Female worker honeybees have barbed stings that evolved for stinging other bees and insects. When seen under a microscope a worker bee’s sting resembles a harpoon, covered in two rows of saw-toothed blades.

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The stinger is attached to a venom sac, from which a toxin is pumped after the bee stings. The scent of that venom is a signal to the other bees in the hive.

Why does a bee die after it stings you?

It’s only when they sting mammals, with their thick skin, that the barbs become wedged. In trying to get free, the bee rips away part of its abdomen and internal organs. It’s this that causes it to die a few minutes later – while bees don’t have blood per se, it essentially bleeds to death. The venom continues to be pumped into the wound even after the bee has left its stinger behind.

Do they know they will die if they sting you?

Experts believe that bees are unaware of the fate that awaits them following using their sting on a mammal, but they use their stings rarely, all the same. Honeybees tend to be timid away from their hives; it’s only by grabbing a bee or going too near its nest that you are likely to provoke a sting.

Do all bees die after stinging mammals?

Queen honeybees and almost all other species of bee including bumblebees, plus hornet and wasps, have smooth stings. They can therefore sting multiple times without causing themselves any harm.

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Do all bees sting?

But not all bees species sting. Of the approximately 20,000 species of bees on the planet, around 500 have no stings at all. Their defence technique is to bite.

Authors

Jo Caird is a freelance journalist who lives in East London and writes for newspapers, magazines and the web. She specialises in citizen science and conservation with a strong community focus. Read more about her work at jocaird.com

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