Bee expert Paula talks us through whether queen bees ever sting.
Queen bees do have a stinger, but as humans, we are unlikely to experience her venom. On the other hand, worker bees have a barbed sting which enters the skin of the victim and hooks in. As the bee tries to fly off, the barb ensures the sting remains in the skin, pulsing venom into its resting place. So as she tries to fly away, her stinger is ripped apart from her abdomen, causing her death. Queen bees do not have a barbed sting and so can sting into skin multiple times and survive.
Worker bees stings are barbed and lodge in skin
The queen's sting is reserved for other queens. When an old queen leaves a colony in a swarm, the remaining bees have to rear a new queen. To ensure success, they raise between 11 and 49 potential queens (Fell & Morse, 1984). The first queen to hatch takes immediate action. She will follow the scent of the other unborn queens and sting them through the wax cell walls. As the colony will have raised many new queens at the same time, a battle begins between hatched queens, who wrestle and sting until only one survives.
It’s not always so violent. On occasions that more than one queen emerges, an agreement is made between them on who is to stay and who should leave. The leaver takes an entourage of foragers with her to form a cast swarm. Survival for the cast swarm, whose queen has not yet been fertilised, is far less likely. But with the support of a sympathetic beekeeper who can house the bees soon after swarming, survival can be ensured. Beekeepers can then be rewarded with a long living queen, and in her second year, perhaps some honey!