Honeybee venom is produced by two glands associated with the sting apparatus of worker bees. Its production increases during the first two weeks of the adult worker’s life and reaches a maximum when the worker bee becomes involved in hive defense and foraging. It diminishes as the bee gets older. The queen bee’s production of venom is highest on emergence, which allows her to be prepared for immediate battles with other queens.
When a bee stings, it does not normally inject all of the 0.15 to 0.3 mg of venom held in a full venom sac (Schumacher et al., 1989 and Crane 1990, respectively). Only when it stings an animal with skin as tough as ours will it lose its sting – and with it the whole sting apparatus, including the venom sac, muscles and the nerve center. These nerves and muscles however keep injecting venom for a while, or until the venom sac is empty. The loss of such a considerable portion of its body is almost always fatal to the bee.
Used in small doses however, bee venom can be of benefit in treating a large number of ailments. This therapeutic value was already known to many ancient civilizations.
Honeybee venom is a clear, odorless, watery liquid. When coming into contact with mucous membranes or eyes, it causes considerable burning and irritation. Dried venom takes on a light yellow color and some commercial preparations are brown, thought to be due to oxidation of some of the venom proteins. Venom contains a number of very volatile compounds which are easily lost during collection.
88% of venom is water. The glucose, fructose and phospholipid contents of venom are similar to those in bee’s blood (Crane, 1990). At least 18 pharmacologically active components have been described, including various enzymes, peptides and amines. Detailed information on the components is available in the Krell document noted below.
(taken from Krell, R.,“Value-Added Products from Bee-Keeping,”
FAO Agricultural Services Bulletin #124, 1996)