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Could a bee sting (and kill) another bee?

Bees are generally known for three things. Producing honey, pollinating our plants, and most importantly, their painful stings! If you have ever been unfortunate enough to be stung by a bee, you already know it hurts. For us as beekeepers, it’s just another day on the job!

Can a bee sting another bee? Of course! Worker bees will sting robber bees from another hive trying to get into their hive to steal honey. Typically, if a queen bee sees another queen bee in her hive, they will fight each other to the death, and one will sting the other to declare the throne.

The act of bees stinging one another might be shocking to some people. I know it was a shock to me! It is quite a common occurrence. Here’s more about what you should know when bees sting other bees and why they do it!

Why Would A Bee Sting Another Bee?

When bees sting other bees, it usually is a way of protecting their hive. There are, however, certain types of bees that are more likely to sting other bees. Other factors will dictate how often bees will be able to sting a target. Let’s take a closer look…

You would be surprised to hear that bees actually despise fighting! It’s not in their nature. Despite them having a reputation of being sting-prone creatures, the truth is, bees just want to collect pollen and nectar to grow and feed their colony. However, they still have a burning desire and need to protect their hive along with their queen.

Two types of bees are likely to sting other bees, known as guard bees and queen bees. The worker bees play many roles in the hive, and one of these roles is to guard the hive. The worker bees then become guard bees, responsible for checking every bee entering their hive to ensure they are part of their colony.

Most communication between bees in their hive is done through pheromones. Each queen bee has her distinctive pheromone that is carried by each bee in the hive. This scent allows the guard bee to quickly identify an incoming bee belongs to their hive or not.

If the bee that is trying to enter does not belong to the hive, the guard bee will release an alarm pheromone. This pheromone will mark the bee as an intruder. The scent will draw other bees to the threat, and the other bees will drum around the intruder, pushing her out at the entrance and often stinging her in the process.

You do not want to be the target once this alarm pheromone is released, especially if you are not wearing any protective clothing! You will most likely find yourself getting stung by multiple bees at once; ouch!

There is an exception to this intruder rule, and the reason is almost cute! Sometimes, some bees try to enter the wrong hive by mistake. As long as they enter the hive loaded with pollen and nectar, the bees will not sting them. This is because they will know the bee is not intending to rob their hive.

For queens, on the other hand, the fight will be one on one and can take many stings before their queen opponent dies. Queen bees will not typically sting drone bees or worker bees. They would usually only sting other queens or queen cells.

If there is a much bigger threat to bees’ hives, like a wasp, multiple bees will try to sting the wasp at a time, defending each other and their hives. Wasps can be much more challenging to kill, and there are often multiple bees who lose their lives in such a fight.

Will A Bee Die If She Gets Stung By Another Bee?

A bee sting might not be lethal to all people (it can be highly lethal if you are allergic to bees, so be careful!), but you can believe that a bee sting is always lethal to other bees! A single bee sting is enough to kill a regular bee, which is why most bee fights are relatively short and anti climatical.

We have established that a honeybee will only sting when it perceives a threat to its hive, but it will rarely sting unless aggravated when it’s away from the hive and foraging. And when it stings, it dies, unless it doesn’t lose its stinger!

Bees will continue stinging other animals as long as their stingers remain attached to their bodies. A honeybee’s stinger is made of two barbed lancets. When the bee stings, it can’t pull its stinger back out. It leaves behind its stinger and a part of its digestive system with muscles and nerves.

The problem with this is that with most mammals and birds, their stinger ends up getting stuck in their target’s body, which ends up killing them. This is not the typical case with other insects.

Other bees are no exception. The barbs bees have on their stingers will not get stuck in another bee’s body. This means that bees can sting other bees several times with little to no risk of getting their stinger caught and ripped from their abdomen. The massive rip of their abdomen is what ultimately kills the bee.

Although an individual bee dies when it stings something, it makes sense if you look at it from an evolutionary perspective! Since the worker bees’ primary job is to defend the hive t means they can’t reproduce. So, the only way to ensure their genes are passed on is by protecting their hives with their reproductive relatives inside it.

Do Bees Accidentally Sting Each Other?

Honey bees that live in the same hive are called nestmates because they share a nest. The queen bee inside this “nest” lays all the eggs and has daughters primarily. Usually, nestmates are sister-bees that get along very well. They are family, after all!

The sister bees will cooperate to feed their growing brother and sisters. They will also collect food together, build and protect their hives from intruders like animals and other bees and insects. But, this sometimes goes very wrong.

There have been experiments where scientists investigate how bees tell whether a bee is their nestmate or not. Bees sometimes fail to recognize their nestmates and will even accidentally end up stinging one of their sisters! They also sometimes let bees into the hive that are not their nestmates. So much for the accuracy of the alarm!

So, to answer your question, yes, bees do tend to sting each other by accident. When trying to protect their hive from intruders, they can mistake one of their sisters for an intruder. But would you blame them? I don’t think I’d be able to recognize all my siblings if I had that much!

Conclusion

While bees might not seem like the type of insects who would want to hurt and sting members of their own kind, the cold hard truth is that these creatures would do anything to protect their hive along with their queen. Whether it is by mistake or because of an intruder, these fuzzy black and yellow flyers will sting other bees without thinking twice when it comes to the wellbeing of their colony.

All honey bees strive to do is to mind their business and collect some pollen and nectar to take back home. So don’t be scared or overly cautious! A bee is not a hostile monster, and if you pose no threat to them, they will never be a threat to you. Using their stingers is always the last resort.

Jaco Stander

My name is Jaco Stander. I’m from Cape Town, South Africa. I’m a registered beekeeper with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development in South Africa. Registration number WC808. I live on a small holding where I keep my 16 beehives. Taking care of bees is a very rewarding feeling, contributing to keep our bee colonies growing and thriving, and as a bonus, enjoying that sweet pure raw honey!

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