It seems that everyone will experience the pain associated with a bee or wasp sting at least once in life, and anyone who has not should consider themselves lucky. Most people are well aware of the fact that different insect species possess different types of venom, which makes some insect stings more painful than others. For example, it is common knowledge that bee stings are not quite as painful as wasp stings; and hornets, which are technically wasps, cause an even greater amount of pain with their stings. However, it turns out that a stinger’s design has a lot to do with the pain associated with bee and wasp stings. According to researchers, bee and wasp stingers are designed to ensure that pain is felt in the first place. You may know from experience that the painful sensation of a sting is delayed in time for a bee or wasp to escape before being swatted, and this is also due to the unique design of their stingers.
Researchers from Ohio State University have discovered that bee and wasp stingers are designed in a way that makes stings particularly painful. For example, a stinger’s tip is five times softer than its base, which makes puncturing skin an effortless task for bees. A stinger’s strong base ensures that it will remain in place without wobbling, thus allowing for more accuracy and faster insertion into skin. A stinger’s soft tip is so minute that a puncture into the skin cannot be felt by a sting victim. If a person could feel the insertion of a stinger into his/her skin, the bee would be swatted away before venom could be injected.
Bee and wasp stingers differ in design, as a wasp stinger is curved while a bee stinger is straight. Aside from this difference, wasp and bee stingers are quite similar, as both have two tiny needles located at the very tip of their stingers. These microscopic needles penetrate skin repeatedly while venom is delivered in between the two needles. Researchers are studying the design of bee and wasp stingers with the hope of developing “microneedles” that can be used for the painless delivery of intravenous medication to medical patients.
Are you curious as to why bee stingers break off after insertion into skin considering that engineers are trying to develop durable microneedles by mimicking bee stingers?