do bees die after they sting

Why Do Bees Die After They Sting You?

We’ve all been told that bees have suicidal methods of self-defense. If this is confusing to you, you’re not alone. But you’ve seen it with your own eyes, so it has to be the truth, right? The reality is that bees don’t have a death wish, and what we’ve heard of their aggressive behavior is mostly a misunderstanding.

I want to clear everything up for you so that you’ll have a better understanding of bees. Hopefully, you’ll be able to better protect yourself from them.

So why do bees die after they sting? Let’s find out.

Why Do Bees Die When They Sting You?

As I said, it doesn’t make sense that a bee’s main defense would be suicide. Defense mechanisms are supposed to aid self-preservation, so what’s the point of stinging if it leads to a bee’s demise?

Well, the misunderstanding comes into play because the vast majority of people think that the traits of honeybees apply to all bees.

Most bees don’t die when they sting you, and in all cases, they’re not meant to. Honeybees are alone in their tragic means of self-defense. Every other bee could sting you multiple times and live to tell the tale of your suffering.

So why is it, then, that honeybees experience such misfortune? Their biology has always been to blame, but come to think of it, it has much more to do with us than them.

Honeybee Stingers Are Different

Honeybee stingers are designed differently to the stingers of other bees. They’re best described as barbed. In layman’s terms, it means that they have small spikes that act as hooks—depending on what they sting.

Their stingers are excellent at defending against other insects. They’re able to sting predators and smaller creatures tirelessly, and won’t lose their stingers if they do.

When it comes to mammals, however, their stingers work against them. Our skin is too thick for them to pull away from. Once they sting us, their barbed stingers latch on and get stuck.

bee stinging person
A honey bee mid-sting

When the bee moves away—expecting to do so unharmed—her stinger remains in our skin and rips away from the bee’s body. This caused the bee’s internal organs to tear away with it, leaving a wound too great for it to survive.

Bees Don’t Have a Death Wish

Honeybees are not suicidal, as so many people have come to believe. They don’t sting out of spite and their fate most probably comes as a shock when they resort to stinging us.

Just like other bees, who won’t die if they sting you, honeybees genuinely use their stingers as a means of defense. They won’t sting unless they feel threatened or believe they have to attack.

Honeybees are often described as aggressive, spiteful, or malicious, but in truth, they’re just defensive. They are extremely territorial and will stop at nothing to defend their colonies.

Africanized honeybees are more sensitive to threats (and might see danger where it doesn’t exist). This doesn’t mean they’re vicious. They’re not fully deserving of their reputation. Their behavior is just another example of the general public not understanding enough about bees.

Still, their sacrifice is not so much based on honor as it is a flaw in their design.

Not All Bees Can Sting

Something else to remember is that not all bees have stingers. It’s yet another misconception that all bees are dangerous.

For one, there are species of bees that have been categorized as stingless. These bees naturally have to use other means of defense. It includes biting, ganging up against their attackers, and chucking resin or whatever else they can throw.

In stingless bees, it is clear that their instinct is to survive, and that no part of their retaliation is due to spite or self-harming tendencies.

Another fact that not everyone is aware of, is that females are the only bees who can sting. Drones don’t have stingers either. Depending on the species, they either cannot defend themselves; or do so by engaging in intimidating (but harmless) behavior.

Bees Are Not Out to Get You

To further prove that bees don’t want to die when they sting you, we can take a look at the bees that are stinging machines.

Bumblebees are fairly common, and they can sting multiple times.

do bumblebees sting

As it turns out, they only sting us when they are pushed to do so.

bumblebee stinger

This also applies to carpenter bees, sweat bees, digger bees, and as I already mentioned, even Africanized honeybees.

In some species, like carpenter bees, they are so passive you would quite literally have to directly attack one before it’s inspired to retaliate.

It might not be in line with the topic, but even their cousins, wasps, are only aggressive when they’re forced to be.

The idea that bees have no regard for their own lives, stems from the idea that bees are bloodthirsty. In all the research I have carried out, I haven’t found a single shred of evidence to support this notion.

Bees are foragers, not hunters. They don’t have killer instincts, and when they do sting it’s because they’re driven to.

bumblebee
CC Image courtesy of mattx27

In the case of honeybees, they don’t know that their stings are no match for our skin. They’re just trying to survive, but unfortunately (and somewhat ironically) die in the process.

What Happens After a Bee Stings You?

There are a few possibilities that could occur if you get stung by a bee. If they’re not honeybees, there is a chance that the bee will be on its way once it stings you. It’s better to be safe than sorry, though, so don’t count on it. Treat the situation as volatile just in case the bees come back for more.

If it’s a honeybee that stings you, of course, it won’t live for much longer. Regardless, you could still be in danger, as honeybees release pheromones when they sting. It alerts other bees to the threat (in this case, you), and you could be at risk of a dangerous swarm.

The safest thing to do if a bee stings you is to get yourself into a covered area where other bees can’t get to you. Remove the stinger as quickly as you can, too. The longer it stays in your skin, the more venom it injects and the more pain you feel.

If you aren’t allergic to bees, the pain could last anywhere between a few hours to two days or so. You won’t need to do much else except cleaning the puncture and taking preventative (or soothing) measures for swelling.

If you are allergic, you’ll have to treat it as an emergency. Sometimes allergic reactions aren’t immediately apparent. If you begin to experience severe symptoms, get yourself to the emergency room.

This includes nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath; or if the redness, rash, swelling or pain spreads to other areas of your body.

Just Leave Them Bee

At the end of the day, it wouldn’t matter much if honeybees were aware of their fate. Bees are passive and only attack when provoked. The best way to protect yourself (and spare the bees some agony) is to leave them alone.

Bees are quite harmless when you know how to treat and handle them. They’re not vicious, but that doesn’t mean that they’re friendly. They’re just passive and defensive. Death is the last thing they deserve.

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