Wednesday, February 11, 2009
I walked out the back door the other morning, without shoes on of course, to check the temperature of the vernal pool . . . more on this in a later post . . . when I felt a tingle in the sole of my left foot. Maybe more of a burn than a tingle, my primordial pain center recognized this as a bee sting even if my coffe-less early morning forebrain kept insisting I was stepping on a thorn or something else. I brushed the offending item away unseen because I hadn't put on my glasses yet, so I never saw the thorn/sting/thing.
A flashlight and glasses helped me find this honey bee right about where my foot started hurting. I picked her up, brushed away some dog hairs and dirt, and took a closeup which reveals the oozing body fluids where the stinger and the tip of her abdomen have been detached as a result of stinging me.
Can a dead bee sting? Or a mostly dead bee; as I looked at the bee her right antenna moved slightly. Dead or dying bees are no novelty; this one probably found the dead air under our patio cover after battling the cold wet weather the last couple days. And fell to the floor. And lay there dying. Until my foot triggered its sting mechanism.
The musculature of the living bee acts to position the stinger perpendicular to the victim's skin, while the barbs on the stinger are designed to pull it deeper in. The venom is pumped by muscles and flows down around the three part stinger into a relatively wide area of the victim's flesh. Even though I am not very sensitive to bee venom, I'd say this is the least painful bee sting I've ever had; there was no swelling at all. I would conclude a dead (or mostly dead) honey bee can sting but this mostly passive attack (lacking the muscle action to pump the venom) was a shadow of the living bee's sting, due to the small amount of venom administered. Check out this study done at UCR which quantified weal (swollen area) size to amount of envenomization, and drew some conclusions about the usefulness of scraping vs pinching off the bee's stinger.