Most painful honeybee stings

So this crazy man decided to scientifically study what (to him) where the most painful places to be stung by a honeybee are. And yes. He went there.  (Any guy reading this just crossed his legs and made a face.)

Surprisingly the most painful locations are the lip and nostril.  This was OFFICIAL too – his name is Michael Smith and he studies honeybees at Cornell University.  He stung himself once on the forearm, categorized that sting as a 5 on a pain scale of 0-10, and the rated the next three stings based that initial forearm pain.   Then he stung himself on the forearm AGAIN to make sure he still knew what a 5 was.


The things people do for science


As you can read in the report, fingers are in the upper half of the list.  I find this really encouraging because that’s the only place I’ve been stung by a honeybee (that I can remember) and it honestly wasn’t that bad.  It likely would have hurt considerably less if I had actually removed the stinger in a timely manner.  My finger swelled, but it was pretty much contained to just my finger and a little bit into my hand.

Most people who are afraid of honeybees or think apiaries are dangerous don’t realize that their sting experience was actually a wasp or hornet which sting aggressively and multiple times.  Honeybees only sting once and it does kill them.  You can see why in this picture:

Photograph by Kathy Keatley Garvey. Click for link.


That yellow line linking the bee and its stinger is actually the bee’s abdominal tissue.  It basically rips the bowels from the bee and kills it soon after.  The stinger has a nerve/muscle still attached to it that continues to pump venom into you until there’s nothing left.   (Venom and poison are different!  Thanks Science Camp!)   Moral of the story: honeybee stings aren’t that painful and if you do get stung, get that stinger out of there!

There are other important things to mention about bee sting safety:

  • Bee stings usually result in a good sized welt, tenderness, swelling, and maybe some bruising.  When I got stung it felt like being snapped with a rubber band or being hit with one of those rolled paper bullets that boys in middle school used to shoot at each other.  It hurts but you won’t cry or need more than a minute to compose yourself.  THERE’S NO CRYING IN BEEKEEPING.
  • You can have an allergic reaction even if you’ve never had one before.  Allergies change with age, medication, and location of the sting.
  • You can have a serious localized reaction which means you have a serious reaction, but it’s limited.  For example: a finger sting leads to a swollen arm.  Watch your breathing, the location, and always be prepared to head to the hospital.
  • Some beekeepers get a prescription for an epipen.  It’s definitely something to consider for safety’s sake!
  • Baking soda, benadryl, etc. can all help with a sting.  Throw them in you beekeeper tackle box, just in case.
  • Don’t assume still bees are dead.  Check the pockets of your suit before throwing it in your car – you don’t want them to come crawling out to get you while you drive!

***I’m not a doctor.  Do your own research, talk to your physician, and decide what is best/safest for you in regards to working with honeybees.  Do everything and anything at your own risk.***


On a lighter note, I had a cold medicine fueled dream that I got stung on the cheek and finger and it didn’t hurt or swell at all.  It’s a sign y’all.




    1. It’s rough! I’m DEFINITELY not looking forward to that first awkward-face-sting. Every one swears by some combination including baking soda or Benadryl so that’s what I’m stocking our beekeeper’s toolbox with.

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