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.
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.