Do Bees Die After They Sting?

Honey Bee Collecting Honeydew
Honey bees have barbed stingers that are impossible to pull out of a mammal's skin

It’s a common misconception that the majority of bees will die after they sting, however, honey bees are the only bee species that will pass after stinging. When they sting an elastic-type material, like human skin, their stinger will become lodged and bees will lose parts of their bodies.

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    Why Do Only Honey bees Die After They Sting?

    Honey bees have evolved to lose their stingers when they attack. Researchers contemplated that the presence of predatory mammals may have been the cause.

    Stingers are bees’ only way of defence. Most bees are not aggressive with their stingers, even the species of bees that don’t die afterwards. However, provoked bees are not afraid to attack.

    Bees use their stingers to combat each other. This is especially true for bee colonies with queens. Potential queen bees fight each other and worker bees can sting queen bees to death if they don’t want her. Additionally, they will sting bee intruders from other hives.

    How Have Honey Bee Stingers Evolved?

    Honey bee stingers were originally meant for inter-bee fights, which is how other bee species use them. The majority of bee species have smooth stingers that can pull out of a mammal’s skin.

    The honey bee’s stinger used to work the same way as all other bees. Now, honey bee stingers have tiny barbs protruding from all sides. These barbs make stingers impossible to pull out without hard force, which honeybees do not have.

    Honey bees will not die when they sting another bee. Their stingers only get stuck in mammals. The thick, elastic skin of mammals catches the barbs, while the exoskeletons of bees and other insects do not.

    Why Do Honey bees Have Anti-Mammal Defences?

    Most bee species live in the ground or in nests, like bumblebees. Honey bees are one of the few types that make and live in hives.

    Hives are visible, loud, and busy. They also smell sweet with nectar and honey. This inevitably attracts large animals like bears. Bears will knock down hives and eat the entire hive. This includes the honey, the bees themselves, and the larvae.

    The bees will sting the predatory bear, which doesn’t always stop it. A bear’s face is susceptible to stings and that’s where bees will target. The rest of a bear’s body is covered in thick fur which makes it difficult for stingers to get through.

    Bee sting with a bag of venom stuck in human skin

    Does Every Bee Have a Stinger?

    Most bee species have stingers. There are some, like stingless bees, that do not and will bite in attack instead.

    The gender of a bee will determine whether or not it has a stinger. Only female bees have stingers, and therefore are the only ones that can sting and protect the hive.

    Bee colonies have a caste system. Groups are set apart by gender and the way they’re raised. There are queens, worker bees, and drones.

    Queens and worker bees are female while drones are male. Drones spend their lives in the hive waiting to fly out and mate. The only time they leave is to go on a mating flight, which could happen just once in their lives. They may roam outside of the hive in close proximity to exercise their wings.

    Worker bees are the ones that forage for nectar and create honey. They’re responsible for sustaining the hive and taking care of the queen, larvae, and drones. Workers can fly around 500 miles in their lifetimes just to forage. Since they’re the only ones out of the hive, they are equipped with stingers to protect against animals.

    Queens use their stingers in the early stages of their lives when they battle with other queen bees for the role. However, queen honey bees do not have barbed stingers like worker honeybees do. A queen bee can sting multiple times without dying.

    Why Male Bees Do Not Have Stingers?

    In addition to the drones’ static position in the colony, their reproductive system is another reason why they can not develop stingers.

    Drones’ reproductive parts tuck into their bodies as stingers do for females. Worker bees do not have reproductive parts like males nor are they able to lay eggs like queens. Therefore, they have an ovipositor that evolved into sending venom through a stinger. Ovipositors are tubes where eggs pass through.

    drone bee
    Due to their reproductive system, male bees can not develop stingers

    What Happens When a Bee Stings?

    When bees sting, they release venom and pheromones. The venom comes through the stinger from a venom sac within bees’ abdomens. Each bee species releases a different amount and kind of venom.

    For honey bees, the barbs cause venom sacs to rip out of the body, which is why they die. These venom sacs stick to the stinger and continue pumping venom long after the bee passes.

    Stinging releases alarm pheromones that alert other bees that an intrusion or threat is present. Since bees are sensitive to pheromones through their antennas, this alarm is effective and will attract other bees.

    What is Autotomy?

    Autotomy is a defence mechanism certain animals use to deter predators. This looks like self-amputation, in which case honey bees do when they lose their stinger to a mammal’s skin.

    The honey bee sting is effective because of how much venom pumps into the victim. This happens in hopes of discouraging the predator from further approaching the hive.

    Other animals with autotomy abilities are lizards, which can amputate their tail in case something grasps them.

    Do Bees Know That They Die After Stinging?

    Stinging is an instinct woven into honeybees’ genetics when it comes to protecting the hive. It is unlikely that bees are aware of their fatality upon stinging because their main priority is to defend and care for the hive at all times.

    Do Bees Bite?

    Bees can bite as well as sting. Honeybees are also capable of biting. Stingless bees are the only ones that cannot sting and will bite in defence. Nevertheless, biting releases venom and can be as painful as a sting.

    bumblebee stinger
    With the exception of honey bees, most bee species have smooth stingers that make them capable of stinging more than once

    Only Honeybees Die After They Sting

    Female honeybees die after they sting due to their barbed stingers. Their unique weapon becomes stuck in mammals’ flesh to ward them off from hives. These worker honeybees’ attacks come with a fatal end to their lives, but the stinging is instinctive for all of them.

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