Several airborne stinging insects become ubiquitous during the summer months in the northeast. These insects include bumblebees, honey bees, yellow jackets, paper wasps, and hornets. Stings that are inflicted by wasps, which includes yellow jackets and hornets, are generally considered more dangerous than stings inflicted by adult female honey bees. This widespread belief stems from the fact that, unlike honey bees, wasps and all other bee species are able to inflict repeated stings, while honey bees lose their stinger after inflicting one single sting. This is due to the female honey bee’s barbed stinger, which becomes lodged in human skin. In addition to the barbed stinger, a honey bee’s venom sac, abdomen and even parts of its digestive tract remain attached to the severed stinger. This is why honey bees die after inflicting a sting to human skin. Unfortunately, muscles within a honey bee’s severed venom sac continue to pump venom into human skin, making the stingers immediate removal necessary to prevent continued pain. However, there exists much controversy concerning how a honey bee stinger should be properly removed.

With the exception of the queen honey bee, which almost nevers stings humans, only the adult female worker honey bee has a stinger. While many wasp and bee species possess barbed stingers, a female honey bee’s barbs are more protrusive, making it impossible for the insects to remove their stinger from human skin. Human skin is too thick and fleshy to allow a honey bee to remove its stinger, but honey bees retain their stinger after stinging other animals. Since the venom sac remains attached to a honey bee’s severed stinger, many medical experts state that a stinger should never be removed with tweezers, as this will squeeze more venom into the wound; instead, it is recommended that stingers be scraped off with some flat-edged object, like a credit card. One recent study found that the pain caused by a honey bee sting is not worsened by squeezing the venom sac in order to remove the stinger, but this study has been criticized for referring to a small number of honey bee stings, and this study remains the only one to date to explore this topic. While most experts agree that it is most important to remove a honey bee stinger as quickly as possible no matter the method, the issue of which method causes the least amount of pain remains inconclusive.

Have you ever used tweezers to remove a honey bee stinger? If you have, did you notice an increase in pain upon removal?