The question title says it all: are there advantages for the sting of a bee to kill the bee? It seems to me getting rid of this would have only advantages, and might've been selected for if a mutation like that occurred.

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    $\begingroup$ The bees you are most likely to be stung by, do not participate in reproduction. $\endgroup$
    – Seeds
    Apr 21, 2016 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ The ones that do participate in reproduction do not die if they sting you. $\endgroup$
    – Aron
    Apr 25, 2016 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Aron That's an interesting piece of info, if you'd like credit for it, please post it as an answer. $\endgroup$
    – G. Bach
    Apr 25, 2016 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Aron, I believe that bees capable of reproduction do not have stingers. Male bees either get a reproduction organ (drones) or a stinger (workers). Never both. $\endgroup$
    – Octopus
    May 8, 2020 at 10:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Octopus Queens do not have barbed stingers. In some cases Queens (often related) will fight to the death over a hive. $\endgroup$
    – Aron
    May 8, 2020 at 10:51

1 Answer 1


Fitness of the colony vs fitness of a single worker

Bees have a division of reproductive labour (they are eusocial). Only a queen reproduce (and the males called drones) while the workers dedicate their existence to ensure the survival of the colony. If committing suicide will be of any help to the colony then one would expect a bee to do so. What I just said is an oversimplification of the structure and mating systems of bee colonies.

You should have a look at the field of social evolution to have a better understanding of what's going on with bees!

What is the cost?

Above I argued why nobody really cares much if a single worker dies. This being said, if the bee survived to stinging, then it could eventually keep protecting the colony as it was doing before stinging. So why does it has to die? Clearly, there must have a cost to not die. It seems very plausible to me (but cannot offer an evidence for it) that there would be a strong physiological cost to create a stung that that would not kill its carrier. Such physiological cost (even if mild) can by large outweigh the cost of losing a single worker for the colony.

  • $\begingroup$ Re "Only a queen reproduce(s)", surely the drones play a part as well, no? But I think the key here is looking at the survival/fitness of the hive, not individual bees. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Apr 25, 2016 at 6:11
  • $\begingroup$ Well sure. The drones aren't really part of the colony though and they are just fed as larvae and then fly away (although it may vary among species). In some species (of ants at least), workers sometimes take over colonies or reproduce secretly. I'll fix the eventual confusion but we'll keep my answer as simple as it currently is. Thanks for your comment. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Apr 25, 2016 at 6:13
  • $\begingroup$ "Clearly, there must have a cost to not die" I disagree. Evolution is not about optimization. Its about "good enough". A barbed stinger increased the effectiveness of the stinger at the cost of the bee's life. Losing the bee is "good enough". $\endgroup$
    – Aron
    Apr 25, 2016 at 8:09
  • $\begingroup$ My answer is an oversimplification as I did not want to dig into the details of kin selection theory for such a simple question. I don't understand how your metaphors of "what evolution is about" mean. If there was no cost to being able to stung without dying than one would expect variants that do not die to increase frequency. Sure, it is possible that there is a phylogenetic constraint or something similar going on. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Apr 25, 2016 at 15:18

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