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updated: 11/29/2011 8:07 AM

What's the buzz about bee stings?

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  • Not all stinging insects are created equal. There are 130,000 members of the order Hymenoptera, which includes bees, wasps and ants, and 70,000 have stingers.

       Not all stinging insects are created equal. There are 130,000 members of the order Hymenoptera, which includes bees, wasps and ants, and 70,000 have stingers.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 

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"When someone gets stung by a bee, why does the bee die right away?" asked students in Gregg Thompson's sixth-grade social studies class at Woodland Middle School in Gurnee.

Not all stinging insects are created equal. There are 130,000 members of the order Hymenoptera, which includes bees, wasps and ants, 70,000 have stingers.

Not all bees are the same, either.

Honey bees are the ones with the suicide stinger. That's because its stinger is two barbed prongs attached to the bee's abdomen. The double barb embeds in the skin and the bee can't release it so it's certain death for the honey bee when it stings and its organs are yanked out of its body.

Only female bees have stingers, and they use them to protect the hive.

Queen bee stingers don't have barbs but it would be extremely rare for her to leave the hive and use her stinger.

"In their defense, they really don't want to go through all that. They really don't like to sting," said Jill Stites, environmental education site specialist at Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods.

"They are pretty calm and collected when compared to the wasp family. They save that for the absolute last resort."

Stites said wasps, yellow jackets and hornets will continue to sting if they are bothered.

"Most of the time, people are not being stung by honey bees, but by wasps," she said.

What if you get stung? Remove the stinger, experts say, as quickly as possible using any means handy. If possible, grab the culprit and save it in a bag in case you need to have an expert identify it.

The toxin puffs up the area, which becomes itchy. A cold compress should help reduce redness and swelling.

There's a bright side to these tiny aggressors.

The main job for bees, wasps and ants is to pollinate plants. Wasps are also in charge of eating insects and caterpillars that can damage crops.

So be careful not to annoy a bee and you'll better see the benefits of this fascinating insect.

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