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Why Can Bees Only Sting Once?

a bee stinging a person on the finger
Sushitsky Sergey/Shutterstock

If you’re allergic to bees or you have a fear of bees, the thought of getting stung by one is frightening. Some bees can sting over and over again, while one species of bee can only sting you once.

Before looking at the stings of bees, let’s get it straight that bees and hornets are not all created equally. All are part of the scientific order Hymenoptera, but hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets are of the family Vespidae. Bumblebees and honey bees belong to the Apidae family.

Those in the hornet and yellow jacket family tend to be aggressive, while bumblebees and honey bees usually only sting in defense. Yellowjackets and hornets can sting many times and live to go on and sting other people.

So, Which Bees Can Sting Only Once?

It’s wishful thinking to believe that all bees can only sting you once. The only bee that cannot sting more than once is the honey bee (which is one of the most important bees in existence).

The difference between the honey bee and other stinging insects, including the bumblebee, that makes the honey bee a one time striker, is the stinger. The stingers on hornets and bumblebees are smooth, making it easy for them to pull their stinger out and move on with life (or sting again if they’re really mad at you).

The honey bee is not so lucky. Honey bees have barbed stingers that get caught in the skin of whatever they sting (human or animal). When they fly off after stinging you, they leave that stinger behind, stuck in your skin. The worst part is that when they fly away after stinging, they usually die because they’ve basically been disemboweled. Their stinger also continues to release venom into the victim.

How to Avoid Being Stung by a Honey Bee

If you’re allergic to bee stings, be sure to carry an EpiPen with you during the months when bees and hornets are active. While a hornet may sting because you’re in between it and wherever it was going, bumblebees and honey bees will generally only sting on accident or if you’re disrupting their nest.

When you see a bee, don’t swat at it or run. Move away from where the bee is hanging about. It could be attracted to food or sweat, depending on the bee type, or maybe you’re between it and it’s job pollinating. Don’t get close to nests. If you have a nest or hive in your home or on your property, call a professional pest control person to come and deal with it. (They have the right gear to protect themselves from stings.)

Honey bees will usually give you some indication that you’re in their territory. They may buzz around you or even bump into you, without stinging. If you live in an area with Africanized honey bees, you should take even more precautions not to get swarmed. Again, watch for erratic behavior and steer clear.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »