I was stung by a yellowjacket 27 years ago. There’s a good reason so much time has elapsed without it happening again: it hurt like a motherfucker, and it’s an experience I’m careful to avoid repeating.
I was stung by a bumblebee perhaps four or five years ago. The sting was pretty mild, and curiously, the backside of my hand (the sting site) swelled up a bit and for several hours it felt sore, like I had smacked it against a hard surface.
The last time I was stung by a honeybee was perhaps 40 years ago. I don’t remember the experience.
So compared to those two reference points - a bumblebee and a yellowjacket - how bad is a honeybee sting?
Not as bad, comparatively. I have three beehives in back of my property and it will happen, occasionally, being stung while getting close to the hives with the lawnmower. If you get right into the landing path to the hive sometimes one will hit you accidentally and you’ll get stung. It’s like a little pinch with a painful itch. Putting honey over it helps it heal, believe it or not.
Last year I stumbled onto a bumblebee nest in the ground under some logs and got stung – it hurt like a mother. I don’t plan on doing that again anytime soon.
The actual sting isn’t very painful, from what I recall. I was more surprised than anything. Honestly, my second set of ear piercings hurt more.
But I’ve been stung twice in my life. The first time when I was a toddler, with no ill effects. The last time was 28 years ago, when I was in college. Embarrassingly, the bee had flown up my skirt and stung high up the inside of my thigh (cue rude comments). The university police office did first aid (which included tobacco, which is hilarious to think about today). I developed a very large welt on my thigh and felt hot and agitated, which can be signs of a major reaction brewing. I called my allergist, who told me to come in (he was about 2 blocks away). He gave me a shot of Benadryl and steroids, and kept an eye on me for a bit. Then I got to go home, with a prescription for a “bee sting kit”.
I’ve been stung quite a bit. The reaction can vary, depending on how allergic you are. My first reaction is a minor pain, then some itching, and then it does hurt a bit for a few days. Nothing too bad, but annoying.
I stepped on some bees 2-3 times last year. In the toe, a honeybee sting hurts like a goddamn motherfucker (I use those words now because those are the words that come out when you first get stung). But toes are pretty sensitive - I’m sure you’ve stubbed a toe before. I’ve also had a shot of Novicane in my toe and that hurt like a mofo too.
But after a short while it stops and then just gets achy and itchy. I think it’s more achy than if it were on an arm or something. I would imagine on the arm it would feel much like the residual from a vaccination.
I was stung multiple times by “Killer” bees. The stings were not all that painful, but the itching afterwards was beyond description - I nearly scratched my arm raw trying to ease the itching.
My mother was deathly afraid of bee-stings. She had a full-blown panic attack if she even saw a bee. I learned to react in the same way. Until the first time I was stung. It was in the ankle and I have no idea what brand of bee it was. My reaction was, “WTF, this is what she got so upset about?” Since then I have ignored bees and the only time I got stung by a bee since was when I stepped on one in a lawn of clover and got stung in the toe. No big deal. I was once stung by a wasp. No fun.
When I was a kid I was into all types of insects . . . so I got stung quite a bit. Didn’t hurt much at first, giving me time to run into the house to mix a paste of baking soda and water. Best thing to keep down the swelling and the pain.
The Master Speaks:
And here’s one scale Schmidt came up with, the “implausibly exact numbers”:
1.0 Sweat bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.
1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet & reaching for the light switch.
1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.
2.0 Bald-faced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.
2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine WC Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
2.5 European hornet
3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.
3.0 Paper wasp: Caustic & burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of Hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.
4.0 Pepsis wasp: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath (if you get stung by one you might as well lie down and scream).
4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your heel.
The Honeybee is about a 2.
Justin O. Schmidt is a cool dude, I met him once. He described the Tarantula Hawk Wasp sting (Pepsis wasp) as swelling the size of a softball.
To be fair, the Tarantula Hawk Wasp is large, shiny black with International Orange wings, and isn’t aggressive unless you’re a large spider. I* think *Schmidt said he got stung by that on purpose. iirc.