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Do bees know that they will die after they sting?

  1. Mar 24, 2016 #1


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    This may be an odd question, but it's popped up in many conversations. I know that they die because, aside from losing their stinger, they suffer abdominal rupture too severe to survive. However, it's always seemed odd that they sting out of fear of danger and getting hurt, but they die afterwards anyway. Doesn't that sort of defeat the purpose of stinging to begin with? So my question is this: Do bees know that they will die prior to stinging somebody or something?
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  3. Mar 24, 2016 #2


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    I doubt a bee's mind is complex enough to understand the concept of death.
  4. Mar 24, 2016 #3


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    So it's just instinct? The moment they sense danger, they sting? Sometimes I wondered whether they could sense the severity of the peril and gauge if they should "save" their one and only sting or not.

    I guess I expected too much from bees.
  5. Mar 25, 2016 #4


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    I just dug a little bit out of curiosity and found this paper. Bees are colony animals - individual survival isn't important; preserving the egg-laying process of the queen, and the nursing of the nursers is. In African bees, for each colony, tasks are divided among members. And there's some genetic correlation in those tasks, as observed in mixed family colonies. A "guard" bee seldom stings anything (~3% of them were observed stinging in the linked paper) even during defensive moments, while "stingers" will act in colony defense.


    So my interpretation of this in the context of your question is that the decision over when to sting and when not to sting is not decided by a single bee, but decided statistically by genes and environmental conditions and expressed through a colony's guard/stinger ratio.
  6. Mar 25, 2016 #5
    Depends on the bee...
    Honey bees have a barbed stinger, so the stinger stays ( most of the time ) in the wound, and pumps more venom into the stung creature. ( Just a thought - if one pokes a stick into the hive, do they sting the stick ?? )
    Bumblebees lack the barb, so can sting repeatedly.

    In this case losing a bee out of 1000 or so for the honey bee, versus 1 out of 50ish for the bumblebee may be part of the reason for the adaptation of barb or no barb in the stinger. One could look to all bee species to see if there is a pattern of colony size and stinger barb.
    And check to see if any barb/colony size correlation occurs for other species such as wasps and hornets.
    I would expect though, that to be too simplistic as a whole explanation to win a Noble Prize.
  7. Mar 25, 2016 #6


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    This makes very good sense--disregard to individual survival appears to be a great answer, and it's something I never thought of before. I suppose that's partly due to the fact I hardly ever see a hive but, rather, a single lone bee.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2016
  8. Mar 25, 2016 #7


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    Well, apparently, there can be up to 50, 000 to 60,000 bees in an average honey bee colony. A wasp colony has about 11,000 to 13,000, however. Wasps do not have a barb in the stinger and can sting for as many times as they want, since they use it for more than defense. I just read that they use their sting often to paralyze insects to feed their larvae. As for hornets, their colonies can include around 700 members and they, too, do not have a barb in their stinger. From this, you seem to be right.


    Hm, I'm sure that they'll come out and attack the person who stuck the stick into the hive, instead :smile:
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