The Bee People  by Margaret Warner Morley

Her Sting

O THER things than birds sometimes catch Miss Apis, toads and frogs, for instance, and sometimes boys do it; but no boy catches her in his fingers without being punished for it. She has a dagger for such occasions, and it is not her tongue dagger either. It is as far from that as it can be, for it is at the extreme tip of her abdomen.


Be careful, Miss Apis!

Of course, belonging to Miss Apis, it is a remarkable dagger. Sharp! My! If you do not believe me, just touch it.

Sharpness, however, is not unusual in daggers; all daggers are more or less sharp, though few as sharp as Miss Apis's.


Miss Apis's dagger magnified

But the thing that distinguishes her dagger and makes it more terrible than any other, is its barbs. Generally daggers are smooth, and make a clean cut, coming out as easily as they go in. Not so Miss Apis's dagger. Although it is so tiny that we cannot see any barbs with the naked eye, still they are there. Instead of being smooth, it is fuller of barbs than a fish-hook, as you can see in the picture, which is a very much enlarged view of Miss Apis's sting. For while an ordinary fish-hook has but one or two barbs, this little stinger has ten pairs!   It is not an easy matter to get a fish-hook out of your finger if it gets in beyond the barbs, as those of you who have ever had such an unpleasant experience know very well. If one pair of barbs hold so well, think how well ten  pairs must hold! They hold altogether too well, as we shall see presently.


An ordinary fish-hook

Miss Apis's sting is not all in one piece, although it seems to be and it requires very careful examination to discover that it is made of three parts.

It is a sort of sheath with a groove running its whole length. Into this groove fit two lances that can move up and down in the groove. When Miss Apis decides to sting you, she first drives the sharp point of her sheath into you. This has a few barbs to keep it from slipping out again. Then one after the other the lances, each with its ten strong barbs, are thrust in. Deeper and deeper they are forced until they are as deep in as they can go. After all, the wound they make is very, very small, no worse that the prick of a fine needle, in fact. Then why does it hurt so? Ah, that is another question.

Miss Apis's barbed sting reminds us of the ugly weapons sometimes used by savages, and like the cruel savages, she too poisons her weapon.

That is why it hurts us so. A jet of poison is pumped down the hollow sting from a poison bag in her body, and is forced into the wound through an opening in the five lower barbs on each lance. So when Miss Apis stings us, we get ten jets of poison pumped into the little hole she makes in our skin.


Wild Blackberry

Miss Apis's pleasant weapon is her constant companion, and she is very free to use it, excepting when the aforementioned birds snap her up so quickly, and swallow her down so fast, that she has not time to get over her surprise sufficiently to use her sting before she is a dead bee.

You may think she never stings when she is dead, but I have heard otherwise. However, that is another story. The birds that swallow her must sometimes get stung, but they do not seem to object; perhaps they enjoy it.

If you really want to know whether Miss Apis is willing to sting if she gets the chance, pick her up some day when she is getting nectar from a flower.

You will learn several things. First, that the best thing you can do under the circumstances is to let her go as soon as possible, and pursue some other path to knowledge.


But if you are a philosopher, you will not fail to observe what a very convenient position her sting occupies, as convenient for its purpose as the pollen-baskets are for theirs. She twists her jointed abdomen about so that you will have hard work to take hold of her where she cannot plunge her sting into you.

The entrance of this little sting gives rise to sensations out of all proportion to its size.

A sting so small that you can hardly see it produces a pain so large that you do not seem to have room for any other feeling. Presently the spot about the tiny hole made by the sting begins to swell until it may become several times as large as Miss Apis herself. That, you know, is because she takes good care to pump poison into the wound.

This poison of hers is a reliable, warranted-never-to-fail irritant. If a whole hive of bees were to set upon you and sting you at once you might be made very sick by it, as well as have to suffer great torture.

It is said that people have even died from such mishaps.

We see that little Miss Pepper-pot is not so innocent as she looks flying about among the flowers.

Still, as I said, you cannot blame her for using her sting, and if she ever does use it on you, do not get angry, but pull it out, then put some mud on the place and try to remember that when it stops hurting, you will feel better.

Mud is a very good remedy, and, like Miss Apis's sting, is generally at hand.

There is another consolation about getting stung; if it happens often enough, the sting in time ceases to poison you!

Your system seems to become used to the poison, so that it gradually loses its effect and its power to injure.

Still, I should not advise any one to try this remedy; it is too hard on the bees,—to say nothing of this unpleasant consequence to yourself.

For poor little Miss Apis, with her many eyes, her honey-sac, her complicated tongue and legs and all the rest, pays a terrible penalty for losing her temper and stinging people.

You remember her sting is barbed like a fish-hook; and if you have gone fishing much, you know how hard it is to pull a fish-hook out of anything into which it happens to get fastened.

Well, when Miss Apis recklessly plunges ten pairs of barbs into the tough skin of your finger, she cannot pull them out again; and in her efforts to do so, out comes sting, poison-bag and all, and off she goes, hurt much worse than you are, for she will surely die as a result of her loss.

She has left her poor savage little sting in your finger, much against her will, however; and your first care should be to extract it so as not to press out any more poison from the poison bag.

This you can do by pressing the flat edge of a penknife against your skin close to the sting, but not touching it, and then drawing out the sting, just as you might take out a tack with a tack-hammer.

The sting should be extracted at once, because if it remains in your finger its muscles continue to work, even though the sting is now entirely separated from the bee, and every bit of poison will be pumped out of the poison bag into your finger.


So you see Miss Apis's sting continues to do the best it can, and to hurt you as much as possible, even after it has been completely torn from her body.

In fact, if you touch a sting newly removed from a bee, you will get stung by it. There is no doubt that it is a very reliable weapon.

In her fright and anger, Miss Apis does not stop to consider what will happen if she stings you, but stings first and thinks afterwards.

One should never sting first and think afterwards. One should always think first and not sting at all, unless it becomes absolutely necessary.


There are  cases where one might better sting and die than live and not sting, but such cases are rare.

The American Revolution is one of them, but that happened a long time ago and has nothing to do with bees, anyway.

In spite of her reliable sting, Miss Apis is often eaten.

A good many birds are fond of bees, and other creatures, particularly bears, eat them.

It is truer to say that bears like honey, but they are willing to eat it, bees and all.

Bears are great honey eaters, and there are many stories told of their efforts to get honey. They will upset hives, and do not seem to mind being stung at all.

There is one story of a tame bear that used to take honey out of a bottle. He would lick out all he could reach, then turn the bottle up and let the honey run into his mouth. Usually it ran into his eyes as well, but that did not seem to trouble him.

A good many creatures are fond of bees and honey, so you see dangers beset Miss Apis's path, and even the pleasant occupation of gathering sweets from flowers is not without its drawbacks.