Can a queen bee sting?

For social bees, the queen bee is the most crucial insect in the hive because she has the responsibility of continuously laying thousands of eggs every day, which is more than her total body weight [4]. She is also nurtured differently than most of the female bees in the colony, which gives her distinct features.

This suggests that if queen bees are not tasked with defending the hive, does the queen bee still sting?

Like every other female bee in the hive, the queen bee has stingers, and she will use them immediately after emerging from its queen cell. However, how she wields her stingers is different from a worker bee. She will only sting if other virgin queen bees are in the hive after she comes out of her cell. She will then sting to kill the other potential queen bees to ensure she remains the only one [1].

Now let us learn more about queen bees and their stingers.

Do queen bees have stingers?

We already know that only female bees have stingers [2] because stingers are just modified ovipositors (tube-like organs for laying eggs), which are only available for females. 

Since a queen bee is a female, it is only logical that they also have stingers. However, the purpose of their stingers is very different from that of a worker bee. 

Queen bees’ stingers are also different in structure than the common worker bees because they can use them on multiple occasions if needed, especially after they emerge from their queen cell (more on this later).

On the bee hierarchy, the queen bee is essential, while the worker bees are disposable. This is because the queen bee can always lay thousands of eggs for new worker bees to protect the hive. 

Worker bees’ role is to collect pollen and nectar from flowers and to defend their hive or themselves if they are cornered or provoked. Unfortunately, once they use their stingers, the process will kill them.

What is the difference between a queen bee and worker bee stingers?

A honeybee queen and honeybee worker are of the same species, but their body development is different. Their stingers are also quite different and serve different purposes.

1. Worker bees’ stinger

It is important to first establish that not all bees die when they use their stingers. In fact, only the honeybee dies right after penetrating its stinger [3].

The worker honeybee stinger is barbed, so once a female bee uses it against humans or other mammals, it will get stuck to the skin and not be removed safely. A honeybee’s stinger is like a tiny harpoon that will attach itself to the prey if they ever use it.

So after stinging, they will try to pull the stinger unsuccessfully. They will have no choice but to self-amputate by forcefully flying away from the victim, which will blow parts of their abdomen. It will also leave the venom sac and the stinger attached to the skin and die a gruesome death.

Since worker bee stingers are left dangling on the skin, it is critical to remove the bee stinger immediately by pulling it out to lessen the pumping of venom to the skin. 

Fortunately for the hive, even if a few worker bees die, they can quickly be replenished by the queen bee from the thousands of eggs she lays every day. The dead worker bees are immediately replaced.

2. Queen bee stinger

Unlike worker bees with barbed stingers that get stuck on the skin and are sure to kill them whenever they use them, a queen bee’s stinger is slightly different in its form. 

While a queen bee’s stinger is also a little barbed, similar to worker bees, it is smoother and can be successfully removed from the victim after stinging. The queen bees can use their stingers to sting repeatedly without the risk of dying like regular worker bees.

Their slightly barbed but smoother stinger is also longer but curved compared to a worker’s stingers. However, the venom toxins between a queen bee and worker bee stingers differ in composition.

When do queen bees sting?

Queen bees are not as aggressive in defending the hive as the worker bees. They are also less likely to move out of the hive whenever there are intruders since their primary duty is to lay eggs. However, they still use their stingers on several occasions, especially during their first few days. 

1. Killing off the competition.

It is important to remember that only the social bees have a queen. Only around 10% of the 25,000 bee species in the world are social, including the famous honeybees that produce the honey we consume [5]. Inside the hive of a honeybee colony is only a single queen, busying herself by continuously laying eggs.

Queen bees are different from all other bees in the hive, starting from their bigger and sturdier queen cell, also called a queen cup, where they are nourished. Their diet is also different and more nutritious than what is fed to regular bees because they are only fed royal jelly by their nurse bees. 

Also, depending if the hive is raising a new queen in preparation for swarming or supersedure, the location of the queen cell will differ. The swarming cells are commonly located at the bottom of the hive. In contrast, a supersedure cell is situated in the center.

Worker bees often build more than one queen cell to ensure that a healthy virgin queen bee will arise and no further disruption in the hive occurs. Soon, the first virgin queen bee will make her way out of its enclosure by chewing away the wax using its powerful mandibles. 

The life of the newly-emerged virgin queen bee starts with murder by killing her sisters, which will challenge her from being the only queen bee around.

Once the first virgin queen bee emerges, it will immediately locate other virgin queen bee larvae or developing queen bees in the hive. It will then destroy her unborn sister’s queen cell and kill the unsuspecting bee by stinging it before they emerge, which will instinctively try to do the same.

The queen will soon rampage its way around the hive to locate and kill the other unborn queens until she is the only one left. However, if two or more virgin queen bees emerge at the same time, they will duel it out before only one of them is left, securing the matriarchy. 

This means that the first queen bee to emerge from its queen cell will have the upper hand in securing the seat as the new mother of the hive.

When only one queen is left, the queen will soon go on nuptial flights to collect sperms by mating from several drone bees midflight. 

After this event, the new queen will return to the hive (or establish her own if she is swarming) to perform the difficult task of populating and maintaining the number of bees in the hive, where it will stay most of the time.

2. Supersedure 

Queen honeybees only live from one to two years [6], so it is only natural for a queen bee to grow old and be less efficient in laying eggs as its pheromones decreases. 

When this happens, the worker bees will sense the frailty of the current queen, and they will build new queen cells. This is to ensure that a new queen bee emerges before the old queen bee dies through a process called supersedure. 

When the new queen bee emerges and kills off her other competitors, and the old queen is still alive, the new queen will supersede the older queen by stinging it to death, leaving her as the only queen bee in the hive. 

Another way to kill off the older queen bee is through the work of the worker bees through a process called ‘balling,’ where several worker bees will gather around the queen bee tightly. In effect, the old queen’s temperature increases until she overheats and eventually kills her. 

Is a queen bee sting more painful than a worker bee?

While it is less likely that you will be stung by a queen bee because they are commonly inside the hive laying eggs, it is still good to know if their sting is more painful than a worker bee because of her size.

Strangely, a queen bee’s sting is less painful than a worker bee’s. It may be caused by the differences in their stingers’ structure.

The worker bee has barbed stingers that will lodge into your skin if you’re stung, while a queen bee’s sting is less likely to get stuck since it is smoother. However, the catch is if ever a queen bee stings you, she can pull her stinger out and repeatedly sting you.

However, a bee sting is still painful, whether it comes from a worker bee or a queen bee, because of the number of toxins mixed in the venom injected through the stingers. This can also possibly cause irritation and mild allergic reactions in the victim.

According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine (NLM), there are 34 venom toxins found in winter worker honeybees. For the queen bee, their venom contains six venom toxins less than the worker bees [7]. Interestingly, the queen bee’s venom contains two other venom toxins present compared to the worker bees.

Do queen bees sting people?

Though a queen bee has a stinger and is capable of stinging, they rarely sting people unless you are working on bee-related jobs, like beekeeping. First, their stinger’s primary purpose is to kill other potential queen bees that will threaten them at the onset of their emergence from the queen cell. 

The other is because they don’t usually leave their hive after their one-time nuptial flight or when they swarm, migrate, or abscond, so if we calculate the probability of actually seeing a queen bee, much less getting stung, it is almost improbable, particularly to people living away from bee’s natural habitats.

However, there are still some reported incidents of beekeepers getting stung by a queen bee while handling them.

Suppose you’re stung by a queen bee. In that case, it is still important to immediately take care of it, especially if you have severe allergic reactions.

Will worker bees attack you if you have their queen?

In connection to the beekeeping job, more exposure to a queen bee will increase the probability of being stung. However, suppose you managed to hold their queen, how will the worker bees react?

Apparently, if the worker bees perceive you as a threat to the hive, including their queen, they will most likely attack. And if you increase the factor that thousands to tens of thousands of worker bees will attack you, it will not be best to take your chances.


Like the stinging worker bees, the queen bee is also a female, so it has a stinger capable of stinging. However, she rarely uses it unless she is on the hunt for other potential queen bees in the hive. She will kill the other potential queens by stinging them if she emerges first from her queen cell. 

A queen bee also has a different type of stinger. The stingers of worker bees are barbed and are forcibly pulled once they use it, which effectively kills them. 

But a queen bee’s stinger, while still barbed, is smoother, allowing it to be pulled out and be used repeatedly when hunting for other queen bees in the hive.

Queen bees are also less likely to sting humans because they rarely leave the hive unless they are taking their nuptial flight, swarming, or absconding, so the chances of queen bees stinging people will most likely happen if to beekeepers.


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