The most common stinging insects in the world are bees and wasps. Their stings could trigger severe allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis. Information from World Health Organization suggests that, an average of 200 deaths from bees and wasp stings occur globally every year. In fact, this is almost an underestimate, because venom anaphylaxis is not often reported as a death cause.
Compared to other venomous creatures in the world, more people are hospitalized because of bees stings, and wasps for that matter, than anything else. So, yes, they are venomous. There are over 15,000 species of bees that have been found in every continent except Antarctica. These insects have adapted to feeding on pollen and nectar, primarily for protein, as the main energy source.
Worker bees possess a very venomous sting that causes severe pain on the part stung. This pain is accompanied with intense reddening and swelling on the wound. In the process of stinging, attaching muscles and the venom sac detaches from the bee resulting to its death. The attaching muscles from the bee pushes the sting deeper into the wound. This action of the muscle injects more venom into the victim’s body.
Fear of bee stings drives majority of people to scamper away screaming and to aimlessly flail their arms in a way that is more likely to incite these insects, rather than move them away. A lot of people are very allergic to a bee venom; just a single sting can kill them if they have no access to prompt medical treatment.
Although these insects are of great ecological importance, they are typically dangerous as they send over half a million of patients in emergency rooms of hospitals every year. Worker bees possess a very poisonous sting, which is just but an adaptation for their defence actions against predators.
Understanding how to deal with bee related threats and what drives these aggressive insects’ nuts, is very critical in ensuring other animals and people are safe from such threats. Just recently, fatal cases of bee swarms attacking animals and people were being reported globally. Such news sounds more of a horror movie script than real life. In reality, 60% of these cases have been associated with Africanized honeybees, the most venomous bee.
- In 1991, Jesus Diaz topped the list as the first victim to be attacked by Africanized honey bees in the United States, while mowing a lawn in the border city of Brownsville, Texas. The man suffered 18 stings after which he received treatment from a local hospital.
- On 15th, July 1993, the elderly Lino Lopez was recorded as the first person to die from Africanized honey bee stings in U.S. The elderly victim suffered over 40 stings, while trying to clear a colony from a wall, in an abandoned building on his ranch in Texas.
- Arizona’s first human fatality by Africanized honey bees occurred in 1993 when an 88 year old Apache Junction woman, provoked a large colony of Africanized honey bees in an abandoned building. The poor victim was stung more than a hundred times and died instantly.
- The most recent case was that of a 62 year old man who succumbed to death after he was attacked by a swarm of Africanized honeybees, commonly known as ‘killer bees’. The swarm made up of over 40000 Africanized honey bees, attacked the elderly man after he accidentally trespassed into their territory with a tractor machine.
Africanized killer bees
Africanized killer bee is a hybrid of western honey bees’ scientifically referred to as Apis mellifera scutellata.These bees came into being after the mating of local Brazilian and South Africa bees. These species were first found in Brazil in 1950s but had spread quickly through south and Central America, after a handful swarm escaped the quarantine. In United States, killer bees were discovered at an oil field in California in 1985.
In the early 1990s, the first permanent killer bee colonies from Mexico arrived in Texas. Africanized bees have been known to be very dangerous stinging insects as they run after their victims for over half a mile, once they get aggressive and excited.
Africanized bees possess more venomous sting than other bees. In fact, the Africanized or rather the ‘killer bees’, strike more aggressively and in great numbers than other regular bees. Such attacks become very dangerous to both human beings and animals due to the high amount of venom they may insert into their victims.
The bees are associated with small colonies where they build their nests in unique places. Such places could be old unused utility poles, mailboxes, cars, tires, crates and old boxes among others. These habitations become prime locations for accidental interference by unsuspecting animals or people. This species of bees is mostly found in New Mexico, California, Southern Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, western Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida.
Due to the aggressive nature of these bees, only an experienced beekeeper or pest control professional should address such infestation.
Although Africanized honey bees fatalities are alarming, this species presents a greater and more apparent danger in the U.S. to American agriculture and American beekeeping business than to humans. The killer bees more often enter into Europe’s bee colonies to mate and mingle with them.
This mating leads to more hybrids of bees having African tendencies and genes dominating over former European genes. As a result, the new colony is more likely to develop short-tempers and aggressive behaviours too.
Facts on Africanized bee
This species of bees acquired the name ‘killer bees’ because they viciously attacked animals and people who accidentally strayed into their territories. More often, such attacks resulted into fatal injuries and even deaths.
Did you know that it’s not a must you disturb the hive to trigger an attack from the killer bee? Well, Africanized bees are best known for their vicious response to mundane situations. Such situations include noises or even vibrations from an equipment, pedestrians as well as vehicles.
Other remarkable facts of Africanized honey bees are:
- They are slightly smaller than European honey bees, but only the expert can distinguish them.
- Africanized bees defend their hives more aggressively and rapidly than other regular honey bees.
- They sting in greater numbers compared to other types of bees.
- They are less selective on their habitation sites.
- Africanized bees swarm more often compared to other honey bees.
- They have stronger venom than the European honey bee.
- Makes honey from pollen and nectar.
- Their origin traces back to Africa.
- Within the hive, “guard” bees are higher in proportion than other bees.
- Extended periods of forage deprivation prevent them from living in areas with harsh winters or extremely dry summers. They can’t survive in such conditions.
Apart from Africanized honey bees, other common types of venomous bees include carpenter bees, bumble bees and honey bees.
They mostly live in large colonies and appear small, slender and furious. Their colonies consist of drones, queen and female workers that play major role of maintaining the colony. There are three main activities that are carried out in a colony. Female worker bees’ collects pollen, cares for young bees as well as protecting the hive from external intrusion. The queen bee lays eggs. Drone bees’ mates and die shortly after.
Most conflicts between honey bees and human beings arise when humans willingly or accidentally trespass their hives. One identifying feature of honey bees is that they die shortly after one sting. Another common feature is that its venom may trigger mild to severe reactions to people with allergies.
They are hairy, robust and produce more rapidly than other types of bees. One remarkable feature of these bees is that they reproduce through one queen. Bumble bees are capable of multiple stings when defending their colonies. This species may combine red, yellow, black or orange coloration.
Bumble bees habit natural environment in very many countries globally. Just as the case of wasps and honeybees, only bumblebee queens and workers possess a stinger. The responses to stings by a bumblebee varies from one person to another and per incident. Just like wasps stings, bumble bees have no barbs. This means that a bumble queen bee or worker bee is able to sting continuously.
Smells from scented soaps, perfumes, alcohol and perspiration, makes them to react extremely aggressive. Repeated stings may results to allergic reactions, also known as anaphylactic reactions. Toxic reactions occurs when the victim is stung multiple times. Allergic reactions ranging from mild to severe may occur in circulatory or nervous system. Such reactions include breathing difficulties or cardiac arrhythmia.
They closely resemble bumble bees in many ways and the only difference is that they live inside wooden structures. The bees do not feed on woods but their adverse effect is digging galleries inside the woods. These types of bees have thick bodies that may be entirely black or partially yellow and black. Carpenter bees most frequent issue is damaging of property.
Presence of woodpeckers at your homestead or residence is one sure sign of carpenter bee’s presence. These woodpeckers feed on the larvae of carpenter bees. One of the outstanding features of these bees is that their male bees do not sting. Their sting should be addressed like any other bee sting. This means that people allergic to bee stings should seek immediate medical attention even if they are stung by carpenter bees.
Another striking feature that distinguishes these pests from other bee species is their habit of nesting alone. They burrow in woods where they lay their eggs. The buzzing action of male bees outside the hole is meant to protect the female bee when laying her eggs.
The buzzing sounds of the male bees as well as that of the hatching larvae, attract woodpeckers. These birds then drill holes to find the larvae. This means that most damages seen in many homes, is as a results of woodpeckers in their attempt to feed on the larvae.
Hymenoptera insects are divided into families that include Apidae family made up of bumble bees and honey bees.
The second category is that of Vespidae made up of paper wasps, wasps and hornets. Most sting reactions are closely associated with honey bee rather than wasps.
Wasp and bee venoms are different at every level as each contains well defined distinct allergens. Mellitin and phospholipase A2 occurs only from bee’s venoms while antigen 5 occurs only from wasp’s venom. Both of these venoms have hyaluronidases. Patients allergic to bee venom are rarely allergic to a wasp’s venom.
Bee venom consist of enzymes, amino acids, histamines and other components that totals to 62. These components trigger contradictory effects that stimulate adrenal glands and the heart, at the same time inhibiting the entire nervous system.
Allergic reactions are as a result of bee venom. It occurs mostly in people who have been stung by bees repetitively. It is possible that most patients allergic to bee stings, practice beekeeping, or their neighbors or sometimes their families. Some people may develop acute allergic reactions after bee stings; this becomes evident in less than hour.
Such acute allergic reactions includes speech difficulty, splotched skin, extreme breathing difficulties and heart related complications. In case of such symptoms, immediate medical attention is needed.
Bee stings produce different reactions that range from discomfort and mild pain reactions to severe allergic reactions. However, having one type of reaction doesn’t necessarily mean that your next reaction will always be severe or the same reaction whenever you are stung by a bee.
Most of the times bee stings have been found to be milder including:
- Red welt outgrowths on the stung area which may gradually increase over the next period of time if no necessary precautions are taken,
- Sharp and instant burning pain at the stung site.
- Slight or intense swelling at the stung site.
However, it’s necessary to note that in most people, pain and swelling disappear within few hours or minutes after being stung. In some cases, the stung person may attract or become a subject to multiple bee stings.
Symptoms and signs of Bee Stings
- Vomiting or severe diarrhea
- Fainting or dizziness
- Headaches and vertigo among others.
Multiple stings have been found to affects more of people with breathing complications.
Systematic reactions varies in severity. Early symptoms are pruritus and erythema which is followed by generalized angioedema or urticarial. Patients experiencing severe reactions often feel a great sense of impending doom. Most of the times, dyspnea occurs due to either asthma or laryngeal oedema.
Venomous allergies are diagnosed through tests for venom specific IgE antibodies from an individual’s history of allergic reactions. This history should be confirmed through blood or skin test. This becomes very essential whenever desensitization is considered as the ideal treatment.
Skin tests such as intradermal or skin prick tests with wasps or bee venom, with the aid of rationale negative and positive controls are very accurate. However, such tests should be conducted by an allergists because, skin based venom tests are very hard to interpret.
Allergy blood test is another test that measures immune system’s response to bee associated venom. This test measures the level of allergy causing antibodies in the blood stream. Both of these tests are used together in diagnosing insects’ related allergies. Such insects could be wasps, yellow jackets and hornets which cause allergies similar to those of bee stings.
Drugs essential in managing acute reactions to bee stings
|Local reaction||Oral antihistamines|
|Mild reactions||Intramuscular or oral antihistamines|
|Moderate||Intramuscular Hydrocortisone and antihistamines, inhaled adrenaline in case of laryngeal oedema.|
|Severe||Adrenaline, hydrocortisone and chlorpheniramine which should be administered intravenously or intramuscularly.|
Venom’s Immunotherapy Indications
|Reaction type||Specific IgE||Immunotherapy|
|Severe with respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms||positive||Yes|
|Moderate reactions with mild asthma or angioedema||positive||Sometimes|
|Mild reactions that involves angioedema or urticaria||positive||No|
Home treatment is good enough for ordinary bee stings as that does not trigger any allergic reactions. Allergic reactions caused mostly by multiple stings, can results in medical emergencies that call for immediate treatment. Below are suggestions for addressing minor reactions;
- Using a tweezer or fingernails, remove the stinger as fast as you can, as its takes a moment for the venom to penetrate your body.
- Clean the stung area with plenty of water and soap
- Lastly, apply a cold compress
Treating moderate reactions follows the same procedures above and they progress further by:
- Taking over the over-counter pain reliever is very important in this case as it eases discomfort.
- Applying hydrocortisone cream to ease swelling, itching or redness
- When the itching or swelling persist, orally administered antihistamines are necessary.
- Avoid touching or scratching the stung area to reduce the risk of infection
Bee stings are common cause of anaphylaxis. If you had an experience of a serious allergic reaction after a bee sting and you never sought for medical help, consult medical advice. This could be a sign of something more serious.
The most venomous bee on the planet is the Africanized honey Bee. Other honey bees’ sting probably won’t kill you, but be sure of the killer bee’s sting, which might send you direct to your grave, depending on the number of bees stinging you of course!