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Is a wasp sting worse than a bee sting?

Both bee and wasp stings are painful experiences that most people would prefer to avoid. However, if given a choice between the two, many wonder if one is worse than the other. There are some key differences between bees and wasps that contribute to the painfulness of their stings.

Bees vs Wasps

Bees and wasps belong to the insect order Hymenoptera, but they are distinct types of insects. Some key differences include:

– Bees feed on pollen and nectar while wasps are predators that feed on other insects.

– Bees have robust, hairy bodies while wasps have slender, smooth bodies.

– Bees can only sting once since their barbed stinger gets stuck in the skin, detaching from their body. Wasps have smooth stingers allowing them to sting multiple times.

– There are over 20,000 species of bees compared to over 75,000 species of wasps.

– All worker bees and wasps are female, while only new queens and drones are male.

Bee Stings

When a bee stings, it injects two main substances – apitoxin and melittin.

– Apitoxin triggers immediate localized pain, inflammation, and redness.

– Melittin activates the immune system leading to the release of chemicals that cause pain.

The bee stinger has tiny barbs that anchor it deeply into the skin. As the bee tries to pull away, its stinger and a portion of abdomen detaches leading to the bee’s death shortly after. The detached stinger continues pumping venom as itembedded in the skin.

Most bee stings are from honey bees who are generally docile except when defending their hive. Bumblebees also only sting when provoked. However, Africanized killer bees are more aggressive and prone to swarming and stinging in groups.

Bee sting reactions range from:

– Localized swelling, pain, redness at the sting site

– Itching sensations

– Mild nausea, headaches, dizziness

– Severe whole body reactions like anaphylaxis for those allergic

Bee Sting Treatment

Here are some first aid tips for bee stings:

– Remove the stinger as soon as possible by scraping it out with a fingernail or using tweezers. Avoid pinching the venom sac.

– Wash the sting area with soap and water. Apply a cold pack to relieve swelling.

– Avoid scratching the area to minimize infection risk.

– Apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to ease itching.

– Take oral antihistamines containing diphenhydramine or chlorpheniramine for itching.

– Use ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin to relieve pain.

– Seek emergency care if severe symptoms like trouble breathing, nausea, dizziness, or swelling develop.

Wasp Stings

Wasp stings contain higher concentrations of pain inducing and inflammatory substances compared to bee stings. Their venom consists of:

– Kinins that stimulate pain nerves

– Acetylcholines that increase pain sensitivity

– Histamine that promotes inflammation

– Wasp venom also contains cytotoxins and neurotoxins

Since a wasp can sting multiple times, more venom is injected with each successive sting.

Some wasps like yellowjackets are scavengers attracted to sugary foods and drinks. They aggressively sting when disturbed, provoked, or threatened. The paper nests of some social wasps also promote defensive group attack behaviors.

Wasp sting reactions include:

– Instant, intense pain

– Pronounced swelling, itching, redness

– Hives or rash at the sting site

– Headache, nausea, dizziness, fever

– Anaphylaxis in those allergic

Wasp Sting Treatment

Follow these first aid steps for wasp stings:

– Carefully remove the stinger if still present by scraping with a credit card. Avoid squeezing the venom sac.

– Clean the area with soap and water. Apply an ice pack to reduce swelling.

– Apply calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, or paste of water and baking soda for itching.

– Take oral antihistamines to reduce allergic reactions and itching.

– Use NSAIDs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve pain.

– Monitor for signs of infection like increasing redness, warmth, pus. Seek medical care if the symptoms persist or worsen.

– Seek emergency help immediately if severe allergic reaction symptoms develop like trouble breathing.

Bee Sting vs Wasp Sting: Which is Worse?

Determining whether a bee or wasp sting is worse can be subjective. However, some key differences contribute to wasp stings being more painful and raising greater health concerns:

Higher Venom Concentration

Wasp venom contains higher concentrations of pain-causing and inflammatory compounds. More of these compounds get injected when a wasp repeatedly stings an area.

Greater Allergic Reaction Risk

More people exhibit allergic reactions to wasp venom than bee venom. The risk of a life-threatening systemic reaction is greater with wasp stings for those hypersensitive.

Higher Neurotoxin Levels

Wasp venom contains neurotoxins that act on the central nervous system. Bee venom does not have neurotoxic elements.

More Pain Nerves Activated

Wasp venom contains kinins that specifically activate pain nerves, causing a sudden burning sensation. Bee sting pain is delayed but lasts longer.

Increased Inflammation

The histamine and acetylcholines in wasp venom trigger more pronounced, long-lasting inflammation compared to bee stings.

Repeated Stings

The fact that wasps can sting repeatedly exacerbates their effects. Multiple stings lead to a higher venom dose.

Different Stinger Structure

The smooth wasp stinger easily slides out to sting again. The jagged bee stinger gets stuck, limiting total venom dose.

Defensive Swarming Tendency

Wasps, especially yellowjackets, are more prone to swarming to attack in groups when threatened. Mass stinging episodes provoke more toxicity.

Bee Sting Wasp Sting
Milder, slower developing pain Sudden, intense pain
Lower concentration venom Higher concentration venom
Only one sting per bee Multiple stings possible
Lower allergy risk Higher allergy risk
No neurotoxin Venom contains neurotoxin
Less inflammation Extensive inflammation

Severity of Reaction

The severity of a bee or wasp sting reaction depends on:

– Number of stings. More stings means more venom injected.

– Location of the sting. Stings around the throat or mouth are dangerous.

– Toxicity of the venom. Wasps deliver a more toxic venom dosage.

– Allergy. Those with bee or wasp venom allergies react more severely.

While both stings are unpleasant, wasp stings objectively cause more pain, swelling, redness, and carry a greater health risk. However, any insect sting warrants first aid treatment and medical evaluation if concerning symptoms develop. Call emergency services for severe reactions like trouble breathing, nausea, faintness or swelling.

Preventing Stings

Here are some tips to avoid bee and wasp stings:

– Avoid areas where they nest like bushes, attics, holes in the ground. Call pest control for nest removal.

– Stay calm and still if a bee or wasp approaches. Don’t swat at it.

– Keep food and drinks covered outdoors. Bees/wasps are attracted to sugary substances.

– Wear light colored, smooth fabrics. Avoid floral patterns, dark colors, and hairy textures.

– Don’t wear perfumes, scented lotions, or strong smelling cosmetics.

– Check that drinks are bee-free before sipping through a straw.

– Keep garbage bins covered to avoid attracting wasps.

– Install screens on windows and doors to prevent entry to buildings.

– Cover skin with clothing when gardening or enjoying the outdoors.

– Remain vigilant when eating and drinking outside to prevent insects landing on cups or food.


In general, wasp stings are more painful and dangerous compared to bee stings. Wasp venom contains higher doses of toxic, pain-inducing compounds that promote more severe local and body-wide reactions. The potential for repeated stings and swarming attacks also makes wasps a greater health threat. While neither insect sting is pleasant, taking precautions and using proper first aid can minimize complications. Seeking prompt medical care is vital for severe sting reactions. Avoiding areas where bees and wasps nest is key to preventing stings in the first place.