Out of all the different species of bees, it is the honey bee that can sting a person only once and leave a stinger behind in the victim's skin. There are seven distinct species of honey bees and 44 subspecies. The European and Africanized honey bees are the common types in the United States. People who suffer from anaphylaxis, a serious reaction to a honey bee sting, will require immediate medical attention.
The European (or Western) honey bee is also known by the scientific name Apis mellifera. As of 2011 there were 28 subspecies in the Western Hemisphere. The first two were brought to North America in the early 1600s by European colonists. In the 1950s, the aggressive African subspecies Apis mellifera scutellata entered Brazil. This bee, known as the killer bee or Africanized bee, mated with Italian, German and Balkan honey bees. Africanized bees arrived in the United States in the early 1990s.
Africanized and European honey bees both have golden yellow bodies that are oval in shape. They are about 1/2 inch long and marked with brown bands. Honey bees have two pairs of wings, which can beat at a rate of 250 times per second. They have three pairs of legs and one pair of antenna. Worker honey bees have bodies that are covered with branched hairs. The hairs work to trap pollen.
Only female worker honey bees have stingers, or ovipositors, which are a part of their reproductive anatomy. The stinger has barbs or a hook on its tip that sink into the skin of the victim. The bee will attempt to fly away, but it will rip part of its abdomen in the process. This leads to certain death for the bee. While either bee will sting when provoked, the Africanized honey bees tend to be more aggressive and less predictable. They also tend to attack in greater numbers.
If you get stung by a honey bee, scrape away the stinger with a fingernail. If you try to pick up or squeeze the stinger to pull it out, you will only end up squeezing more venom into your wound. Remove the stinger as soon as possible, then wash the wound. Apply a cold compress or take antihistamines to alleviate the pain.
Honey bees flying around flowers and gathering pollen and nectar do not pose a great threat to you. What you need to look out for is the bee's nest or territory, which they will defend aggressively. Honey bees are social insects and live in colonies made up of thousands. European honey bees like building nests in tree crevices and occasionally in attics and chimneys. Africanized honey bees can live in tree holes, fallen logs or in places such as tires, crates or empty cars. If you come across a honey bee nest in any place where it will pose a threat, call a pest management professional.
- "Bees, Wasps, and Ants: The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in Gardens"; Eric Grissell; 2010
- "The Life and Times of the Honeybee"; Charles Micucci; 1997
- Pest World for Kids: Bees
- West Virginia University Extension Service; About Bee and Wasp Stings; 1998
Julia Drake has been writing since 2007 when she had her first article published in “The Beltane Papers.” She received her Bachelor of Arts in women studies from the University of Washington. She recently completed her Master of Arts in women’s spirituality at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.