Are you allergic to bee stings? Then I’m sure you can relate to the feeling of dread when you feel a sharp sting while running around outside, bare foot on a summers day. This dread not only comes from the pain and swelling that is bound to take place but also the thought that the tiny bee you unfortunately stood on will die.
Is this true, do bees really die after they sting you?
This all depends on the species of bee that has stung you. First of all, not all bees do sting. There are eleven native species of bees in Australia that are stingless. These small native bees are black in colour and mainly found in the warmer Northern states. These bees produce delicious honey but in much smaller quantities than their honeybee counterparts. Their primary role in the ecosystem is pollinating native flora. They are excellent pollinators and are widely used for the pollination of crops in Australia, including macadamias, mangoes and watermelons.
Credit: fliqr (ann), native bee
So which species do actually die after they sting you?
This is the case for only two species, the Africanised ‘killer’ bee and the honeybee. Notably, male bees do not have stingers, it is only the female bees that die when they release their sting, as the stinger is a modified ovipositor. When the honeybee stings you, the tip of the stinger (the lancet) is barbed, meaning that it digs into the flesh, embedding the stylus (the needle-like point of the stinger) into the unlucky person.
Once attached, the bee cannot pull its stinger back out due to the large barbs on the stinger, and venom is then released into the body through the venom sacs. When the bee tries to fly away, the bee’s stinger is pulled apart from its abdomen due to the barbed lancet lodged in the skin, killing the unlucky bee.
Interestingly, honeybees are able to sting other insects and smaller animals without dying, as the barbed stinger is able to pull away from smaller victims without tearing at the abdomen.
Credit: wikicommons (supermanu), stinger apparatus
So which species do not die after they sting you?
Unlike honeybees, most species are able to sting more than once. The fluffy bumblebee, solitary bees and carpenter bees to name a few, have a smooth stinger. This enables the bee to remove the stinger from the victim without embedding it in the skin and tearing itself in half.
The queen bee in all species including honeybees, can also sting multiple times as their stinger is smooth rather than barbed. Although it is able to sting multiple times without dying, it is rare to be stung by the Queen bee as they rarely, if ever, leave the hive.
The male honeybees (drones) although born without a stinger do not get off lightly either. Drones are killed during copulation with the queen bee. They are able to mate up to ten times during the mating flight, after which their endophallus is ripped from their abdomen, resulting in death.
It’s a tough life being a bee.
So bee-careful this summer and try to spare some lives by avoiding the stinger of a honeybee.
Credit: fliqr (Kees Smans), honeybee