Monthly Archives: July 2001

Stings and sharp edges


      A few days back I had a rather painful encounter with a wasp . I was stung on my finger. My wife started rubbing the “point of contact” with her bangle . I did not understand how this would make a difference. But everyone whom I met suggested that I rub it with a sharp metallic object . I could not find a scientific reason for doing this so I decided to investigate and I found some very interesting facts about wasps,bees and why rubbing with a sharp metallic edge can sometimes help .

      Bees and Wasps belong to a class called Hymenoptera( meaning “veil wings”) . Their ancestors possessed some “sting” like projections to inject eggs into plant tissues. The social Hymenoptera have developed these stings into defence mechanisms and use it to defend their nests.

      Only females sting( 🙂 ) , though if u catch a male bee( or wasp) it will mimic stinging action by quick abdomen thrusting action.

      Bees have evolved from Wasps. Wasps are carnivorous creatures and bees have given up that lifestyle for more floral pursuits.

      Bees and Wasps sting to defend themselves . They seem to have a dislike for the color black so if u are going to a bee infested area wear light colored clothes .

      These creatures detect other animals by detecting carbon dioxide in the air . That is the reason why smoke from fires will drive them into a frenzy .

      There is a basic difference between bee stings and wasp stings : Since Bees are the more social creatures and defending the nest the MOST IMPORTANT thing so just stinging a creature once does not complete their task . They want to ensure 2 things :

a) That the stung creature suffers for a long time ie maximize sting effect.

b) That other bees know where the enemy is and where  on it would stinging have maximum effect .

      So how do they achieve these goals ? They do it by leaving the sting inside the victim’s flesh . The sting has a venom sack at the end which keeps pumping venom until it is emptied ( or taken out ) . Also the venom sack releases chemicals( called phenomores ) which attract other bees to sting the more sensitive spot. Imagine that by mistake the bee stings ur nail , then the sting will not be left inside , so other bees will not sting that area. That is why subsequent bees sting at more   fleshy areas. The bee dies after stinging but it makes sure that other bees come to u .

      wasps on the other hand are not very social . They sting once and forget. That do not leave their stings in the victim .

      Now if u have been stung by a bee the most important thing to to move away from the area and to remove the sting . If u hold the sting to remove it , u would be pressing the venom sack and all the venom will go inside. So dont do that ! Dont use tweezers . The best way is to push the sting out by pushing it from the side( “without pressing the sack”). To do this rub the sting using a sharp edge( a credit card for example ) .Once the sting is out u dont need to keep rubbing .

      And if u are stung by a wasp no need to rub with anything sharp. 🙂


      So the tradition of rubbing the spot with a sharp edge does have a scientific reason but it is important to understand the reason and use the method only where it is applicable/useful . This holds true for lots of other traditions that we follow . Maybe most of them have a scientific base but if u do not understand the science behind the tradition u might be doing senseless things( like rubbing metal objects on wasp sting area 1 day after the incident ) .