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Why do bees die after they sting?

Why do bees die after they sting?
Emily Dean from Greater London (age 25-34)


2 Responses

  1. Honey bee stings have barbs on one edge – a little like a spear head or a fishing hook – these barbs will catch hold of the (relatively tough) skin of a large mammal like a human. The struggle of the worker bee to release herself (all worker bees are female) damages her abdomen. This will, in the case of attacking a large mammal, result in the breaking open of the abdomen which releases further alarm pheromones (scents used for communication). These scents alert other workers to the major threat from a big animal – it could be us but it could be another raider e.g. a bear or, in the tropics, a honey badger. This is why you can end up with multiple stings if you persist in hanging around the hive and threatening the bees. However, bees will only sting under serious threat – away from the hive this may occasionally happen if the bee gets entangled in hair or clothing, but then you are unlikely to attract the attentions of other workers. The sting of the bee is a modified part of the egg laying gear of the female worker – which means that male bees cannot sting and queens, whose main role is to lay eggs, don’t sting either.

  2. A honeybee’s sting is barbed, so it remains embedded in a person’s skin. When the bee tries to move away, the sting is torn from the bee’s body and in the process the bee also loses some of its entrails. Bees can live for several hours after they have stung someone but they do usually die once they have used their sting. Wasps have unbarbed stings, so they can withdraw their sting and use it again.

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