumps venom into the wound. So even if they sting you, your not getting pumped with venom.

Fifth fact. This will make many of you happy. Although the stinger looks scary, you should know that a majority of the native bees out there can’t sting. The loss of the stinger is pretty common among many bees. A lot of them have a reduced stinger, which feels like a pinch and others have lost their stinger completely. There are stingless bees in the tropics that have lost their stinger. I heard they bite though. Still have mandibles, so they are not completely defenseless.

So what’s the best way to avoid being stung? Let them be. Throwing rocks at a honeybee hive-bad idea. Smacking it-bad idea. The exception are the Africanized honeybees. They are like those grumpy people that are irritated by everything.  Be cautious around them. Aside from Africanized honeybees, other bees are easy going. You leave them alone and they will leave you alone.



  1. sharp.
    very sharp. ovipositor sounds like something that would brake down on the millenium falcon.

    • captain, there’s a problem with the ovipositor…she’s breaking down

  2. you guys wanna do breakfast on sunday?

    • Mmmmm, I need to ask the R-man, but that sounds good

  3. Yikes!!!! I think I will continue to run away from bees anyway, just to be on the safe side …

    • A word of advice from one of my dogs, Hoju…”don’t snap and catch the bees in your mouth. Although it may seem like a tingling appetizer, they make the face puffy.Very puffy.”

  4. Growing up in Florida I quickly ascertained that bees liked me. I mean, they liked to buzz around and annoy me when I was outside; especially while mowing the lawn.

    I would get stung a couple of times each year (maxing out to 5 one year), but learned a neat trick about the honeybees.

    When their butt falls off and remains to continue pumping its toxins into me it was a big mistake to try and pick it off with my fingers. I would simply end up squeezing the toxin into me quicker.

    Bad idea.

    I learned to carry a plastic credit card in my pocket and would use it to scrape off the stinger and toxin-pumping butt.

    • Good point forkboy. I tell people to use something flat like a credit card to remove the stinger. The last thing you want is more venom to be pumped into you.

  5. I’m a bee papparazzi, so I’ve been lucky so far not to get stung!

  6. I wrote a post about stings by honeybees back in 2007. Since I started keeping bees some 12 years ago I have only been properly stung thrice (not counting when they try to sting me through my protective clothes), but my dad developed a real bee allergy…

    To be precise their abdomen doesn’t come off, rather it’s the poison “bladder” and the muscles attached to it that are torn out of the abdomen. If you’re stung and look carefully at what’s stuck in your skin you can actually see the muscles still pumping toxins into your blood – get that stinger off you right away!

    Re Catherine – if you’re only photographing them when they’re on flowers, they probably won’t mind. I’ve never had a bee be angry with me for sneaking up on it when it’s not near its nest. 🙂

    • Thanks Felicia. I have never been stung while working with them, but there were a few times while doing stuff outside I have. Once I had a sweat bee land on my elbow (not knowing it). I squatted and put my elbows on my knees. I accidentally smashed the poor thing.

  7. I always thought bumblebees didn’t sting… good to know they actually do!

    I remember my sister was stung on the foot once while she was napping on the couch inside, not even moving… I guess that was a grumpy Africanized bee :p

  8. Dear BuzzyBeeGirl,

    I would like your permission to use your image of a bumble bee stinger as an image on the bumble bee section of Wikepedia. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of my own to share.


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