Bovis ISSN 2398-2993

Bee, hornet and wasp stings

Contributor(s): Nicola Bates , Sophie Mahendran

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  • Cause: sting(s) by bees, wasps or hornets.
  • Signs: pain, swelling, risk of anaphylaxis.
  • Diagnosis: history, time of year, other potential causes ruled out.
  • Treatment: supportive.
  • Prognosis: good.



  • Bees, wasps and hornets are insects (of the order Hymenoptera). The females possess stinging apparatus at the end of the abdomen (a modified ovipositor). 
  • The sting of a bee usually remains implanted in the skin of the victim and will tear away from the bees abdomen, leading to the death of the bee. The stinger left behind can continue to inject venom into the tissues.
  • Wasps and hornets, by contrast, have smooth stingers and are therefore able to retain their stingers.
  • The venom of africanized or killer bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) is similar to that of domesticated honey bee but these bees are more aggressive and the risk of multiple stings is far greater.  They are stimulated to an aggressive state quicker than other bees and will pursue for a long distance. 

Predisposing factors


  • Contact with bees, wasps and hornets.


  • Insects are attracted to flower fragrances, bright colors against dark backgrounds as well as sugary foods.
  • Bees and wasps tend to frequent clover fields, orchards, picnic sites and dustbins.


  • Hymenoptera venom is complex with multiple chemical components. It has allergenic, neurotoxic, cytotoxic, hepatotoxic and nephrotoxic properties.
  • The venom of bees contains biogenic amines (melittin in honey bees and bombolitins  in bumblebees), phospholipase A2 and hyaluronidase.  
  • Melittin, is thought to be responsible for the general local toxicity of the venom and, at high concentrations, can cause hemolysis of red blood cells.
  • Hyaluronidase facilitates venom infiltration through the tissues.
  • Phospholipase A2 causes inactivation of thrombokinase, inhibits oxidative phosphorylation, and attacks enzymes involved with metabolic dehydrogenation. The pain experienced may be the result of these last three actions.
  • The venom of wasps also contains biogenic amines (such as histamine, serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and polyamines), phospholipase A2 and hyaluronidase. Wasp venoms also contain other compounds such as kinins which are like bradykinin (decreases blood pressure by causing vasodilation and increased vascular permeability) and mastoparans (which has mast cell degranulating properties).
  • Sensitization to insect venom can occur after a single sting.


  • Local effects occur immediately. 
  • Anaphylaxis Anaphylaxis and urticaria in a sensitive animal generally occurs within 30 minutes.


  • Stings can occur anywhere these insects are found.
  • Stings are more likely to occur in the warmer months.


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Savaliya K B & Parikh S S (2015) A unique case of honey bee sting in Gir cow and its therapeutic management. Scholars Journal of Agriculture and Veterinary Science 2 (4A), 285-286
  • Caldas S A, Graça F A, de Barros J S, Rolim M F, Peixoto Tda C & Peixoto P V (2013) Lesions caused by Africanized honeybee stings in three cattle in Brazil. Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins including Tropical Diseases 19, 18 PubMed.
  • Braverman Y, Chizov-Ginzburg A, Ofer Y & Saran A (1998) Control experiments with yellow jacket wasps (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) injuring cattle in Israel. Journal of Economic Entomology 91 (2), 486–491 PubMed.
  • Visscher P K, Vetter R S & Camazine S (1996) Removing bee stings. Lancet 348 (9023), 301-302 PubMed.
  • Schmidt J O (1995) Toxinology of venoms from the honeybee genus Apis. Toxicon 33 (7), 917-927 PubMed.
  • Habermann E (1972) Bee and wasp venoms. Science 177 (4046), 314-322.

Other sources of information

  • Le Vet Beheer B V (2017) Histodine 10 mg/ml solution for injection for cattle Summary of Product Characteristics (SOP).