Bee Stings: The Need For Speed!

If you're stung by a bee, pluck, squeeze, tweeze or pinch the stinger from the skin -- in short, use any method to quickly get the thing out, because the longer the stinger is in the skin, the more venom is injected.

For years, conventional wisdom advised scraping stingers from the skin, on the theory that squeezing the sting site would squirt even more venom into the unfortunate sting recipient. Not so.

Scott Camazine, assistant professor of entomology at Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, collaborated with P. Kirk Visscher, associate professor of entomology at the University of California --Riverside, to prove that the faster the stinger is removed, the less venom is injected into the skin. Both scientists have been stung more times than they can count, and their experience suggested that quickness is better than using the old recommended method.

"We assumed the longer the stinger was in, the more venom was injected, but we couldn't prove it," Camazine says. "So, it seemed the logical step was to inject venom into subjects and observe what happened at different dosages."

Camazine and Visscher believed welt size associated with a sting can indicate how much venom has entered the skin. In the name of science, they sacrificed their own comfort by injecting various quantities of bee venom into their skin. Sure enough, the sting welts enlarged as more venom was injected.

Unlike wasps or yellowjackets, bees can sting victims but once, because they literally lose their rear ends in the process of stinging. The study points out that honeybees rip out parts of their abdomen, as well as nerves and muscles, as they sting. These parts remain with the stinger and continue to pump venom out of the sac.

"Diagrams in books on the anatomy of a bee show a structure labeled the 'venom sac bulb,' so the conventional wisdom -- to avoid squeezing the the sac -- made sense," Camazine explains. "In reality, the venom is pumped out like a valve on a water pump. It's more of a mechanical operation."

The researchers decided to test several removal methods to test whether squeezing the stinger caused venom to be pumped out faster. The scientists measured the size of the resulting welts after scraping and pinching the stingers out at various time intervals. They then measured the size of the welt left by the sting. This experiment showed that no matter what removal method was used, the longer the stinger stayed in, the more venom was injected.

The researchers also allowed themselves to be stung in order to remove the stinger immediately using the scraping method and a variety of squeezing or plucking methods. They found that the method of removal made no difference in welt size.

"There are so many tales about cures and salves for ailments that sometimes you find that conventional wisdom is indeed wisdom," Camazine says. "In this case, it is not."

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