With the summer starting to show itself and bees becoming more active I thought I would write an article on bees and their stingers. I found from a study I conducted a few years ago that bees are very misunderstood creatures and due to phobias and being frightened of bees, bees were unwelcome visitors to people’s gardens.
Why bees sting and how to prevent being stung?
Bees usually only attack and sting when they feel threatened. Keeping away from bees, not wearing scents when known to be in proximity of bees and not using machinery that produces sound vibrations and loud noises will all prevent you from being stung.
Females are the stingers
The stinger of a bee is actually a highly modified ovipositor. An ovipositor is an egg-laying tube of the female bee consisting of two valves. In a female worker bee the ovipositor has evolved to be used as a defence against predators and other bees. Therefore the stinger is only possessed by female bees and males cannot sting.
The honey bee sting is made up of two barbed lancets supported by strong muscles and connected to a poison gland. When a honey bee stings it’s victim, its barbs slice through the victim’s skin and act as an anchor. The bee then pulls away ripping its sting out and leaving it within its victim. The ripping of the sting from the abdomen causes the honey bee to die.
In comparison the bumble bee stinger is smooth. Therefore when the bumblebee stings its victim it keeps it’s stinger and usually suffers no abdominal damage. As a result the bumble bee can fly away to sting another day or repeatedly sting it’s victim.
So why does the honey bee have the short end of the stick?
Well as the sting remains in the victim, venom is pumped into the victim by the muscles surrounding the poison sac contracting for a longer amount of time (30-60sec) resulting in extra venom being released into the victim. Honey bees live in large colonies therefore the loss of a few workers during colony defence is outweighed by the effectiveness of the extra venom. However bumble bees live in much smaller colonies and so extra venom does not outweigh the loss of workers.
Solitary bees also have smooth stingers and can repeatedly sting their victims. To add a twist in the tale queen honey bees also have a smooth stinger. Therefore although her workers sacrifice their selves for the good of the colony she can repeatedly sting victims when necessary without dying which would outweigh the benefits of extra venom.
Winston, M. L. (1987) The biology of honey bees. London: Harvard University university.
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