Can Bees Sting Other Bees?

Everyone knows bees sting. It’s their primary method of defense against large animals. But what about smaller things, like insects? Do bees sting other bees? And if so, when?

Yes, bees sting other bees. They do so for the same reason they sting larger animals – to defend their hive. Sometimes bees from other colonies will try to steal resources from them, and they need to prevent that from happening. However, they also sting other bees by accident, when they reject a queen bee, or when the queen bee is asserting her dominance by eliminating all rival queens.

Photo of worker honey bees at the entrance of the beehive

Why Would A Bee Sting Another Bee?

We are all familiar with honey bee stings. You or someone you know has likely been on the receiving end of this painful experience. Bees are usually friendly creatures – they don’t go around stinging things for the sake of it. However, when they feel under threat, they will come hard at whatever is putting them or their colony in danger.

But, what about other bees? Are there any situations where a honey bee would sting a fellow bee?

Yes, bees will sting other bees – here’s why…

To Defend Themselves From Robber Bees

Bees sting to protect their hive and themselves. Usually, they use this effective tactic on large predators like bears, skunks, and humans. But there are times when they need protection from other bees too!

The most common reason a colony of honey bees would attack another is called “robbing.”

Bees use nectar to make honey – an essential food source for bees. When nectar becomes scarce, bees start looking for other ways to get it so they can survive. One of these ways is robbing weaker hives of their nectar and honey. Weak colonies usually have fewer guard bees. Therefore, a strong hive will send groups of worker bees to enter another hive and collect their food and fly back to their hive.

Being able to defend themselves from robber bees is critical. If they are left with no nectar and honey, the colony could die in a matter of weeks.

By Accident

Honey bees are incredibly organized. Worker bees specialize in different tasks throughout their life cycle, ensuring the different jobs in and outside the hive get done in the best way possible.

A critical task is to protect the hive entrance and ensure only colony members, also known as nestmates, are allowed in. That’s why a group of older worker bees called guards bees have the job of standing at the hive entrance to act as the first defense ring. They do this by only allowing nestmates into the beehive using their antennas to identify the characteristic odors of the colony. Then, whenever an intruder tries to enter, the guard bees sting them and bite them to keep them away from their precious home.

Unfortunately, guard bees can also make mistakes and hurt their nestmates accidentally.

As shown by a 2013 study, guard bees’ ability to distinguish colony members from intruders is context-dependent. This means when their surroundings or circumstances change, for example, when there’s a nectar scarcity, they are more likely to make mistakes distinguishing nestmates from non-nestmates. This can make them defensive and sting another bee that is only trying to rejoin the colony.

When A New Queen Is Introduced To The Colony

Queen bees are an essential member of every honey bee colony. That’s why bees have different ways to ensure they replace her if she is sick or dead. Once they notice her absence (or weakness), they’ll select brood and raise them to become potential new queens. However, there are occasions when beekeepers consider it necessary to introduce a queen they have bought or raised outside the hive.

When external queen bees are introduced to a queenless hive, there is always a high chance she will get rejected by her new colony. This is because bees use smells to communicate many things. One of them is whether they belong to that colony or not. As an external queen bee isn’t raised in the colony, her smell won’t match up, and she will be targeted as an intruder. When this happens, bees will bite and sting her until they kill her.

Queen Bees Sting Each Other

When a hive needs a new queen, worker bees will build special queen cells and raise potential new queens inside.

However, every beehive has only one queen bee. Therefore, the first queen to emerge from her cell will destroy the other queen bee cells with her stinger. If multiple queens emerge at the same time, they will fight to the death to determine who gets to rule.

Do Bees Die When They Sting Another Bee?

No, they usually don’t. I know what you must be thinking… Don’t they die when they sting us?

They do. But that is because our skin is about 2mm thick! So, when worker bees sting us, their barbed stinger gets stuck on our skin and detaches from her abdomen when she pulls away, causing her bad enough injuries to kill her.

Photo of a honey bee stinger apparatus attached to a person's finger after a sting

However, when they sting other insects and bees, they can extract their stinger without getting harmed because their skin is thinner.

It would be a lousy defense mechanism if they’d died every time they stung an attacker their size or smaller. Don’t you think?

Another exception to this is the queen bee. Unlike worker bees, queen bees have a smooth stinger. Therefore, they can sting us multiple times. But don’t worry! Queen bees are rarely outside the hive, so it doesn’t happen very often. 

Summing up

Bees can sting other bees, and there are a few reasons why this happens. Most of the time, bees sting other bees defending themselves from robbers from other colonies. In other cases, they do this when they reject a foreign queen or when a new queen bee emerges and needs to eliminate other rival queens.

There are occasions when this can happen by accident, though. Bees that are members of the same colony share the same smells. This is how they distinguish themselves from members of other colonies. However, the bees that guard the beehive entrance sometimes make mistakes and target a nestmate as an intruder stinging her and biting her until she is no longer a “threat.”

Scroll to Top