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Do Bees Know a Sting Is a Death Sentence?

Last night my 3rd grader was teaching me about personification. She practiced with the table, the car, and then we started talking movies (most conversations end up here with her). I looped in the Bee movie and we discussed why we love to personify bees so much. It seems so natural since they have such a wonderful work ethic and contribute so much to our well-being. It is just their sting that haunts us, but do bees know a sting is a death sentence?

Montgomery Act

Let’s start with the attack. In the court scene, Layton Montgomery puts on quite a show in the courtroom to goad one of the bees into stinging him. As Adam the bee takes the bait and flies abdomen first toward his target (Montgomery’s ripe rump), it is clear that Adam is full of vengeance. When bees attack, do they intend a death sentence for their target?

It is important to remember that a bee’s stinger is s defensive tool. They are not the aggressive natured creatures that the wasp is. If they feel threatened (personal or hive), they will go into defensive mode. Some people are more susceptible to complications than others, but also keep in mind, people are not the usual targets. Bees are typically defending themselves from predatory invaders such as hungry wasps or spiders. They will employ their defensive tactics until the threat is resolved – either through death or fleeing.

Adams Self Assessment

After stinging his tushy target, Adam starts to fade and references loss of feeling in his legs. While we are not entirely sure what a bee does or does not feel in this moment, this is probably close enough to the truth for our purposes. As the bee flees the crime of the stinging scene, his stinger stays embedded in the human target and removes not only the stinger from the bee, but his entrails. This is quite likely to sever several neurological connections.

Barry’s Benevolence

In quite the moment of personification, Barry holds his friend in his arms and coaxes him into staying with him. It seems as though Barry is in the dark as to what fate awaits the stinger-less Adam. When Barry tries to stop the attack was the motivation more for Barry’s case or the preservation of his friend’s life? Perhaps Barry understands Adam is a goner and just hopes he can be the first to not meet the same fate.

Adam’s Bogus Stinger

The key to understanding all of this is the animation error in the moments before the stinger makes contact. Adam’s stinger is portrayed as a harpoon style needle that is smooth on the sides and sharp and penetrating. In reality, bees have a barbed stinger. This allows for more points of attack as they pursue the hive’s defense. With most of their foe, this is beneficial and gives the bee more of an advantage. Unfortunately for both the bee and for the human, the barb does not combine well with flesh. Maybe better said is it combines a little too well. The skin closes around the barb and seals it in with greater strength than the base of the stinger is attached to the bee. This results in the auto-disembowlment post sting.

If a Tree Falls the Forest…

As with the age-old thought experiment involving trees and forests and sounds, if a bee dies for stinging someone, does the hive know? For every bee that dies in the fight against giant human threats, it is unlikely that any bees are hanging around as observers and messengers to pass the word along. If they did, knowing their colony togetherness, you would think they would include a section on barbed stingers and human flesh in Bee Behavior 101.

Avoiding The Sting

For bees, just be nice. Don’t act out the lyrics to Baby Bumble Bee.

For wasps, take them out before they take you out. The stinging insect specialists at Rove Pest Control know where to hunt for wasp and yellow jacket nests to remove the threat. Additionally, we have preventive services that put up barriers to reduce the likelihood of unfriendly wasp encounters.