The sting is a way for wasps to paralyse their prey for eating after their death and a form of defense for wasps and bees in general in the event that an animal such as a human being threatens them. It is therefore no surprise that wasp stings and bee stings are very painful – they are a very nasty poison indeed that kill and injure and therefore sting relief and pain relief is something all the victims seek to achieve. The mechanics behind a a sting are impressive – not only is the chemical composition of a sting most complex but the manner in which it is introduced into a victim is an impressive feat in itself.
Wasp, hornets and bees introduce their venom into the victim in a similar way that a doctor would inject fluid into a patient using a syringe.
The “sting” is essentially a hollow tube through which the venom stored within the abdomen is squirted once the tube has inserted the skin. The sting has evolved from the egg laying instrument of the female insect – it is therefore only the female of the species that can sting. A bee sting is usually thought to deliver around 50 mg of venom whilst a wasp or hornet sting will normally deliver around 3 to 15 mg of venom.
The venom is stored in a venom sac – a sac in the abdomen which when squeezed by curling up the abdomen delivers its load through the sting very rapidly in less than 0.3 seconds.
The venom differs between species, but in humans it is generally found that the allergic element of the venom falls into two categories: bees or wasp/hornet venom. It is quite common for individuals to be allergic to one venom and not the other. Similarly if you are allergic to a single type of wasp, then there is a high possibility that you will be allergic to others in the hymenoptera family.
A wasp can extract the shaft from the skin of the victim and fly off, contented with having executed a nasty attack on the hapless victim. On the other hand, the poor old bee ends up having her entire stinging apparatus, poison sac and all, wrenched out of its abdomen. In almost all instances the bee will die following the delivery of a sting.
The wasp thrusts his shaft into the victim and the lancets move rapidly backwards and forwards (sliding along the stylet) in a sawing action. The lancets are barbed, meaning, they have small backward-pointed hooks along their edges. As the shaft penetrates further into the victim’s body, the barbs allow anchorage against the flesh until the alternate lancet moves forward and ‘claws’ the shaft deeper into the wound. The movement of the lancets also enables a pumping action to take place at the abdomen end of the shaft. This causes the poison sac to pump venom down through a central poison canal, between the lancets and out through the shaft tip into the wound will later die due to the damage caused.
It must be remembered that this all happens at considerable speed and therefore the amazing design behind the event of a wasp or bee sting, however unpleasant the consequences, is only something that can fill one with awe!
For more about the wasp and hornet sting visit our wasp stings section.
For more about the bee sting visit our bee sting section.