First, consider a female bee. What we call the sting of a female bee is not really meant to be used as a sting. At least, that’s not its primary function. It is an egg-laying devise called ovipositor. It is connected to poison gland inside the abdomen, so it also serves as a weapon and can inflict a painful sting. In the queen, who stings only rival queens, it is smooth and can be withdrawn easily. So, it can sting many times, just as male bees do. On the other hand, the sting of the worker bee is armed with numerous barbs pointing away from its tip so that when firmly lodged in the victim’s tissue, it cannot be withdrawn. When the bee vigorously attempts to fly away after stinging, it is roughly (and fatally) torn away from the bee’s abdomen, together with a poison gland and a section of its digestive system. These remain attached to the sting. Interestingly, the mussels of the poison gland keep on pumping venom for about 30 seconds after the bee has flown away. They force the poison deep into the wound, ensuring maximum damage to the victim. As for the bee, there is no chance of survival. Having lost vital body parts, it dies after some time.
This is a very curious case where the weapon of defense cannot be used except at the cost of the bee’s own life. Essentially, it is an act of suicide on the part of the bee; and if the bee lived for itself, this would indeed be a foolish means of protection. But every bee lives for the hive. The real use of the sting is not to attack us, for instance, when we hit at a bee with a rolled news-paper, but to protect the beehive from its enemies. The bee’s sting is not a weapon of offense but defense – and not self-defense, but hive-defense. It is used only for the sake of others and future of the bee race.