I am sometimes asked "do bees die if they sting you?".
Indeed, for a long time, I believed that yes, this was the case. However, I now know that it actually depends on the species!
Firstly, it should be noted that not all bees sting. However, of those which can, notably it is only the honey bee that is likely to die after stinging a human, and because of this, it is often assumed that all other bee species will die following a stinging incident too.
The reason honey bees die after they have stung a human is because the honey bee possesses a barbed stinger (it’s actually a modified ovipositor).
Whilst honey bees could sting other insect species (for example, during the defense of their nest and honey combs), the barbed stinger cannot cope with fleshy human skin.
If the honey bee stings a human, the sting itself may get lodged in the skin. As the bee attempts to pull itself away, it may unfortunately tear away its abdomen, leaving the stinger behind and lodged in the skin. Anyone who is stung will then need to take action to remove the stinger, as it will otherwise continue to pump poison – see advice here.
Solitary bees rarely ever sting, and bumblebees generally are rather docile. However, I always recommend caution and respect around bumblebees.
In addition, I hear of many well intentioned efforts to 'rescue' bumblebees actually resulting in a stinging incident because of mishandling. There are times when your intervention can help a bumblebee in difficulty, and there are times when it is best to leave them alone. See this page for further detail.
In bumblebees, the stinger is smooth. This means that if you are stung by a bumblebee, the stinger will not become stuck in your skin, and so the bee will not die.
Reports regarding levels of pain tend to differ, with some people claiming that a bumblebee sting is painful, and others claiming that any pain is mild.
However, whichever the species, stings can be more dangerous if they accur around the throat, eyes, nasal passages or inside the ear.
Some people have very severe (and rarely, very serious) allergies to bee stings (and wasp stings). Where there is a risk of very serious reaction (such as anaphylactic shock), an Epi-pen must be carried.
For further information:
Some bee species are known to use their mandibles in a biting action, for example, whilst they are constructing their nests (widening nest entrances, biting materials).
However, bees do not bite humans.
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