Bee Biology – Stinger

Going too close to a bee hive can send the wrong message to its inhabitants who may perceive you as a threat. While most stinging insects mainly use their stingers for predation, bees use theirs solely for defense. Nonetheless, bees rarely attack unless when provoked considering their busy foraging nature – in other words, they have better things to do than worry about us.

The stingers of most bee species such as honey bee, sweat bee, and bumble bee are designed to inflict a sharp pain on those who threaten them. There are three main parts; a stylus and two barbed slides/lancets. When a bee uses its stinger, the sting is not always pushed in but it’s normally pulled further into a victim’s skin when the barbed slides engage in an alternating movement hence retracting up the stylus.

Under the microscope – a worker bee stinger with visible barbs. Photo credit: Unknown

 

Because of these barbs, once the stinger penetrates through a human’s skin (or any other “tough skinned” animal) the insect cannot pull it out. As a result, the stinger’s sharp barbed part gets stuck and causes a rupture its lower abdomen, nerves, muscles plus its digestive tract resulting in death. The stinger punctures your skin releasing apitoxin into your body system. While a honey bee will use its stinger on any unwanted intruders, it comes at a hefty price which is why most bees will bump and warn you rather than actually going in for a sting.

The bee’s stinger gets caught in the skin, pulling out the internal organs along with the stinger, resulting in death. Photo credit: Unknown

 

What’s even more interesting is that the queen bee doesn’t suffer this same fate. Her stinger is shaped in such a way that she can retract her stinger unscathed. She utilizes her stinger to destroy other queens. Her smooth stinger is not meant to defend the hive but her throne as the queen. Usually, the first queen to emerge from her queen cell (most of the time more than one queen is reared at a time) uses her stinger to kill rival, sister queens preferably while they are still in their cells. This is an effective way to make sure she’s the reigning queen of the hive.

Queen bee stinger. Photo credit: Beekeeping Like a Girl blog

 

The male bees, drones, do not have stingers. This means they are great to practice with when learning to handle other bees or the queen bee gently. 

A bee sting may be somewhat harmless to many people, but to others, it can lead to serious anaphylactic reactions. For that reason, it is best to avoid provoking the bees and be prepared in case you’re one of the minorities that has severe reactions. 

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