Honey Bee Q and A, Part 3 – Stinging, Sleeping, and Escaping Birds

This is the third and final installment of my Q and A with a preschool class. In case you missed it, check out “Honey Bee Q and A, Part 1 –  Nectar, Pollen, and Honey”  and “Honey Bee Q and A, Part 2 –  Queens, Bee Bread and Royal Jelly” to get caught up.

Without further ado, here are more questions from preschoolers!

Where do honey bees go to bed?

Bees don’t sleep! How crazy is that? Instead, they go inside the hive and walk around. Sometimes they will pitch in and repair some comb or feed some brood, but bees actually spend about 1/3 of their time just meandering around the hive not really doing anything. That really turns the “busy as a bee” cliché on its ear.

How do honey bees get away from birds?

Oh my goodness! What a funny question. I don’t really have a good answer for this one (at least not one that preschoolers are going to like!). The bees probably fly really fast and do their best to get away from birds. Or maybe they will hide in the grass, but I think a lot of the time, birds catch the bees. The number of bees that get eaten are very small to how many bees are in a colony, so unless you have a whole murder of crows stalking your hive, I think they’ll be alright.

How do honey bees sting?

A bee’s “sting” is a complex structure. It comprises several muscles, glands and hard plates. The most important parts of the sting are the two lances, which are the parts that actually pierce your skin, and the poison sacs, which holds all the bee’s stored venom. The poison sac connects to both of the lances, which are side by side.


When a bee stings, she uses muscles in her abdomen to push the lances out. They pierce whatever she’s stinging, and the barbs catch in their skin. This causes the entire sting – which includes all those glands and muscles I mentioned – to tear off of her body. This is lethal for the bee, but she hasn’t died without cause, since she’s helping to protect her colony.  Interestingly, some insects and other critters’ skin doesn’t catch the barbs like mammalian skin does, so honey bees are able to sting some things without being killed.

Even after the sting has separated from the bee, the muscles surrounding the poison sac continue to pump for thirty seconds to a minute, forcing even more venom through the lances and into the sting site. This can make a painful bee sting really awful, so if you get stung, be sure to pull the stinger out right away!

Why do bees sting?

A sting is worse for the honey bee than it is for you, so a honey bee will generally only sting if it is vital to protect the colony. Usually you have to be near the colony for the bees to perceive you as a threat. A bee who is out gather nectar or pollen will almost never sting.

You still have to be careful though, if you accidentally startle or step on a bee, she may sting you accidentally, and neither of you wants that!


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    June 23, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    […] and once a bee inserts it, it will tear off of her body, taking a small collection of organs (collectively referred to as the “sting”) which can then pump venom into the target for up to a minute after […]

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