Yes, bees can and will sting you through your clothes. You will be stung more easily through tight-fitting clothes or clothing items with very thin material. Thick, baggy clothing is the best way to avoid getting stung by bees.
How do bees sting you through your clothes?
Honeybees have evolved for thousands of years and part of that evolution is their barbed stinger.
The stinger protrudes from the rear of the bumblebee and is attached to its inner organs.
Believe it or not, bees don’t need to put in any extra effort to sting you through your clothing.
A honeybee’s stinger consists of three parts that work together to ensure the barb injects its venomous payload.
This comprises a stylus and two barbed sides. These three parts work slowly to inject the stinger even if the bee becomes dislodged after the initial penetration.
The barbed sides move in an alternating motion so once one barb catches on your clothing it will begin to slowly draw the stylus and second barbed side into the clothing and towards your exposed skin.
This alternating motion will continue until the sting is fully embedded within your clothing and if the material is thin enough there is a possibility the tip of the sting will make contact with your skin and deliver its venomous payload.
When a bee stings your clothes even if it leaves the sight of the sting, the muscles, venom sack, and nerves are left attached which allows the stings mechanism to carry on penetrating your clothes and eventually your skin.
What happens when a honeybee stings you through your clothes
The sting of a honeybee is attached internally to its lower body.
A bee’s sting contains a special venom comprised of proteins that directly affect your immune system and skin cells leading to pain and irritation.
When honeybees sting they will often sacrifice themselves due to the trauma caused by the removal of the sting from their abdomen.
This acts as the last method of self-defence for honeybees, laying down their lives to defend their hive or nest.
A bee is less likely to become stuck or lodged in your clothes than your skin when they sting you.
Even though bee stings are painful it’s really important to try and remove the bee as gently as possible or ideally let them leave of their own accord.
If you give bees the opportunity to remove their stings they can in some cases leave without any internal trauma leaving their insides intact.
Bee stings have evolved to act as a form of defence and offence against predators.
This means a bee sting is very effective at penetrating other insects but due to the elasticity of mammals’ skin like ourselves bees struggle to remove their stings from our skin.
The short video below shows how you can help safely remove bees from your skin after they’ve stung you:
What kinds of clothes prevent bees from stinging you?
Opt for heavy, thick fabrics as these will be thick enough to prevent the sting from ever reaching your skin, thick cotton is a perfect example of a material that will prevent bee stings in most cases.
Man-made materials like Nylon are very comfortable but are normally tight-fitting making it easy for the tip of the sting to pass through Nylon straight into your exposed skin.
Wearing baggy clothing that doesn’t pull tight to your skin as you move will also reduce the likelihood of a bee sting reaching your skin.
It’s important to remember that bees will sting you in any location so considering a hat of some sort can also help with reducing the sting especially if you are bald and don’t have any hair to act as an extra layer of protection.
If you’re a beekeeper then a beekeeping suit will be the best solution to avoid getting stung regularly but even beekeeping suits aren’t impervious to stings so much like normal clothing the baggier your beekeeping suit is the better. This leaves the required cavity between the suit’s interior and the surface of your skin.
If you live in an area regularly visited by bees you’ll also need to consider your feet, if you step on the bee’s abdomen at the correct angle the sting can lodge in the bottom of your feet even though thin socks.
Aim for thongs or shoes while in the garden to avoid stepping on a dead bee.