Evolution of the common honey bee's stinger

Evolution of the common honey bee's stinger

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Has the common Honey Bee evolved a stinger designed for penetrating human skin so it will cause as much damage possible even if it means death? A honey bee can sting other insects and mammals more than just once, but that is not the case when inserted in the skin of a human it will be the bee's first and last sting.

The current form of the honey bee's stinger has evolved barbs. These barbs will cause the bee to lose its stinger in human skin giving the stinger more time to eject the apitoxin and apis virus into the nervous system causing extreme pain and for some anaphylaxis a severe allergic reaction.

Question- With the information and references I have provided, is there evidence that the Honey Bee's stinger has evolved specifically to be more effective against humans?

The answer to the question "has evolution designed the common Honey Bee's stinger solely for stinging man-kind?" is no.

A honey bee's barbed stinger remains in the skin of any mammal afterwards due to its elasticity (skin closes back around the base after penetration) but can be retracted after stinging another insect. It isn't a human-specific thing. Presumably this is because it takes more toxin to dissuade a mammalian predator than an insect given their size. A little dose of toxin is released straight away but in order to deliver a dose large enough to irritate a large predator the venom sac needs to remain attached. The resultant damage kills a sterile worker bee but removes an attacking predator that could do much more damage; it is a strategy that confers a selective advantage.

The reference you cited doesn't appear to say anything about other mammals, just other animals, so this doesn't actually contradict your other source. Insects are animals too!

"Stingers in bees evolved from ovipositors", here is a good reference of how bee stinger have evolved.

The defense of the honey bee, having a barbed stinger which continues to pump venom even after the bee is swatted away by the intruder, (be it a human or a bear or other animal), is called "sting autonomy." When defending against a large mammal, the more stings the more likely to have an impact.

The reason the honey bee colony can afford to lose many guard bees in this manner is that they are a highly social species, called eusocial, or truly social (the highest level of social structure). The colony typically has 10s of thousands of members, and the queen is constantly laying eggs to replace lost workers, which usually only live 4-6 weeks, in normal summer activity.

Only the social bees are likely to sting you. Most bees are not social. The honey bee is the exception, so most bees will not sting you (if you can even find them). There are 3600 other species in the US besides honey bees, (which represent one, single species). And furthermore, honey bees will not sting you unless you approach or open their nest, (or grab one in your hand, or crush one) which is unlikely to happen accidentally. They will not attack you unless they are defending their nest- never at a flower! I doubt you have ever been stung by a honey bee, as most people confuse them with yellow jackets, which are not bees, but social wasps. The yellow jacket also has a barbed stinger but much smaller barb (and a much more defensive temperament), so it may or may not get stuck in your skin.

You can read all about stinging insects in the wonderful book, The Sting of the Wild, by Justin O. Schmidt. Bee Well! - Carl the Beekeeper (Cornell University Master Beekeeper)

The Institute for Creation Research

A key type of rogue genetic data called orphan genes has just been spectacularly reported in honey bees. 1 Orphan genes conflict with ideas about genome evolution, and they are directly linked with the evolutionary enigma of phenotypic novelty, unique traits specific to a single type of creature.

Many creatures possess similar sets of genes that produce proteins with similar biochemical functions. Common genetic code would be a predicted feature of purposefully engineered biological systems in creatures that share the same environment and have somewhat similar life requirements. In addition to these common genes, different kinds of organisms also have unique sets of coding sequences specific to that type of creature called orphan genes. In a review paper about orphan genes, the authors stated, "Comparative genome analyses indicate that every taxonomic group so far studied contains 10&ndash20% of genes that lack recognizable homologs [similar counterparts] in other species." 2

Orphan genes are increasingly found to be incredibly important for specific biological processes and traits that correspond with specialized adaptations related to the creature's lifestyle and its interaction with its environment&mdashphenotypic novelty. 1,3 The problem for the evolutionary model of animal origins is the fact that these novel DNA sequences, and the unique traits they are often associated with, appear suddenly and fully functional without any trace of evolutionary ancestry. In a previous ICR news article, it was shown how several recent studies in both fish and insect genomes have highlighted the important anti-evolutionary aspect of orphan genes. 4 However, this new honey bee study is the best yet at showing how orphan genes are strongly connected to wide variety of novel adaptive traits.

Honey bees are an ideal system for understanding the role that orphan genes play in phenotypic novelty. While there are more than 20,000 characterized species of bees in the world, the majority are not social. Social bees live in large colonies where a queen lays the eggs and lots of specialized workers keep the community going. Specialized body organs that facilitate this type of complex societal system are the mandibular and Nanasov glands which make pheromones (airborne chemical messages) that allow elaborate communication among colony members. The specialized hypopharyngeal glands allow for the production of food for young developing bees. These unique glands are either missing or performing some other purpose in the solitary bee species. 1 In addition, social bee stinger-gland chemistry is specialized for defense against vertebrates while in solitary bees it is targeted to battle invertebrates. Other highly specialized features associated with sociality are found in the honey bee antennae as well.

As it turns out, orphan genes unique to social honey bees (Apis mellifera) play an important role in all the different glands and organs mentioned above where gene expression was specifically measured and quantified in each structure. Even the brain and midgut were found to contain significant levels of orphan-gene expression&mdashwhich makes sense in light of the honey bees' unique social behavior and diet. And not only are orphan genes uniquely expressed in specific organs, they were also found to play a major role in gene expression differences between forager and nurse workers. While bees initially grow and develop using the same genome, epigenetic changes (chemical tags in the chromosomes) allow them to diversify into two different specialized social roles in the colony. 5

Not only do these orphan genes and amazing creature-specific traits challenge evolution, they also help creationists understand the patterns of genetic structure related to created kinds. While there are obvious differences between bees and other types of insects that clearly defy evolution on a grand scale, understanding orphan genes may prove to be a valuable tool in sorting out the created diversity among bee kinds and understanding patterns of design in genomes.


Years ago I flipped over a piece of plywood and uncovered a nest of bumbles. One flew up and stung me on the stomach through my shirt. I still have a knot from it.

The worst sting I ever had was from a Conga ant on the Napo river in Ecuador where I was a Peace Corps Vol. in the 70’s. I watched the stinger come out and arch into the tip of my index finger. The pain shot up a nerve in my arm and then I felt it come back down to my hand. My arm and hand were in pain for the rest of the day & still hurt some the following day. I believe that ants are said to be more closely related genetically to bees than wasps.

…hurts just hearing about it !

Worst case scenario anaphylactic shock. How does one recognize it in ones self and others? What is the first responder’s appropriate actions to anaphylactic shock?

Wrong website. Try one of the medical sites for answers to these questions. When I’ve seen anaphylactic shock, the person’s palms started to itch, and then they had trouble breathing, but I think the symptoms can be different depending on the individual. Any one who knows they are prone to anaphylaxis should carry an Epi-pen.

Hi Rusty,
Leaving the medical details aside, it would be interesting to hear testimonies from people who develop sensitivity reactions to bee stings and how they deal with it.
I myself developed a sensitivity reaction a few months after getting my first bee hive, last year, and had to get a steroid and anti-histamine shot on my second bee sting within a month. It was a bit scary the first time round.
I have had a specialist consultation, checked for specific antibodies against bee, paper wasp and Vespa sp. wasp venom to ascertain the degree of my body reaction to these venoms and now carry with me at all times both anti-histamine pills, corticosteroid pills and epi-pen (adrenaline/epinephrine) shots.
Thankfully, on my next 3 stings (so far) I have been able to control symptoms with just pills, I never developed full anaphylactic symptoms such as difficulty breathing or low blood tension. So, I keep on trying to find ways to avoid further stings but I am unable, for now, to give up on keeping bees, I love it too much.
The doctor that saw me did complain about this. She says that she doesn’t understand what it is about bee keeping but she always fails to convince people that go to her to give up bee keeping. She is a specialist in venom dessenssitivation therapy (‘vaccination’ for venom) for the people with anaphylactic reactions. When she told me the safest option would be to give it up I told her I would like to avoid that as I love it too much. She sighed and said that was the typical answer and she has learned to live with the reticence of bee keepers to give it up. So she gave me advices on how best to avoid being stung and how to deal with it when it happens and what cares to take.
I didn’t qualify for the venom vaccination as my reaction wasn’t deemed life-threatning so far (thankfully) , and I have fortunately been able to control it with pills. I did get stung once on my scalp and my face became quite ‘funny’. My lips looked like Angelina Jolie’s and my eyes got burried in edema. As I was waiting for the pill effects to kick in and I had rushed to my neighbours house so someone could administer the epinephrine shot to me should I need it and was unable to do it myself it was in a strange way kind of funny to watch myself in the mirror. But not looking forward for it to happen again.
How do people deal with it in the States or elsewhere? It would be interesting to hear other beekeepers experience of it and how they went about dealing with it.
Mind you, in no way do I intend to take lightly something that can and does kill people, sometimes extremely fast. Someone with full anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting can go into shock and die within a couple of minutes, it isn’t something to take lightly and the epi-pen should be right next to someone with allergic reactions.
But maybe people can share how they learned to cope with their less serious allergic reaction to bee venom and their strategies to avoid being stung.

Speaking as a beekeeper that has recently undergone an anaphylactic reaction to a honeybee sting, you are correct. A non-localized reaction is one sign. My mistake was thinking that breathing trouble was always a symptom, there are many more.

Yeah, I think that WebMD might be a far more appropriate site to get info on anaphylaxis…..

I keep an epi-pen on hand at my home, where I keep my hives. (Just ask your doctor for a prescription it shouldn’t be a problem.) This is just in case someone who doesn’t know they really ARE allergic to bee stings gets stung. (Actually, I wish I had a nickel for all the times a friend told me they are allergic to bees, when they’re really not.)


Both honey bees and paper wasps are members of the order Hymenoptera and suborder Apocrita. Being well-known pollinators, honey bees feed on pollen and nectar and attack when provoked or threatened. While paper wasps, preying upon or parasitizing other insects and scavengers (e.g. caterpillars, flies, and beetle larvae), and sometimes sipping on nectar, are more aggressive predators. Therefore, a paper wasp uses its sting more frequently than a honey bee. Our experiments reveal that the stings of honey bees and paper wasps, though with similar biological functions and chemical constituents, have evolved distinctly different structures and mechanical behaviors. Their stings, derived from ovipositors, have multiple functions, e.g. attack, defense, and prey carriage. FTIR spectra indicate that both the stings of honey bees and paper wasps consist mainly of chitosan. As a deacetylated derivative of chitin, chitosan widely exists in, e.g. bacteria, animals, and plants (Rinaudo, 2006). It is a key constituent in the exoskeleton of diverse crustaceans, e.g. crayfishes, shrimps and crabs (Zhao et al., 1998), and contributes to their superior mechanical properties, e.g. high elastic modulus and toughness. It is noted that the stings of honey bees and paper wasps are both flexible because of their small diameters and hollow structures. It is difficult for us to pierce them into, for example, a porcine skin, after the insects have been dead. The sting shaft possesses an elegant microstructure and the insects themselves have mastered refined insertion skills, for example, regulation of the piercing direction. Each sting has three main components, including one stylet and two lancets. Resorting to the interlocking mechanism, the lancets can slide freely on the two rails of the stylet. The stylet with a bevel tip can easily wedge the wounds. The lancets have hollow structures, rending efficient material utilization and improved mechanical properties.

The stings of both honey bees and paper wasps are featured by barbs. The lancets literally saw through the victim's fresh as each in turn is thrust forward and anchored in place by their barbs (Akre et al., 1981). The barbs have unique biological and mechanical functions, for example, to help efficiently hold preys and prevent them from slipping off the sting. During the insertion of a sting into a tissue, the barbs may reduce the penetration force through two main mechanisms. First, owing to the barb-induced stress concentration in the tissue, the sting can cut the tissue more easily (Cho et al., 2012). Second, tissue fluids can be squeezed out at the barb positions and serve as lubricants. Thereby, the decreased coefficient of friction helps to reduce the penetration force.

The Janus-faced barbs of a honey bee sting, albeit their significance to some advanced biomechanical functions, may result in a difficult removal. During the penetration of a honey bee sting into a fibrous tissue (e.g. skin), its barbed lancets saw their way into the wound. The barbs may interact with the substrate and be anchored by tissue fibers, making the sting difficult to be withdrawn. When the honey bee needs to pull away, its sting may be lodged and torn loose from the abdomen, or even ripped out together with some internal organs and left in the victim tissue, if the tissue has higher elastic modulus and strength. The honey bee will die within a few hours or days (Haydak, 1951) due to the massive abdominal rupture. Our penetration–extraction tests on silica gel demonstrate that the barbs also lead to a difficult removal of the sting from a non-fibrous substrate. By contrast, the stings of paper wasps can be repeatedly used to penetrate both non-fibrous and fibrous tissues.

During its insertion into a victim, the honey bee adjusts its posture by bending and twisting the abdomen. The sting has been entirely thrust out before getting in contact with the victim surface and is like a nail ready for driving in. Due to its large slenderness, the sting is vulnerable to axial buckling. Therefore, the honey bee continuously tunes the penetration angle in order to prevent the sting from buckling. The barbs on the lancets also play an important role in the penetration process of the sting. The row of barbs is skewed to the sting axis with an angle of ∼8°, and correspondingly the sting has an axial rotation during penetration (Wu et al., 2014). The helical rotation helps the sting tip bypass the tissue fibers or hard components, rendering an easier piercing. This refined penetration skill of honey bees is somewhat like the acupuncture and moxibustion in traditional Chinese medicine therapy.

Different from the straight morphology of honey bee stings, paper wasp stings have a relatively large intrinsic curvature. A paper wasp would not thrust its sting out until it gets in contact with the victim surface. Differing from the honey bee sting, which pierces into the substrate like a straight nail, a paper wasp sting penetrates a materials along a curved or arc path. A paper wasp sting has a reinforcing rib in the middle of the stylet ventral, which improves its buckling resistance (supplementary material Fig. S3). While the stylet of a honey bee sting does not have such a reinforcement (supplementary material Fig. S4). At the beginning of insertion, the paper wasp adjusts its sting forepart to skew into the victim surface. In the penetration–extraction tests, the sting forepart is mounted to keep perpendicular to the substrate surface and the sting base is clamped and rotation prohibited. Due to the intrinsic curvature, the basal part and forepart of the sting have an inclined angle with respect to the substrate surface. Therefore the curved sting is subjected to a bending moment and may axially lodge during its insertion of the relatively stiff silica gel. In order to prevent the sting from buckling, the paper wasp gradually decreases its penetration angle during insertion. The barbs on the paper wasp stings are much smaller than those on the honey bee stings. To avoid their barbs being anchored by tissue fibers, the lancets assume a spiral shape. When submerged in the victim, the originally curved sting will be straightened. The barbs, hidden in the broad stylet, have little interaction with the substrate. In comparison with the honey bee stings, the paper wasp stings are easier to be extracted from the wound. Therefore, both the intrinsic curved shape of the sting and the spiral morphologies of its two lancets are crucial for the paper wasp stings to rapidly penetrate into and readily extract from the attacked body.

Following the above results and discussions, some similarities and differences of the stings of honey bees and paper wasps are summarized in Table 1.

Similarities and differences of honey bee stings and paper wasp stings

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Let bees be bees

Thomas Seeley reviews a half century of research, mostly conducted by himself and his colleagues on the ecology, evolution, and natural history of wild honey bees. He provides insights into how bees reproduce, how they forage, and how they defend the colony. The final chapter, “Darwinian beekeeping” discusses how ecological and evolutionary principles can be incorporated into the practice of beekeeping.

Thomas Seeley, bee enthusiast and Horace White Professor of Biology at Cornell University has written a wonderful book, The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild. This book explores the natural history, ecology, and evolution of honey bees (Apis meliferia). It primarily focuses on studies Seeley and his colleagues have done with wild bees around Ithaca, New York, where Seeley lives. Seeley who has been enraptured by bees since 1963, presents an authoritative and engaging account of why bees still fascinate him. The book should be of interests to students, educators, and professional biologists.

Seeley refers to honey bees as “honey bees”. My spellchecker wants to call them “honeybees”. I was not sure of the correct terminology, but I assumed that Seeley was likely correct. After some digging, I found out not only that Seeley was correct but also why. In his classic Anatomy of the Honey Bee, Snodgress (1956, P. vii) notes:

“Regardless of dictionaries, we have in entomology a rule for insect common names that can be followed. It says: If the insect is what the name implies, write the two words separately otherwise run them together. Thus we have such names as house fly, blow fly, and robber fly contrasted with dragonfly, caddisfly, and butterfly, because the latter are not flies, just as an aphislion is not a lion and a silverfish is not a fish. The honey bee is an insect and preeminently a bee ‘honeybee’ is equivalent to ‘Johnsmith’.”

In honey bees, the reproductive individual is the colony. Reproduction is limited to just the queen except under very rare circumstances, female workers do not reproduce. Seeley says that we should consider the honey bee colony to be much like an apple tree with respect to their reproductive biology. Both are functionally hermaphrodites: the females and males of an apple tree are the seeds and pollen, respectively while those of the honey bee colony are the queen and the drones. Females in both are enclosed in a protective covering: the delicious apple and the swarm of workers that surround the queen. In contrast to the protected female part, males in both are cheap and exposed. Males in both are produced in much greater quantities than the females.

Continuing the discussion of honey bee reproductive biology, Seeley addresses reproductive allocation. Evolutionary theory predicts that organisms will allocate resources equally to males and females (Hardy 2002). Do honey bee colonies follow this rule? Seeley first reminds us that the total female reproductive investment includes not just the queen, but also the workers in the surrounding swarm. He then presents work he and colleagues conducted determining the mass of male and female reproductive investment. They found that the total mass of the queens and workers in the swarm is 391 g (about 14 oz). For drones, the figure was not too much different—332 g (not quite 12 oz). Accordingly, the bees appear to follow the rules, investing comparable amounts in male and female reproduction.

Honey bees are distinct from most other bees. Nearly every other bee lives on an annual cycle. They reproduce and gather enough food to provide for their young, but then they die off, with the young persisting in the winter in a suspended amination state (diapause) until conditions permit them to develop (Embry 2018). Like the apple trees, honey bees are perennials. The colony goes on with active bees throughout the winter, even in areas of North America like Ithaca, New York where it can get and stay frigid for long stretches. The perennial lifestyle of honey bees necessitates that they gather large quantities of food to store for the winter. Seeley has shown that honey bee colonies in his neck of the woods consume an average of about 80 kg (176 lb) of honey and pollen combined each year! Seeley devotes considerable space to the mechanisms by which these bees go about collecting these mass quantities of food.

Being active over the long, cold winter also necessitates that bees thermoregulate. And honey bees excel at thermoregulation! The bees are essentially homotherms (warm blooded). Seeley walks us through the remarkable means by which bees alter their behavior upon temperature changes. The choice of nest is also important: as those living in cold climates can appreciate, lots of insulation cuts down on the heating costs. Honey bees also have several mechanisms by which they can cool off if it gets too hot during the summer. Among these is using water for evaporative cooling.

Seeley considers bees to be semidomesticated, instead of domesticated. He argues, “The human-animal relationship for honey bees is fundamentally different from that of cattle, chickens, horses, and other farm animals. In all of these species, selection is steered almost entirely by human hands for life…” (P. 80). In contrast, most of the selection on bees is natural selection, not imposed by human hands. Until about a century ago, we have not been able to systematically control the reproductive biology of bees. There are ecotypes of bees, but no breeds of bees, as in dogs. We have gotten bees to do our bidding more by changing their environment than by changing their genes. Some of these changes, such as the close spacing of bees in commercial beekeeping, have had unintended consequences. Close spacing appears to increase the risk of pathogens and parasites.

Honey bees are not native to the Americas Bees collected in central New York State are genetically mainly from the southern European subspecies that came to America starting in the latter half of the 19th century. A sizeable, but minority, proportion comes from the northern European subspecies that came over with the first waves of Europeans. The overall genetic composition of the wild bees in the area had not changed much since the 1970s. Seeley and his group were able to reach these conclusions because Seeley had collected bees from areas near Cornell in 1977 and had deposited those bees in the Cornell University Insect Collection. Then his group collected bees more recently and sequenced both the museum and the more recent samples (Mikheyev et al. 2015). This study illustrates the value of insect collections and natural history museums in general for evolutionary biology research (Holmes et al. 2016).

This same study (Mikheyev et al. 2015) also provided insight into the impacts of an invasion of mites (Varroa destructor) on wild bees in the area. These mites had invaded the area and caused havoc on wild and commercial bees alike in between the times of the first and subsequent samples of bees. The post-mite sample showed much reduced genetic diversity in the maternally-inherited mitochondrial DNA, but little change in the diversity at the nuclear genome, This difference is likely because bees are outcrossing and each of the queens mating with many males. The study also found the signatures of selection on several genes–notably AmDOP3, which is linked to hygienic behavior. Perhaps further study of this gene will provide insight into engineering bees that are resistant to the mites.

Seeley concludes the book with a chapter on using insights from the ecology and evolutionary biology of bees to have beekeeping that would generate more healthy bees. He calls this Darwinian beekeeping. He suggests using bees that are adapted to the local environment for example, bees from Georgia probably would not do that well in Ithaca, New York. He also suggests spacing out bee colonies to limit the spread of mites and disease. Just as we have been social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus, wild bees appear to engage in social distancing. Other recommendations include using smaller, and well-insulated hives. In summary, Darwinian beekeeping entails letting bees be bees.

Pollinator Partnerships

“Now the first of December was covered in snow,
So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston . . .”

There is only the spin of my tires on the road, an occasional squeak of wiper blades, and the whoosh of cars passing as I drive along the Mass Pike. Insistent flakes announce winter and these lyrics fill my head in the absence of any music, connecting moment to memory, even if it is a day shy of December 1st. Exiting south toward I-395 and through The Quiet Corner of northeastern Connecticut, the traffic dwindles and I let the song unwind in my brain, taking in the landscape that rolls by.

Two hawks pose on leafless branches, sitting tall and regal. I imagine them dressed in the saffron robes of Buddhist monks, meditative awareness turned inward, when in fact they are acutely aware of their surroundings and the possibility of a hapless rodent that might venture within striking distance.

In the tunnels created by the woods along the highway, it seems there is nothing for miles, just a ribbon of blacktop connecting one place to another. But at the crests of these undulating hills, I can look out past the highway signs and over the young trees to see the work of human hands on the land. Peering down exit ramps, there were convenience stores and gas stations I imagine towns nestled further down the road, and sprawling commercial areas. Looking further out into the distant hills, the evidence of this fragmentation is softened by the veil of snow. Mostly leafless, the hardwoods stretch their limbs upward, golden spires of birch trees with leaves still hanging on reach through the gray. Evergreens lend a sense of life, though everything about these hills breathes at the slower pace of approaching winter.

In the same way that time expands and contracts on a long drive, I watch the road cuts rise up and fall away, playing with geologic time in my mind. Parts of the highway are carved into the earth, exposing the millennia in one sweep of the eye. The deep, deep past is at eye level and lifting my gaze to the top of the rock face, the present looms 60 feet up. This is topped by brave saplings, the dormant buds on the tips of their branches representing the future, when they will leaf out next spring. These rock layers are pages of geologic and biological history, to be read in order, bottom to top. When did the insects appear in these pages? Is there a glassine wing or a tiny fragment of an exoskeleton pressed between these layers of rock laid down in the Mesozoic Era?

Though insects first evolved 479 million years ago, along with the first land plants in the Paleozoic Era, most modern insect species originated about 345 million years ago. It wasn’t until the evolution of flowering plants 146 million years ago that plants and many insects, honeybees among them, formed a partnership that benefits both to this day. Flowers provide nectar and pollen for insects. In turn, insects help to ensure the next generation of so many of the flowering plants we know today by transferring pollen among flowers, allowing fertilization. That’s the simple story interactions in the natural world are so much more intricately woven, with exceptions and variations galore. But the bottom line is we wouldn’t enjoy the diversity of plants we do today if it weren’t for pollinating insects.

Their visual world is full of runways, bulls-eyes, and landing strips, the intricate patterns of flower petals leading the way to the nectar and pollen. Since plants generally can’t move to find other plants when the call to make more of themselves arises, this is a definite advantage. They need pollinators.

A bee that lands and taxis down the runway to the nectar source brushes up against pollen-laden anthers, the male parts of the flower. Pollen is flower sperm, just sticky enough to cling to the legs of a roving insect. Once this insect has sipped its fill of nectar, it flies off in search of another flower which is more than likely the same species, given they are in the same area and that many flowers have specific bloom times. Taxiing down the runway again, it brushes up against more pollen and against the stigma, the female part of the flower. The stigma is sticky, grabbing pollen, which makes its way down through the stamen to the ovaries lying at its base.

The beauty of a flower gives way to the bounty of fruit, with seeds at its core to produce a new generation of plants. Going to seed, a term used by gardeners, is a direct result of pollination. Often a term associated with being spent, done, it is not at all. Plants that lie dormant this time of year, leafless and forlorn, are snapshots of the next generation. There is new life and energy in every seed. Not every plant is pollinated by insects wind, water and other animals have their own plant partners. But some of our most beloved fruits, nuts and vegetables – almonds, apples, oranges, tomatoes, to name a few – are pollinated by honey bees and their relations. All these pollinators ask of a plant is a bit of nectar and pollen in return.

A gray pickup rumbles by, a Pest Control logo sprawled across its tailgate, with a bumblebee for embellishment. “Bees are not pests, they’re pollinators!” I grumble at its receding tailgate. “If anything, put a termite on your logo.” To be fair, even termites have their place in the grand scheme of things but it annoys me that so many people might get the wrong impression. Of course, wasps are also considered pests, but they’re pollinators as well. It’s all a matter of time and place. Out in an orchard, certain species of wasps work beside honey bees and bumblebees to move pollen from flower to flower so that the plant will bear the fruit that we eat. So do flesh flies. And butterflies. Even mosquitoes, beetles and hoverflies practice pollination. Some pollinators are more honored or at least better tolerated than others.

There are many accounts of how humans would be hard pressed to eat if it weren’t for pollinators. Mark L. Winston, author of Bee Time, points out that 65% of plant species currently inhabiting this planet require or benefit from bee pollination. “A world without bees would be almost impossible to contemplate and likely one in which we would never have evolved in the first place.” Imagine going back hundreds of millions of years to pre-flowering plant days – how dismal. No apples, no almonds, no blueberries, no zucchini. No tomatoes or basil to drizzle with olive oil indeed, no olives. Not even leafy plants like lettuce which, if it has ever bolted in your garden patch, sends up flowers that seem especially attractive to bees. No clover, ryegrass, or fescue for beef or dairy cattle and therefore, no beef or dairy cattle. Oh, we could probably come up with a high-tech way to pollinate these plants but the cost of bringing fruits like avocados, apples and cherries to market would skyrocket. So would beef and dairy products.

Scientists are discovering that the decline in bee populations, both managed honeybees and wild bees, is due to many interacting causes and they’re pouring their efforts into these problems, on a grass-roots level and a national level. On this deserted stretch of highway when I look out into the stillness of snow falling on so many trees, it’s hard to believe that the earth is in such dire straits. But I don’t live in Beijing, or Antarctica, or amidst the wildfires of the west coast. One can’t get too cozy in one’s cocoon.

Turning into my driveway at the end of my trip, my apiary stands empty. The sad news is that I lost my last hive recently, the rain-soaked fall and probably other factors proving too much for the colony. An empty apiary looks disheartening. But it also begs to be filled come spring, so I’ll do my research and order 2 more hives. For starts.

As a hobby beekeeper, I know that even two small hives can make a difference. And that’s the unique thing about beekeepers. The vast majority of us think this way, whether we manage 2 hives or 200. We’re not willing to let pollinators languish. It’s not just for selfish reasons, because we like almonds or avocados. Or honey. It’s because these tiny creatures have found their way into our hearts and scientific minds, and they challenge us to help them overcome the diseases that plague them, and to be their advocate in finding ways to thrive on this human-dominated Earth.

By the way, I just read a very comprehensive article on beekeeping duties for the month of December posted by Beekeeping 365.
I especially like #10 and #14. Oh, and Happy Birthday, Lorenzo Langstroth!

New research deepens mystery about evolution of bees' social behavior

Annapolis, MD May 26, 2021--A new study has mounted perhaps the most intricate, detailed look ever at the diversity in structure and form of bees, offering new insights in a long-standing debate over how complex social behaviors arose in certain branches of bees' evolutionary tree.

Published today in Insect Systematics and Diversity, the report is built on an analysis of nearly 300 morphological traits in bees, how those traits vary across numerous species, and what the variations suggest about the evolutionary relations between bee species. The result offers strong evidence that complex social behavior developed just once in pollen-carrying bees, rather than twice or more, separately, in different evolutionary branches--but researchers say the case is far from closed.

Diego Sasso Porto, Ph.D., has been studying the structure and form, or morphology, of bees for more than a decade, and his latest effort ventures into a longstanding conundrum about bee evolution. Corbiculate bees--those that possess corbicula, or pollen baskets, on their hind legs--encompass honey bees, stingless bees, bumble bees, and orchid bees. Among them, honey bees and stingless bees are the only groups with highly complex social behaviors, such as forming large colonies with queens, workers, and drones. Bumble bees display less complex sociality, and orchid bees are mostly solitary. Traditional morphological analyses have long indicated that honey bees and stingless bees are most closely related and that complex social behavior developed in their common ancestor before the groups diverged. However, in the 1990s, emergent techniques in molecular genetic analysis began to show that stingless bees and bumble bees were the more closely related "sister" groups, which would mean that honey bees and stingless bees each developed their complex social behavior independently, after their ancestral paths diverged.

Ever since, these different lines of evidence have persisted as a notorious case of incongruence between molecular and morphological data sets in animals. Porto, now a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech, made his foray into the debate amid his doctoral work at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, under the guidance of Eduardo Almeida, Ph.D., co-author on the new study.

"The main criticism from some molecular researchers against morphology, and even from morphologists themselves, was we don't have enough data," Porto says. "This work was a big effort to try to get the best morphological data set we could ever get for this group of bees, and we tried several analyses to see if the problem is with morphological data itself or the way we interpret morphological data."

Porto evaluated past morphological studies of bees and then conducted new analysis of specimens from 53 species, dissecting each, imaging anatomical structures under optical and scanning electron microscopes, and ultimately scoring all of the specimens across 289 different traits. Often minute or even microscopic in detail, these traits ranged from the number of teeth on a bee's mandibles to the arrangement of barbs on its stinger.

With this massive trove of morphological data in hand, Porto applied multiple types of computerized statistical analyses to evaluate the possible phylogenies, or "family trees," that delineate the relationships among bee species. The results strongly support previous morphological findings, that honey bees (tribe Apini) and stingless bees (Meliponini) are most closely related. "The evidence from our dataset, if we just take it at plain sight, is really strong. We have a lot of traits supporting this," says Porto.

But, he sought to further explore the discrepancy between what molecular genetic analysis shows and what his own morphological data supports. To do so, Porto ran his data through a separate analysis that evaluated how well the morphological data could fit with the evolutionary tree supported by molecular analysis--that Meliponini and Bombini (bumble bees) are most closely related. As expected, it was not a great fit--a bit like putting a square peg in a round hole--but they were not completely incompatible, he says.

In their report in Insect Systematics and Diversity, Porto and Almeida offer a few hypotheses for evolutionary processes that could explain the continuing discrepancy in lines of evidence about corbiculate bee evolution.

"Morphological data is telling us one story, and molecular data is telling us another story. We are not going anywhere if we just keep these conflicting discussions," says Porto. "So, our decision was . let's try to interpret the alternative scenario with our data. If the hypothesis given by molecular data is true, how can we interpret our strong morphological evidence for the other hypothesis?"

One possible explanation, they say, is that, if bumble bees and stingless bees share a common ancestor that first branched away from honey bees, they then rapidly diverged in a short time frame and evolved separately for much longer, gradually obscuring the shared traits bumble bees and stingless bees once had. Moreover, the earliest ancestor of stingless bees is believed to have been relatively small, and "miniaturization" is known to drive structural simplifications in anatomical traits, which would have further contributed to erasing similarities between bumble bees and stingless bees.

However, these possibilities don't explain why stingless bees then evolved to become more morphologically similar to honey bees, but Porto and Almeida posit that similar functional roles or similar social behaviors among stingless bees and honey bees could have driven them to evolve in similar ways.

Testing these hypotheses is what Porto says he would like to explore next--and encourages other researchers to do, as well. "It would be really good to have maybe the same data set, but including more specimens from fossils, and run the analysis again," he says.

"Corbiculate bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae): Exploring the limits of morphological data to solve a hard phylogenetic problem" will be published online on May 26, 2021, in Insect Systematics and Diversity. Journalists may request advance copies of the article via the contact below or download the published paper after 10 a.m. on May 26 at https:/ / doi. org/ 10. 1093/ isd/ ixab008.

CONTACT: Joe Rominiecki, [email protected], 301-731-4535 x3009

ABOUT: ESA is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. Founded in 1889, ESA today has more than 7,000 members affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Headquartered in Annapolis, Maryland, the Society stands ready as a non-partisan scientific and educational resource for all insect-related topics. For more information, visit http://www. entsoc. org.

Insect Systematics and Diversity publishes research on systematics, evolution, and biodiversity of insects and related arthropods, including comparative and developmental morphology, conservation, behavior, taxonomy, molecular phylogenetics, paleobiology, natural history, and phylogeography. For more information, visit https:/ / academic. oup. com/ isd, or visit http://www. insectscience. org to view the full portfolio of ESA journals and publications.

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Evolution of the common honey bee's stinger - Biology

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Notes on Apis (The Honeybee)

Apis (Honeybee) is a social insect living in colonies of 50,000 or more individuals. Honeybees are mostly vegetable feeders preferably living on pollen and nectar of flowers. The larvae which have no legs are helpless and are fed by the nursing workers of the colony up to their pupation time.

The adults chiefly live upon honey, while the young ones are given pure pollen or pollen mixed with honey and water to form a paste called bees-bread. Although these insects thrive best in gardens and forests, yet they have been noticed lapping the honey dew of some plant bugs and also seeking sugar from places other than flowers.

The honeybees live in a highly organised colony wherein a perfect corporate life under strict discipline is exhibited. Excellent division of labour with the common aim of keeping the good of the society in view, make the life very harmonious and extremely busy.

In India three species of Apis are commonly found, viz., Apis dorsata, Apis florea, and Apis indica. Apis mellifica (European bee) occurs in the wild state in Europe. Apis adamsoni (African bee) is found in North Africa.

Apis dorsata (Rock bee) is the largest Indian honey bee (20 mm) and prepares large open combs (1 metre x 1.5 metre) singly on trees or caves, walls and other parts of the buildings. Several combs may occur closely in the same locality. They have a regular migratory habit of swarming in the hills during June and July but returning to plains in the middle of winter season.

The workers build a fresh nest every time and this follows the swarming by the queen. A single comb of this bee may yield approximately 25 kg of honey and crops per year. Bees-wax of this insect worth several lacs of rupees is exported from India every year.

Apis florea is the little bee of India. Their workers are very small in size but this species is non-gregarious and builds a single comb which is about 15 cm across, suspended on the branches or under caves of buildings. This does not yield much honey, hardly a few mililitres per comb.

Apis indica (Indian bee) is the common honey bee found in plains and forests throughout India. This is slightly longer than Apis florea and smaller than Apis dorsata. It builds several parallel combs about one foot across in protected places like hollow of trees, thick bushes, within caves of rocks, wells, on walls and other places of safety in buildings.

This is the only Indian honey bee which is capable of domestication in artificial hives although it does not yield much honey, not more than 3 kg annually. It very readily swarms although to some extent migrates also. Various forms are met within the hills and plains.

Castes of Apis (The Honeybee):

The colonies of honeybees are perennial. A good colony of Indian bees has 40 to 50 thousands individuals consisting mainly of three castes, viz., queen or fertile female, drones or males and workers or sterile females. The number of workers in one colony exceeds 90 per cent of the total population.

Duties of a Worker:

The workers attend to all duties of food collection, bringing nectar, secreting wax, tending the young, building and cleaning the comb.

Consequently their mouth parts are modified for collecting nectar and moulding wax, the epidermis of abdomen for secreting wax, and their legs for collecting pollen. In queens and drones the mouth parts are shorter because they do not collect nectar, their epidermis has no wax-secreting glands, and modifications of metathoracic legs are absent.


General anatomy is the same as in a worker, but it is larger in size, has a longer abdomen extending behind folded wings, since it takes no part in nest making or pollen gathering. It has no wax glands or modifications on legs for pollen collection.

It has notched mandibles, 12-jointed antennae and a sting which is used only to combat a rival queen, the sting can be used more than once. The queen, like the workers, is produced from fertilised eggs.


The male or drone is larger and stouter than the worker. It has holoptic eyes which touch each other dorsally, the frontal region is reduced. It has small notched mandibles because they do not mould wax, antennae are 13-jointed, it has no sting, but the 9th sternum has 2 claspers and a membranous aedeagus. Drones are formed from un-fertilised eggs.

Life History of Apis (The Honeybee):

When the population gets too large for the hive, then the old queen and a large number of workers swarm out to find a new colony. In the meanwhile a new queen is formed in the original colony. It takes a nuptial flight or mating flight with a number of drones. Copulation occurs in air and the new fertilised queen returns to the old hive.

The spermatozoa she has received must serve for all the eggs as the queen does not copulate again. The queen can control the fertilisation of eggs. Un-fertilised eggs are haploid with 16 chromosomes, they produce drones, fertilised eggs are diploid with 32 chromosomes, they produce the queens and sterile female workers.

The queen generally lays one egg in one brood cell. The egg is pinkish, elongated, cylindrical and generally attached at the bottom of a cell at the junction of any two walls. After three days a tiny larva is developed from each egg. For two days all the larvae are fed on a protein rich royal jelly.

Thereafter, the larvae of drone and workers are fed on honey and pollen, but larvae of queen are continuously fed on royal jelly throughout.

In this way the food supply causes them to develop differently. Each larva has moults and grows then its cell is sealed with a wax-cap. It spins a thick silken imperfect cocoon and pupates. There, as a pupa, it undergoes complete metamorphosis and finally cuts the cell-cap with its mandibles to emerge as a young bee.

The time of development for each caste is standardised because of the temperature regulation in the hive:

The freshly emerged workers are first entrusted with the indoor duties for two to three weeks during which they act as nursing bees, dance attendance on the royalties, look after brood cells, build and repair the comb. Later on, they are put to outdoor duties and they are completely occupied in collection of nectar and pollen, guarding the hive, air conditioning, temperature regulation and ripening honey, etc.


The Indian honeybees as already stated live in hives, made of combs prepared by the workers with the help of wax secreted by them. Resin and gum from plants is also used for repairs of the hive. Each hive (Fig. 77.8) is made up of a number of combs generally remaining parallel to each other. Each comb has thousands of hexagonal cells arranged in two sets opposite to each other on a common base.

The cells are thin-walled and so arranged that each side-wall serves for two adjacent cells and each cell-base for two opposite cells. The worker cells, where workers are reared and honey is stored, are about 5 mm across, and the drone cells 6 mm across, serve to rear drones and for storage. Large vertical peanut-like queen cells, open below, are built along the lower comb margins for queen rearing.

The combs keep a vertical plane, while the cells a horizontal position. There are no special cells for lodging the adults which generally keep clustering or moving about on the surface of the comb. The cells are mainly intended for storage of honey and pollen specially in the upper portion of the comb, while those in the lower part for brood rearing.

Enemies of Honeybee:

Fortunately Indian bees do not so far suffer from two severe bee diseases, i.e., the isle of white disease and foul brood as commonly found on European bees. Nosema caused by microsporidian is decidedly injurious to bees and often colonies die from its effects, but rarely is an entire apiary destroyed.

Birds pick up a large number of bees so also the wasps and a certain wasp (Philanthus ramakrishnae) very severely attack them. The common hawk moth (Acherontia styx) often eats away the combs and causes very serious damage. Man is probably their worst enemy.

Economic Importance of Honey Bees:

1. Honey:

Honeybees require forty to eighty thousand trips to visit several times the number of flowers for collecting one kg of honey. Each trip of the bee is two to three km long. Honey, as derived from the beehive, is not the actual nectar or sugar-bearing secretion of plants, collected by bees from flowers and stored in the minute waxen bottles in the hive.

The insects swallow the nectar and carry it in their honey sac or within their crop until they are at their hive, where it is regurgitated after chemical changes due to its mixing with saliva, i.e., sucrose is hydrolysed to glucose, levulose and fructose, which are more readily assimilable by man.

The water contents of nectar are mostly evaporated away by a strong current of air produced by the rapid wing beats of the workers crawling over the cells. The nectar, thus, ripens and forms honey. The cells, in which it is stored, are capped over with wax plugs to be reopened at the time of need because it is the principal food of adults and larval bees.

Honey is used in many ways by man also as the chief source of natural sweet in preparing candies, cakes and bread, etc. It forms a very important food for patients of diabetes or for persons undergoing very strenuous physical exertion.

The great food value of honey can be estimated by the fact that 450 gms of honey is equal to 1 kg 600 gms potatoes or 2 kg grapes or 1 kg 350 gms bananas or 5kg 850gms cauliflower or cabbage or 3 kg 400 gms pear or 2 kg 250 gms apples or 3 kg 200 gms peaches.

Honey is also a very powerful tonic as it can be easily compared to 365 UG—vitamin B, (Thiamin) 268 UG—vitamin G (Riboflavin), 18 MG vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) 254 UG—Pantothenic acid or 0.60 MG Nicotinic acid. Half kg of honey contains 6 1/2 oz. Levulose (fruit sugar), 5 1/2 oz. Dextrose (Glucose), 9 gms Sucrose, 3 oz. moisture, 7 gms Dextrines and Gums, 1 gm of Fe, Ca, Na, etc., and about 4% of undetermined substances.

2. Bees-Wax:

The worker bees secrete wax from glands situated in the abdomen. The secretion is exuded between the segments of the underside of the abdomen and scales of wax can be noticed as a result of hardening of this secretion. These scales are detached from the body by the setae of tarsi and passed onwards to the mouth, wherein they are chewed and made plastic to be used in building the comb walls.

This wax is isolated and forms an important base for an important industry concerned with the manufacture of toilet goods and cosmetics. A large quantity is utilised in pressing comb foundations and returned to the bees-hive wherever artificial methods of rearing is carried out.

Several thousand mounds bees-wax is used in preparing candles, shaving creams, cold creams, cosmetics, polishes, castings of models, carbon paper, cryons, electrical and other products.

The utility of honeybees is immense as can be determined by outstanding fruit crops in places where the bee population is very great. They are the only pollinating insects, which can be controlled by man and are, therefore, of great value to agriculturists.

Evolution of the common honey bee's stinger - Biology

All articles published by MDPI are made immediately available worldwide under an open access license. No special permission is required to reuse all or part of the article published by MDPI, including figures and tables. For articles published under an open access Creative Common CC BY license, any part of the article may be reused without permission provided that the original article is clearly cited.

Feature Papers represent the most advanced research with significant potential for high impact in the field. Feature Papers are submitted upon individual invitation or recommendation by the scientific editors and undergo peer review prior to publication.

The Feature Paper can be either an original research article, a substantial novel research study that often involves several techniques or approaches, or a comprehensive review paper with concise and precise updates on the latest progress in the field that systematically reviews the most exciting advances in scientific literature. This type of paper provides an outlook on future directions of research or possible applications.

Editor’s Choice articles are based on recommendations by the scientific editors of MDPI journals from around the world. Editors select a small number of articles recently published in the journal that they believe will be particularly interesting to authors, or important in this field. The aim is to provide a snapshot of some of the most exciting work published in the various research areas of the journal.

Watch the video: l Evolution of honey comb from squid game l #shorts #evolution #honeycomb #squidgame (August 2022).