Ask an expert
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.