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Bee Sting Facts & Information


Why do bees sting people?

Stinging insects such as bees, wasps, yellow jackets and hornets use their stings to subdue prey (primarily insects and spiders) and to defend themselves or their colony. While various species display different degrees of aggressiveness, the same basic reasons for attacking and stinging are the instinctive desire to feed themselves or their colony members and to protect and defend their colony. When stinging insects are alerted to potential danger they will aggressively attack and sting to force people or animals away from the nest. Removal of stinging insect nests should be done only by a professional and experienced removal expert to avoid dangerous stings when approaching the nests.

Do honey bees sting?

Honey bee castes (types of specific individuals in the insect society) differ in appearance depending on whether they are drones, workers, or the queen. The caste most often seen is the workers that are about 3/8-inch long, have four wings that are clear, and are colored black or brown intermixed with yellow. Their abdomen is larger than the thorax or head. Honey bees are not overly aggressive and generally only sting when provoked or when they sense their colony is threatened. When that occurs, honey bees normally sting in large numbers. Honey bees typically make their nests above ground in sheltered locations and their social colonies may number into the tens of thousands.

Can bumblebees sting?  

Bumblebees are strong defenders of their nest, therefore they sting when provoked. A bumblebee sting can be painful to humans, as they inject venom into their target through their stinger. Although less likely to sting than honey bees, hornets, or yellow jackets, bumblebees can sting multiple times. This is due to the fact that the stinger of a bumblebee does not have barbs, so they are able to use their weapon more than once. As it continues to sting, it’s possible that the singer may break off in the process.

Are Africanized bees dangerous?  

Africanized honey bees appear to be almost identical to honey bees except for some characteristics that require a bee expert to observe. However, Africanized honey bees are extremely aggressive and may sting in huge swarms. They tend to build their colonies in places that are similar to where wild honey bee colonies are located. While domesticated and wild honey bees tend to swarm in the spring, Africanized honey bees are likely to swarm from the early spring to mid-fall.

Do bees die after stinging?

Honey bees die after stinging. Wasps and hornets do not.

What does a bee sting look like?

Unlike wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets, honey bees, Africanized honey bees, and bumble bees sting and inject venom only once and usually die within minutes after delivering their sting. But when they sting, an attractant pheromone (chemical trigger) “marks” the victim and this pheromone attracts more bees to attack and sting. Honey bees may sting a victim several dozens of times within a short time period, while an attack from Africanized honey bees may involve a mass-stinging attack of hundreds or even thousands of bees.

Bees, except for the bumble bees, leave the stinger and attached venom gland where the stinger is embedded into the skin. Once the person or pet is removed to a safe location, remove the stingers by scraping off the embedded stingers rather than squeezing to remove the stinger. Squeezing with tweezers tends to force more venom into the skin. The usual symptoms and physical appearance of bee stings include:

  • Stinger left behind – except for bumble bees

  • Pain

  • Localized welt or elevation of the skin surface around the sting site

  • Central white spot where the stinger punctured the skin

  • Potential for serious allergic reactions – nausea, vomiting, chest pain, swelling of the face or mouth, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, convulsions. In general, a person stung by a bee is more likely to develop subsequent serious reactions if they have had a prior allergic reaction.

What are the symptoms of a bee sting?

These are the most common types of reaction to a bee or wasp sting. Symptoms include pain, swelling, warmth, redness at the site of the sting and itching.   Common symptoms begin soon after a sting and may last several hours. Excessive swelling, which occurs in large local reactions, may last up to a week. Other symptoms related to large local relations include nausea and fatigue.

  1. These symptoms do not cause major medical problems and are usually limited to or are very near the sting site.

  2. Secondary bacterial infections: This type of skin infection develops if the sting site is frequently scratched and bacteria are given a suitable condition in which to develop. Failure to adequately clean, disinfect and medicate sting sites enable infections to occur.

How do you know if you're allergic to bees?

Most people stung by bees develop some pain, redness, swelling, and itching. However, someone who is highly allergic to bee stings suffers from an overreaction of their immune system and experiences far more serious allergy symptoms. Approximately 3% of people stung by bees will show an anaphylactic reaction that may be life-threatening. Anaphylaxis may include two or more of the following symptoms - itching and hives, swelling in the throat or tongue, difficulty breathing, dizziness, stomach cramps, nausea or diarrhea. In severe cases, a rapid fall in blood pressure may result in shock and loss of consciousness. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and may be fatal. If you have these symptoms after an insect sting, get emergency medical treatment. After treatment, you should also ask for a referral to an allergist/immunologist and learn how to stay safe in the future.

What to do for a bee sting?

Bee sting management involves the following steps and procedures:

  • Within 30 seconds after being stung, remove the stinger if it remains in your skin to avoid receiving more infected venom. Do not squeeze the venom sac since doing so will result in more venom being injected into the skin.

  • Retreat from the area to avoid additional stings.

  • Raise the affected limb that was stung to help slow down the circulation of venom.

  • Apply a cold compress to help reduce swelling and pain.

  • Gently clean the area with soap and water to prevent secondary infections. Do not break any blisters that have formed.

  • Use topical steroid ointments or oral antihistamines to relieve itching.

Individuals with bee sting allergies should perform the following steps:

  • See your physician if the swelling progresses or if the sting site seems infected.

  • If your doctor prescribes one and you are severely insect sting-allergic, carry auto-injectable epinephrine. Epinephrine is a rescue medication only, so still have someone take you to an emergency room immediately if you are stung. Those with severe allergies may want to consider wearing a bracelet or necklace that identifies the wearer as having severe allergies.

  • If recommended by your doctor, learn how and when to self-administer the epinephrine and replace the device before the labeled expiration date.

How to Prevent Bee Stings

Bees are an essential part of the ecosystem and play a necessary role in nature’s cycle of life. If you’re wondering how to avoid bee stings, here are a few simple steps you can take:

Prevent Exposure

The best way to avoid stings by bumblebees or any other stinging pests is to steer clear of their nests.

Avoid or be extra cautious when around flowering plants. If you discover a nest, don’t get too close or do anything that could provoke them to defend their home. If bees are close by, remain calm and slowly move away.

Cover Food

In addition to being attracted to floral scents, bees also enjoy eating protein. If you’re outside enjoying a meal, make sure to cover any food and clean up dirty dishes. Because the smell of food attracts insects, be careful outdoors when cooking, eating, or drinking sweet drinks. Also, beware of stinging insects inside straws or canned drinks.

Avoid Perfumes

Since bees enjoy the sweet taste of nectar, it’s recommended to avoid wearing any fruity or flowery-scented products. If possible, avoid brightly colored clothing and using perfume when outdoors.

Cover Up

If you’re planning to spend some time outdoors and you’re worried about bee stings, wear clothing that covers any exposed skin such as pants, long sleeves, and closed-toe shoes. Avoid loose-fitting garments that can trap insects between the material and the skin.

Muted Tones

Wasps and bees are often attracted to bright colors, especially blue, purple and violet. Err on the side of caution and make it a point to wear reds (bees aren’t capable of seeing this color) or darker colors of clothing.

If you’re experiencing bee activity or you notice a nest around your home, it’s best to contact a trained professional. Orkin Pros are experts in identifying different types of bees and know how to get rid of bees by using the most effective form of bee removal treatment available.

To learn more about how to repel bees and how to remove bees without killing them, contact your local Orkin branch.


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