Hand-colored scanning electron micrograph of the lancer from a Honey Bee stinger (Apis melifera), by Martin Oeggerli.
The stinger of a bee is a modified chitinous ovipositor and consists of three parts: a stylus and two barbed slides (or backwards sloping barbed ‘lancets’), one on either side of the stylus. In fact, the bee does not have to push the sting in since it is drawn in by the barbed slides which move alternately up and down the stylus so when the barb of one slide has caught and retracts, it pulls the stylus and the other barbed slide into the wound. When the other barb has caught, it also retracts up the stylus pulling the sting further in. This process is repeated until the sting is fully in and even continues after the sting and its mechanism is detached from the bee’s abdomen.
A sting from a bee (honey bee, bumblebee, sweat bee, etc) can be quite painful. The injected venom or toxin (apitoxin, melittin, histamine, other biogenic amines ) of insects is quite different. Therefore, the body’s reaction to a bee sting may differ significantly from one species to another. For about 2 percent of people, a hypersensitivity can develop after being stung, creating a more severe reaction when stung again later. In people with insect sting allergy, a bee sting may trigger a dangerous anaphylactic reaction that is potentially deadly. The sting of a honey bee also releases pheromones that prompt other nearby bees to attack. This alarm process is accelerated if the bee is fatally injured.
Although widely believed, a worker honey bee can sting not only once; this partial misconception only happens if the skin of the victim is sufficiently thick and elastic, such as a mammal’s. Wasps have stingers with smooth barbs, enabling them to retract the stinger and to sting multiple times. Queen bees do also have a smooth stinger and can sting skin-bearing creatures multiple times as well. However, she does not leave the hive under normal conditions and her sting is only used for dispatching rival queens.