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My question is: do bees know they are gonna die when they sting someone? I wonder that because a lot of bees sting people. I think they do not know because if I was a bee I wouldn’t want to die over stinging someone but I do not know and that is my question. Thank you.
Question Date: 2017-12-06
Answer 1:

Almost certainly not. It’s a romantic idea that a single bee will make the ultimate sacrifice to protect the hive, but the truth is that they probably don’t think they’ll die after stinging.

The only bees that die when they sting are honey bees . Bees have evolved for wars between bees and its unlikely that stinging thick-skinned mammals was important.

Honey bees have barbed stingers which are a devastating weapon against other bees. When a barbed stinger is pulled out of another insect, it rips the enemy insect apart. However, humans skin is too thick so when it tries to pull out the stinger, the bee itself is ripped apart. It’s unlikely the bee could know ahead of time that stinging some enemies is fatal.

While a bee may not know that it’ll die after stinging, it is willing to fight to the death. The strange thing about worker bees is that they are more related to their sisters than their children. Therefore, worker bees don’t have children and just protect the queen who will make more sisters for the worker bees. The core idea here is that an organism wants to distribute its genes as much as possible. The worker bees can accomplish this by dying to protect the queen.

Interestingly enough, the queen has a smooth stinger so she can sting a human without dying. However, the queen usually only uses her stinger against rival queens.

Answer 2:

It is difficult to know this for a fact, as it's hard to measure what bees know and what they don't. Assuming that bees know what death is at all, I would suspect that they probably do know that they are going to die.

Bees don't have the same things that they care about that you do as a human. Bees care about their colonies, not about themselves. Dying still isn't good for the colony as it means one fewer workers, but if a bee can save the colony but has to die in order to do so, the bee will die. They don't care about their own lives the way that you do.

Answer 3:

There are lots of species of insects that people might call bees. Let’s focus on honey bees. They die after they sting. There are other stinging insects that look more or less like bees, such as wasps. They do not die after they sting, so they can sting you multiple times.

No, I don’t think bees know that they will die. Bees work on instinct and don’t really know the reasons for what they do. The life of a worker bee is mostly about sacrificing herself. Bees have a very interesting society. Males mate with the queen, then die soon after. All of the other bees are female. A worker bee will start her life caring for young inside the hive. As she gets older, she starts hunting for nectar and pollen to bring back to the hive. Those are the bees you see flying around. Some will become guards of the hive. These worker bees will only live about 40 days, so if they sting someone on day 35 of their lives, they have not lost a lot of time.

Queen bees live for up to 5 years. You almost never see a queen because she spends most of her life in the hive.

So why should a worker bee do all of this and never have any babies herself? One answer is that the chemicals of the queen control her. Another reason is that she is raising relatives that will pass on her genes. She doesn’t know that either. Understanding how insect societies like this evolved takes a bit of genetics and a bit of math, but it’s something you may want to study.

Thanks for asking.

Answer 4:

The brain of a bee is much smaller and simpler than a human brain, so it is difficult to know if bees are aware they are going to die when they sting someone. Bees lack a developed frontal cortex so it is unlikely they can think abstractly about sacrificing themselves for the greater good.

Bees live in highly organized societies and it is better to think of individual bees as simple agents that follow very simple instinctual rules that are genetically programed into them. Worker bees are the bees that sting and they cannot reproduce on their own. Their only purpose is to ensure the survival of the hive. If they think that the hive is threatened they will instinctively sting to protect the hive. Since the bees that sting don’t reproduce on their own and cannot themselves pass on their own genes, it is an evolutionary advantage for the colony to have self-sacrificing bees, because it ensures the colony will survive to pass on its genetic information.

For bees, ants, and termites that live in very complex social structures, it is better to think of the hive or colony as a whole being more important than the individuals. As an analogy, you are made of many individual cells, but as a whole person, you are more important than any single cell. All the individual cells work together for the survival of the whole organism.

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