Why a honeybee dies when it stings

Photo of a honeybee on a purple coneflower

“Why does a honeybee die when it stings?”

That was a question I couldn’t answer off the top of my head when a child asked me the other day while looking at the indoor beehive. The best thing to do when you don’t know the answer — look it up.

A female worker honeybee has a barbed stinger, like a saw blade that only goes one direction. When a honeybee feels threatened or feels like its hive is being threatened, it will sting. (We always say, if you live it alone, it will leave you alone.)

When a honeybee stings, its stinger gets stuck in the skin. Imagine trying to pull a screw out of a wall without a screwdriver. You just can’t do it.

When the honeybee tries to escape, it breaks off from the stinger, leaving part of its abdomen and possibly its bowels behind. It just can’t survive after that.

However, a honeybee’s stinger doesn’t stick in all creatures. It could stick a large insect, and the honeybee could pull out its stinger and continue on its way. However, for people and other mammals with thick skin, the honeybee can’t retrieve its stinger.

In contrast, a queen’s stinger is smooth and can be used multiple times, but a queen uses it exclusively to battle other queens.

Drones do not have stingers.

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