Ask an ex­pert

Australian Geographic - - Need To Know -

James Dorey, na­ture lover, bee en­thu­si­ast and PhD stu­dent at Flin­ders Univer­sity and the South Aus­tralian Mu­seum

QWhy do bees die af­ter sting­ing you? And how is a one­time-only de­fence mech­a­nism evo­lu­tion­ar­ily ben­e­fi­cial?

AThe only bees known to die when they sting are species in the genus Apis – the ‘true hon­ey­bees’. The species you are most likely to en­counter in Aus­tralia is the in­tro­duced Euro­pean or western hon­ey­bee, Apis mel­lif­era. A post-sting self-de­struct strat­egy makes sense for such a truly so­cial species be­cause its self-sac­ri­fic­ing work­ers, which sting, are ster­ile and un­able to breed. Their evo­lu­tion­ary suc­cess is based on the suc­cess of the hive, namely the queen and male drones. These bees will lit­er­ally die to pro­tect ‘Queen and colony’.

Most other bee species are soli­tary or semi-so­cial and so have a much larger stake in sur­viv­ing to pro­duce their own young. This also means they can sting mul­ti­ple times and don’t leave their stinger in your skin. But I wouldn’t worry about stings from our na­tive bees – they’re less ag­gres­sive and their stings are usu­ally milder.

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