Instant Smartarse #3 - The Wasp With a Sting in the Tale

Back when we used to test children at 14, there was a question that came up many times about how to treat bee and wasp stings. The question included information about bee and wasp stings, stating that bee stings are acidic, whilst wasp stings are alkaline, and asked children to deduce which substances would neutralise each sting, and so relieve the pain of a sting. Across the country, we would teach this as fact, partly because it sounded plausible and partly because we were teaching to the test so we looked like great teachers. More on that in the next post.

It turns out we were teaching a misconception. Wasp and bee stings are in fact both pretty close to neutral so it isn't acidity or alkalinity making it hurt. In fact the pain of the sting comes from a complex mixture of nasty proteins that reside in the venom. This means that both acids and alkalis can be used to treat stings as they will both disrupt the proteins so they don't hurt as much.

You can use this information however you choose - you could be a naughty Smartarse and explain this when someone close to you gets stung and nothing else, or you could be a nice Smartarse and use this information to actually help the cross person who has just been stung. If you go for the nice option, you can find acidic and alkaline substances in the kitchen or bathroom: lemon juice and vinegar are acidic, and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and toothpaste are alkaline. Just make sure you don't use anything too strong - cleaning chemicals and lots of other things you can find in the kitchen and garage are strong acids and alkalis and cause serious burns so steer clear of those.

Thanks for reading and BEcoming a Smartarse Scientist!

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