Here's Why A Honeybee Sting Is Worse For The Bee

Bee stings: They're not fun, and if you're allergic to bee venom, they can be deadly. Those severely allergic to bees go into what's called anaphylactic shock. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 60 people each year die from stings in the U.S. on average. For most of us, though, a bee sting is a minor — if painful — nuisance that might detract from an otherwise pleasant day outdoors.

But when a certain family of bees — honeybees — stings a mammal, the result is always much worse for the insect than it is for the unfortunate creature it targeted (so long as it wasn't allergic). The reason the outcome of a honeybee sting is so bad for the bee has to do with one unique part of its anatomy: its pronged stingers, which are literally torn off the insect once the sting is complete. What happens next to the insect after it stings you is quite gruesome — at least from the bee's perspective.

Honeybee stingers have prongs on them

Unlike other types of bee, the honeybee stinger has prongs on it. Another little-known fact is that no matter the species of bee, only female bees sting because male bees don't have stingers. Unlike the honeybee, wasps and hornets not only live after they sting you — they can sting you repeatedly. To be at the center of a wasp or hornet swarm can kill you, even if you're not allergic to the venom. There are also many species of stingless bees.

No matter the bee, females usually only sting when they're threatened or attacked or when they're defending the hive. When left to go about their business undisturbed, it's rare that most species of bee will sting you. Bumblebees, though they can sting, are quite passive. As mentioned, most bees have smooth stingers that puncture the skin of their target, injecting venom. Those stingers can then be pulled back out as the bee lives to sting another day. The same can't be said for the honeybee and its pronged stinger.

The stinger gets stuck in the skin

Accordingly, due to the construction of the honeybee stinger, once inserted into thick-skinned creatures like humans or other mammals — threaded something like a screw — the stinger works its way deeper and deeper into the skin. Venom is then injected into the puncture point from sacs in the bee's abdomen. Once the female honeybee tries to pull the stinger back out, it's lodged so deeply that the unfortunate creature rips off the lower part of its abdomen and the guts attached to it. In a sense, the bee then bleeds to death.

Even more horrific than that, the detached stinger continues to pump venom into the skin after it's been ripped from the bee's body, which is why it's important to remove a honeybee stinger if you've been stung. The injured bee sometimes lives for several hours after the sting happens. When asked if female honeybees know they'll die after they sting you, Washington State University molecular biologist Nicholas Naeger told LiveScience: "I do not think that honeybees understand that they are going to die when they sting, but under the right circumstances, they are very willing to give up their lives for defense of the colony."