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Learn more about bees a a wasps! What happens when a bee or wasp stings, how to treat the sting, and how to avoid being stung.

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Hi everyone! Welcome back to Animal Wonders. I've been enjoying the warm weather and getting the animals outside to play has been the highlight of my days. The nice weather has brought an assortment of flowers, and also their pollinators, like moths, butterflies, hummingbirds, and the ever-busy bees.

Now, I love bees because they play an important role in pollinating a ton of beneficial plants. Wasps, on the other hand, well I've been stung enough times that I'm definitely on guard when I see a little yellow and black body buzzing around. Fun fact: the buzz of the bee or wasp is the sound made by their wings, which beat about 240 times every second! Luckily, I'm not allergic to bee or wasp stings, and like many people, the stings are a bit painful at first, but it goes way after a few days. But for some people, the sting can actually be deadly. Which sounds kind of scary, but when something makes me nervous or scared, I like to learn more about it and that usually helps a lot. So, let's take a closer look at what's really happening when you get stung. 

[Animal Wonders intro]

 Breaking Down Myths

There are over 16,000 known species of bees and 75000 known species of wasps, so there's no way for me to describe the differences in each sting. So for this video, we'll focus on honey bees and wasps like yellow jackets and hornets. First off, most bees and wasps will not seek you out to sting you. They'll often only sting if they get stepped on, handled, or if they feel you're a threat. bees are generally just doing what they do. Collecting nectar and minding their own business. And did you know that honey bees have to gather nectar from two million flowers just to make one pound of honey?

Now, a lot of people have heard the myth that honey bees can only sting once and then they die. But this isn't totally correct. Honey bees have a three part stinger: a stylus and two barbed slides or lancets. When a honey bee stings, the stylus is poked into the skin, then the barbs on one slide get caught and pull the stylus deeper. Then, the other slide catches and rocks it back to that side and pulls the stylus deeper still. With insects or other animals with thin skin, the barbs don't go in very deep and the honey bee can easily pull its stinger back out and then sting again. But with humans and other mammals that have thick, elastic skin, the barb gets caught and when the bee tries to pull away, it's abdomen is torn off and the bee dies.

Now, wasps are a bit different than bees. They sting using their ovipositor. Some wasps, like yellow jackets, have very small barbs on their ovipositor. But even for them, their stingers usually don't get stuck in our skin, so they can sting repeatedly without dying. I know a lot of people think wasps aren't good for anything, but they play a vital role in protecting gardens and farm crops by controlling pest populations. They capture and consume insects like flies, caterpillars, and beetle larvae, which is really helpful to ensure the environment stays healthy and balanced.

 How Does a Sting Work?

If you accidentally scare a bee or wasp and they see you as a threat, they'll sting to protect themselves and their colony. And when they sting, they also inject a venom into your skin. These venoms tend to be a liquid containing a variety of components, including proteins. When injected, the proteins will start to break down tissues and/or blood cells under our skin and will also trigger pain receptors. The longer a stinger is in our skin, the more venom it releases.

 What to Do

So, for honeybees, who leave their stinger behind, it's essential to try to remove the stinger as soon as possible so your body has less venom to react to, which will lessen your symptoms. So the best thing to do if you're stung is to remove the stinger right away if there's one in there, and wash the area with soap and water. Then, put a cold compress on the site to reduce any mild swelling. You can also apply a topical anesthetic cream to relieve pain and take antihistamines to relieve the itchiness. And it should start to feel better in a couple of days.

 Mild Reactions

Now for most people, when they're stung by a honey bee or wasp, they exhibit mild symptoms, like pain, redness, inflammation, or a little bit of itchiness. The reason your body reacts to a bee or wasp sting is because of that venom that they injected along with a stinger. As your body detects the foreign components in the venom, also known as allergens, antibodies in your body called immunoglobulin E (IgE), will bind to the allergens and the antigen bound IgE will then activate mast cells in our blood to release histamine. One of the first responses our body has to histamines is to increase blood flow. This causes inflammation but it also allows chemicals and cells to start repairing the damage caused by the venom. The histamines also trigger responses in our body to remove the allergens from our system. And this could be sneezing, itching, runny nose, watery eyes, or coughing. When our bodies start exhibiting these typical allergy symptoms, we start taking antihistamines to stop these reactions.

 Moderate and Severe Reactions

Now for people who exhibit a moderate allergic reaction instead of just mild, they'll experience more redness and more severe swelling. They can have swelling of ten centimeters or more over the next day or two and it can take up to a week for symptoms to clear. Now there's a portion of people who will have a severe reaction to bee and wasp stings and they have to be very careful. For them, the stings will cause anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction and requires immediate medical attention. The reaction can occur throughout their body as hives, swelling of the throat and tongue, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, dropping blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and more. Some people genetically have a strong reaction to bee and wasp venom, but others will develop an allergy over their lifetime.

 Allergens, Antibodies, and EpiPens

Once you've been stung by a bee or wasp, your body will produce IgE antibodies to target and eliminate that allergen. And the next time you're stung, your body may still have those antibodies so it will have a faster and stronger reaction to the allergens. And over time, if you're stung repeatedly, you could develop a severe allergy. So people who have a known severe reaction to stings will often carry EpiPens, and as soon as they suspect anaphylaxis, they'll use the EpiPen to inject a dose of epinephrine directly into the muscle of their leg. The epinephrine will cause the dilating blood vessels to constrict, which will increase blood pressure, and it will also relax the muscles in your throat and help you breathe easier. Regardless of whether a person with a severe bee sting allergy has an EpiPen or not, they should be taken to the hospital immediately because EpiPen sometimes only reduce symptoms temporarily and they might need medical care after it wears off. So now that we know a bit more about how stings work, let's talk about how we can avoid bees and wasps, because no one wants to be stung. 

 How to Avoid Getting Stung

Now, as the buzzy pollinators are busy pollinating the plants in your yard, you might have the urge to just kill any bees or wasps that come near, but let's not do that, because they are extremely important for our environments and our food production. Instead, here are some tips to avoid getting stung:

  • When you're outside, try not to wear sandals or walk barefoot

  • Avoid wearing bright colors or floral prints

  • Try to keep your arms and legs covered

  • Don't wear strong perfume

  • Check for bees before eating outside

  • Keep food and drinks covered, especially meat or sweet items

  • Be careful reaching for drinks that they could have landed on

If you do happen to come into contact with bees or wasps, don't swat at them; you're just going to scare or hurt them and cause them to react defensively. And, you could even accidentally hit their stinger and cause the sting yourself. Instead, try to move away calmly and slowly. If they do land on you, try to remain still. They've most likely just landed for a moment and will fly off on their own. And if you find a hive or nest in your yard, call an exterminator to give you advice and help remove it. Don't try to remove it on your own, unless you've had training.

 Dealing with Swarms

Now, an important thing to know about honeybees is that if they do sting you, they'll release pheromones that alert the members in their colony of danger, and this can sometimes cause swarms to chase after you, and these pheromones last for a while and can't be easily washed off with water, so jumping into a lake isn't the answer.So if you happen to make a bee upset and the colony comes after you in a swarm, the best thing to do is to run away as fast as you can in a straight line. Eventually, you'll get far enough away from the bee's hive and they'll no longer see you as a threat.

 The Importance of Bees and Wasps

So keeping all of the dangers in mind, I still like to think about the positive of bees, and one of my favourite things about honeybees is knowing that their brain is about the size of a sesame seed, and they're capable of complex calculations on distance and foraging strategies. They can even learn new behaviors by watching others, and they communicate with each other by dancing.

I know for some, bees and wasps can be frightening. They can cause painful, and sometimes severe, reactions in our bodies. But I hope that by knowing more about their behavior, what happens when you're stung, and how to avoid being stung, it will help make it easier to live with them. So before just being scared or upset with bees, please know that they're responsible for over 80% of pollination of all cultivated crops, and for some important species, their numbers are dwindling rapidly due to pesticides, aerosol sprays, and other toxins, which is why it's important to understand and accept that while bees and wasps can be dangerous to individuals, in the big picture, they're helping us survive. 

 Special Project!

Thanks for watching, I hope you enjoyed learning about bee stings! Now, before you go, I want to tell you about this special thing that I'm planning. I'd like to make a video celebrating the positive impacts Animal Wonders has made on others, and I'd love your help. If we've made a difference in you or your animal's life, tell me how in the comments below! And if you have photos or videos you want to share with me, you can send them to The deadline for submissions is Monday, May 25th at noon ET, so make sure you send in your stories by then. And if you'd like to keep learning about animals and going on new adventures with us, subscribe to our YouTube channel, Animal Wonders Montana, and I'll see you very soon. Bye!

[Animal Wonders outro]