Do bees die after they sting you?

A bumblebee I photographed in a neighbour's garden.
Image: SJ Gouldson

There are over 25,000 different species of bee in the world, including 245 in the UK, and it’s a common belief that if you’re stung by a bee it will die. Interestingly though, it actually depends on the kind of bee that stings you – the only species that will die afterwards is the honey bee.

Bee stingers aren’t just smooth and sharp, they have barbs on them. When you get stung, the stinger punctures your skin and the barbs hold it in place while the bee’s venom sacs pump venom into you. Most bees can retract these barbs in order to withdraw their stinger, but honey bees can’t. Once they’ve injected their venom into you they fly off just like every other bee – but as they do their stinging apparatus is ripped from their abdomen, causing a rupture that kills the unfortunate bee.

Bees aren’t aggressive and don’t sting for the fun of it; they generally only do it if they feel threatened or are protecting their nests. Individual honey bees are expendable because they live in a large social group, and sacrificing a few members of the colony to protect the rest is just common sense in evolutionary terms. I doubt that’s much comfort to the poor bee though!


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