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Why Do Honeybees Die After They Sting You?

Why Do Honeybees Die After They Sting You?

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A bee sting is a wound caused by the stinger from a female bee being injected into one’s flesh. The stings of most of these species can be quite painful, and are therefore keenly avoided by most people.

Bee stings differ from insect bites, and the venom or toxin of stinging insects is quite different. Therefore, the body’s reaction to a bee sting may differ significantly from one species to another. While bee stings are slightly acidic, this has little or no influence over the body’s reaction, which is instead determined largely by allergic reaction to venom components.

The most aggressive stinging insects are vespid wasps (including bald-faced hornets and other yellowjackets), hornets, and the Africanized bee (killer bee). All of these insects aggressively defend their nests.

Although for most people a bee sting is painful but otherwise relatively harmless, in people with insect sting allergy, stings may trigger a dangerous anaphylactic reaction that is potentially deadly. Additionally, honey bee stings release pheromones that prompt other nearby bees to attack.

A honey bee that is away from the hive foraging for nectar or pollen will rarely sting, except when stepped on or roughly handled. Honey bees will actively seek out and sting when they perceive the hive to be threatened, often being alerted to this by the release of attack pheromones.

Although it is widely believed that a worker honey bee can sting only once, this is a partial misconception: although the stinger is in fact barbed so that it lodges in the victim’s skin, tearing loose from the bee’s abdomen and leading to its death in minutes, this only happens if the skin of the victim is sufficiently thick, such as a mammal’s. Honey bees are the only hymenoptera with a strongly barbed sting, though yellow jackets and some other wasps have small barbs.

The venom of the honeybee contains histamine, mast cell degranulating peptide, melittin, phospholipase A2, hyaluronidase and acid phosphatase. The three proteins in honeybee venom which are important allergens are phospholipase A2, hyaluronidase and acid phosphatase. In addition, the polypeptide melittin is also antigenic. Bumblebee venom appears to be chemically and antigenically related to honeybee venom.

Bees with barbed stingers can often sting other insects without harming themselves. Queen honeybees and bees of many other species, including bumblebees and many solitary bees, have smoother stingers with smaller barbs, and can sting mammals repeatedly.

The sting’s injection of apitoxin into the victim is accompanied by the release of alarm pheromones, a process which is accelerated if the bee is fatally injured. The release of alarm pheromones near a hive may attract other bees to the location, where they will likewise exhibit defensive behaviors until there is no longer a threat, typically because the victim has either fled or been killed. (Note: A bee swarm, seen as a mass of bees flying or clumped together, is generally not hostile; it has deserted its hive and has no comb or young to defend.) These pheromones do not dissipate or wash off quickly, and if their target enters water, bees will resume their attack as soon as it leaves the water. The alarm pheromone emitted when a bee stings another animal smells like a banana.

Drone bees, the males, are larger and do not have stingers. The female bees are the only ones that can sting, and their stinger is a modified ovipositor. The queen bee has a barbed but smoother stinger and can, if need be, sting skin-bearing creatures multiple times, but the queen does not leave the hive under normal conditions. Her sting is not for defense of the hive; she only uses it for dispatching rival queens, ideally before they can emerge from their cells. Queen breeders who handle multiple queens and have the queen odor on their hands are sometimes stung by a queen.

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