We all know that bees can sting. Perhaps, after making honey and pollination, stinging might be what bees are most known for. It may seem obvious that bees protect themselves by using their stinger, but in reality, the sting is a bee’s last resort.
When a bee stings, it kills the bee. The stinger is barbed so when it inserts it into the victim, the stinger embeds itself into the skin. When the bee leaves the victim, the stinger is ripped from its body leaving behind part of the bee’s abdomen.
Stinging is a self sacrificing act from the individual bee to protect the overall well-being of the hive. While the life of each individual bee is important, many times the hive is thought of as a single organism with each bee as a separate cell. Sometimes a bee must be sacrificed to save the hive.
So if stinging is a last resort, what other ways do bees defend themselves and the hive that they belong to?
Older bees to do field work
The life-cycle of a worker bee and the order in which she takes up different hive duties ensures the success of the hive. Field work is the most dangerous work for the bee. When she leaves the hive she leaves the protection and shelter the hive provides against predators, weather conditions and accidents. Young bees tend to the hive and queen, and raise young. As the bee ages and is nearing the end of her life, she is sacrificed to the wild. This natural order ensures the success of the hive against outside dangers.
Nature has a communication system all to its own. In nature, stripes communicate to predatory animals that this barred creature is either poisonous or tastes terrible. The bee honey bee has a striped thorax. This visual communication is so effective that other insects like some caterpillars use mimicry as a defense against predators. By looking similar to dangerous striped creatures, predators think twice before gobbling them up.
Like the stripes, the color yellow on the honey bee also communicates to predators that the bee may be a dangerous choice. Rather than camouflaging to hide the bee, the color yellow makes a statement to stay away.
Protection in numbers
It’s a game of odds, but there is protection in the shear amount of bees that a hive supports. If the hive is attacked, a few bees may be killed but even if half the hive is lost, the hive can recuperate, rebuild and repopulate.
Perhaps the most interesting defense that a hive possesses is its ability to broadcast messages via pheromones. If one part of the hive is being attacked, the bees use pheromones much like a loudspeaker to relay a message as to what to do next.
Likewise if a bee stings a victim, there are pheromones released to let the hive know that there is danger.
If you are ever stung while working with your bees, move away from the hive quickly because a silent message is being sent that you are a dangerous intruder. Other bees may pick up on this message and begin stinging you as well.