Science in a Hornet's Sting

Inside a Hornet’s Sting

Hornets are typically larger than bees or wasps and their sting is considered more painful as well.  Unlike bees, hornets do not have hairy bodies and they are usually shiny.  Only the females do the stinging and they will follow you for long distances if they feel the need to.

Why Do Hornet’s Sting?

Typically, hornet’s sting when they feel threatened.  Hornets don’t usually go out looking for a person or animal to sting.  You may not be a threat to a hornet, but if they feel cornered, you are likely going to experience a little pain.  A lot of pain, actually.  When a hornet feels threatened, they release a hormone that summons other solider hornets to their location and multiple hornets will attack at the same time.

During the Sting

A hornet’s stinger is not like a bee’s.  A bee will die when they sting, a hornet will not.  The hornet’s stinger is meant to be used multiple times.  A hornet will use that stinger to penetrate the skin, inject venom, and then retract back into the thorax of the hornet after the sting is completed until they decide to sting again.  The initial pain is usually from the stinger itself penetrating the sting.  

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Immediately After the Sting

Once the stinger is retracted from your skin, that’s when the reaction of the venom takes hold.  There are a large number of wasp species and their bites range across the Schmidt Pain Index.  Some stings are considered extremely painful, while others simply hurt a lot.  Hornets have evolved to use venom to create a distraction through pain and can sometimes even cause paralysis in smaller animals.

After the Sting

The venom will spread under the skin and cause more pain as time goes on.  Often times, the injection site will turn red and swell with a small white spot at the center.  Cold compresses can help keep some of the surface pain at bay.  It usually takes a few hours for the pain of the venom to spread out and subside.

It’s important to remember that some people are allergic to hornet venom and if you think you might be, you should medical attention immediately after being stung.  There are some topical options available, but it is always safer to speak to medical professionals when dealing with unknown insect stings and bites.

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