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Do Bees Know They’ll Die When They Sting You?

We’ve all been there – relaxing in the grass and the soft clover. We roll over and it is the unmistakable, sharp and burning sensation of a bee jabbing his pointy butt into our skin. That burning sensation comes from the defensive venom being delivered to our system. Reflexes shoot in and we smash the bee. Some of us that love bees may feel guilty for squishing it flat as roadkill, but then we’re reminded it was dead anyway. Bees die when they sting humans. Why would they do that? Was it worth the sacrifice? More importantly, do bees know they’ll die when they sting you?

The Ultimate Sacrifice?

Honey bees are amazing insects. Their participation in an ecosystem is crucial for the pollination and the success of crops, gardens, and trees. Not only are worker bees the most important pollinators, but they are the protectors of the hive. Let’s not forget they are also some pretty impressive dancers.

Honey bees sting other insects, animals, and humans as a natural defense mechanism to protect the queen and males who reproduce and maintain the colony. The question that remains is if bees know they will die after stinging. On a deeper level, does that answer change the value or level of that sacrifice one way or the other?

The Biological Logistics

honey bee abdomen

When a honey bee stings an animal or human, its barbed stinger remains in the skin of the victim along with nerves, abdominal muscles, and sometimes internal organs. If humans had that kind of a reaction to our defense mechanisms, I think we would see far fewer barroom brawls. The ones we would see would be far more macabre.

Although morbid, it is the ultimate sacrifice for the colony. It is hard to say whether or not bees understand their death, but rather they understand the importance of protecting a hive from predators and the continuation of honey bee generations.

Lacking Education

If we were to turn Sherlock Holmes lose on the question of the bee’s sacrifice, I am sure he would point toward defenses against non-mammalian attackers. Most of the time, bees are faced with insect and arachnid attackers. This could be a hungry spider or an invading murder hornet.

In these instances, the barbed stinger is a fantastic weapon. Not only is it useful in fending off attackers, but it also doesn’t kill them to use it. Therefore, it really comes down to the honey bee not being informed that human skin alters the outcome. When the barbed stinger penetrates the skin, the skin closes in around it sealing the bees death. My guess is this useful piece of educational information has been lost from the bee study materials considering every bee that learns this valuable lesson fails to make it back to the colony. So most likely, no, they have no clue…until it is too late.

What About Wasps?

While wasps look similar to bees, they behave quite differently. They can be much more aggressive and pollinate far less. These are predatory insects and quite frequently considered pests in and around structures. These abusive bullies don’t die when they sting people. They can sting over and over again. They can sneak up on you when you least expect it. Last summer I had one join me in my life jacket for a slalom run – that did not turn out well for either one of us. If you are dealing with wasps or don’t know whether you have wasps or bees, reach out to the stinging insect experts at Rove Pest Control. We will put together a customized plan to keep your property protected.