Do Bees Sting In Winter?

Do honey bees sting in winter? Yes, bees most certainly do sting in winter and in every other season too. But in winter there’s less chance of you getting stung because there are fewer bees out and about. That’s because most of the time the weather is too cold for bees to leave the hive.

Yes, Bees sting in winter

Honey bees will sting no matter what season it is. It’s one of their natural instincts after all, and cold weather doesn’t mean they’ll be any less inclined to sting. However, bees will only sting you if they perceive the colony is under threat.

Bee stinging a person's arm

If anything, bees are more ready to sting in cold weather, because they have precious food resources stored up for the winter that they want to protect.

In winter, bees form a cluster around the queen and near where their honey is stored, vibrating their flight muscles to maintain a temperature of between 90 and 93 degrees Fahrenheit (32 to 34 degrees Celsius).

They only break this cluster and leave the hive on a sunny mild day when the temperature reaches 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (7 to 10 degrees Celsius). When they leave the hive the bees will defecate because they don’t want to contaminate the hive.

So, in winter, generally speaking they’ll be fewer bees around to sting you because they won’t leave the hive until the temperature has reached between 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Once this temperature is reached and the worker bees leave the hive, they still won’t be any more likely to sting you unless they perceive you as a threat.

Do winter bee stings hurt more?

Some beekeepers believe that bee stings in winter are more painful than at other times of the year. Although I’ve been stung in every season, I can’t say whether winter stings are more painful or not.

I can say that some parts of the skin react differently to bee stings and are more sensitive than other areas. When I was stung on the eyelid, my body had a far stronger reaction than whenever I’d been stung on the finger. My whole face became swollen and the reaction travelled, with a rash on my arms and torso too.

Just because my experience suggests that getting stung in winter doesn’t hurt more, doesn’t make it true. It’s an entirely plausible theory that getting stung in winter is actually more painful.

Winter bee stings might hurt more because for the following reasons:

  • As larvae developing in the fall, bees might be fed a special diet that means their sting is more potent or painful. This special diet might also help them to live longer in the hive during winter. After all, the queen isn’t actively laying eggs at this time because the colony doesn’t need any more mouths to feed, so although the bee numbers go down, enough of the bee population is maintained to keep the queen and the hive warm.
  • Our skin becomes more sensitive in winter, possibly making bee stings more painful. In winter, temperatures plummet and the air becomes dry, losing its humidity. As a result, our skin loses its moisture too, and can get dry and flaky, especially the face and hands which are more exposed. These are the areas that are more likely to get stung.
  • The winter bee may seem to have a more painful sting because it has more venom, or more concentrated venom than bees living in other seasons. This could be because in winter bees don’t get many fine weather opportunities to leave the hive, so when they do and they feel the need to sting, they sting more aggressively to deter the threat.

Final thoughts

I’ve outlined a few theories as to why a sting might be more painful in winter, but it could simply be that we imagine them to be more painful. Perhaps it’s because as we’ve not looked in the hive for some time, we’ve forgotten how painful a bee sting is when we get one.

Bees do sting in winter, just as they do at any other time of year, but whether their stings are more painful at this time is not known for sure. As yet there’s no real evidence I’ve found to prove this conclusively.

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