Do All Bees Die After They Sting You, And If So, Why?

Updated: 3rd May 2021

Question:
Do all bees die if they sting you?  

The short answer is:
No, of the bees capable of stinging, only honey bees die after stinging, due to the sting becoming lodged into human skin, thus injuring the bee as it tries to fly away. 

Other species, such as bumble bees, can sting repeatedly without dying.  However, it should be noted that not all bees sting.  Male bees across species, cannot sting.  


Why Do Honey Bees Die After They Have Stung You?

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 and survive (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 will get lodged in the skin.  As the bee attempts to pull itself away, this will 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 (venom) – see advice on treating bee stings.

Do beekeepers get stung by honey bees?
Beekeepers do sometimes get stung, although they where a beekeeper suit to reduce the likelihood of this happening. You may see photographs and videos of beekeepers handling their bees with no protection, but such beekeepers are in the minority.

In addition to wearing a suit, there are steps beekeepers can take to avoid being stung by their bees.

Do Solitary Bees And Bumble Bees Die When They Sting You?

Solitary bees rarely ever sting.  

Bumble bees generally are rather docile.  However, I always recommend caution and respect around bumble bees. 

In addition, I hear of many well intentioned efforts to 'rescue' bumble bees after finding them actually resulting in a stinging incident because of well-intentioned mishandling. 

There are times when your intervention can help a bumble bee in difficulty, and there are times when it is best to leave them alone.  See my page about rescuing bees trapped in spider webs.

In  bumble bees, the stinger is smooth.  This means that if you are stung by a bumble bee, the stinger will not become stuck in your skin, and so the bee will not die.

Stingless Bees

You may have heard of 'stingless bees'.  This refers to a group of bees known as Meliponini.  Although they have stingers, they are not powerful and are not used in self defense.

Instead, species within this group use other tactics to defend themselves against predators and enemies.  For example, one study of stingless bees revealed that some species bite, strike and even used tree resin as a type of glue targeted at the bodies of their enemies (in the research, the enemies were ants).

Are Bee Stings Dangerous?

Stings can be more dangerous if they occur around the throat, eyes, nasal passages or inside the ear - especially in children.  The pain from stings is known to vary depending on location on the body - see Where do stings hurt most.  

Where there is a risk of very serious reaction (such as anaphylactic shock), an Epi-pen should  be carried. 

Do Bees Bite?

For further information, see my page 'Do Bumble Bees Bite'.

However, bees do not bite humans. 

If you are concerned about stings, it is far better to use products which repel, rather than kill insects, such as a could  a deet-free insect repellent spray.


Resources

Lars Lehmberg, Kai Dworschak & Nico Blüthgen (2008) Defensive behavior and chemical deterrence against ants in the stingless bee genus Trigona (Apidae, Meliponini), Journal of Apicultural Research, 47:1, 17-21







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