Rare photo of honeybee leaving its stinger behind

Kathy Keatley Garvey has won the Association for Communication Excellence gold medal for her rare photo of a honeybee leaving behind its stinger in an unfortunate (but now immortalized) human. Ms Garvey comes from a line of California dairy farmers who have kept bees since the mid 19th century. She is a communications specialist at UC Davis in the Department of Entomology. Andrea Gallo reports in the Sacramento Bee:

Garvey recognized an opportune time to capture this photo when she was walking with a friend. A bee came close to him and started buzzing at a high pitch. She said that's normally a telltale sign that a bee is about to sting, so she readied her camera and snapped four photos.

The images showed the progression of the sting, but the most interesting part was that the bee's abdominal tissue lingered behind, she said.

"As far as I know, nobody's been able to record anything like this," Garvey said. She said the only time she's seen it illustrated was in a textbook.

UCD worker wins award for rare photo of bee sting in action (via MeFi)

(Image: downsized thumbnail from a larger photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)


    1.  In a subsequent event, she and her friend were walking down a city sidewalk.  She heard a tell-tale noise, like a slide whistle, which usually indicates a grand piano is falling out of a high window.  Sure enough, she saw a piano descending, and readied her camera, just in time to snap a photo as the piano flattened her friend.

      1. This is the story behind the story about how I took the photo. The person being stung was Dr. Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology. He’s a beekeeper. We were checking the hives at the apiary when the sting happened. Unexpected. Unplanned. I take many photos at the apiary. This was one of them.  http://ucanr.org/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=7735

    1. If bees understood that their attacks were kamikaze in nature, they would all back out at the last minute. And the world would be an infinitely better place.

      1. “No, though we are called on to give up everything, the price is not too high. For it is paid for our beloved queen, and the little grubs in the honeycomb – it is paid for the good of the hive. What bee, then, could ever give any less? Besides, we live like nine months anyway, and that’s only if we hibernate.”

        At least I think that was the translation. The dance gets a little confusing.

        1. I happen to be fluent in Bee, and I think this is a more literal translation:

           “We few, we happy few, we band of sisters; 
           For she to-day that sheds her sting with me 
           Shall be my sister; be she ne’er so vile, 
           This day shall gentle her condition; 
           And the drones in the hive now-a-bed 
           Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, 
           And hold their dronehoods cheap whiles any speaks 
           That stung with us upon Saint Crispin’s day!”

  1. Such a rare picture that only a search for “bee stinging” on Google images could find another.
     Still a cool picture though.

  2. How is this a rare image?   It’s pretty damn easy to set up and get a picture of this.


    1. There are a lot of photos of unfortunate skin stung by unfortunate bees, but I didn’t notice any where the bee is flying away.

        1. Ok, on close examination, there are one or two. More often the bee is walking away, though; mid-air is much harder to photograph. I think that still qualifies as rare.

  3. Who is more unfortunate – an unfortunate (but now immortalized) human or an unfortunate (but now immortalized) bee? The bee dies, the human get a sting.

  4. I felt like I needed a unicorn chaser. Seeing the pain of that bee was just too much, to say nothing of the person.

    Then I envisioned a unicorn leaving its head-mounted “stinger” behind in someone, and suddenly, the unicorn chaser didn’t seem like such a great idea. Between this and the tarantula fungus, you’re really traumatizing the idea of animals with pointy appendages being a good thing.

    1. Their stingers developed for defending their hives by stinging the rigid bodies of other bees and insects, not for stinging the stretchy skin of mammals. One bee can sting another bee/insect several times.

      1. never thought of it that way, though I’ve never seen a bee sting anything not human. So are wasps just more bad ass in terms of their anatomy?

      2. What is the theory to explain why wasps and hornets don’t have this limitation? (I understand not everything has to confer and evolutionary benefit or cost.) 

        It is not as though honeybees don’t face mammalian threats to their hives. Black bears, for example, attack hives with alacrity. And also humans, though we’ve mostly moved to ‘animal husbandry’ with respect to honeybees, same as most everything else we eat.

        Though I will say I really don’t need to be stung multiple times by a bee to learn to leave bee hives alone.  I can be stung a half dozen times over years by completely different species, let alone different individual bees,  and still develop a generalized response to avoid things that look, or sound, like stinging insects in flight.

        1. My dad kept honeybees, though, so I know you can mess with hives if properly clothed and equipped.  But that’s different, because we controlled the encounter. Heck, we built the hive for the bees to live in. I have a much more apprehensive response if I encounter a hive when hiking. Tree-nesting insects don’t bother me as much as ground nesting insects, though. It is unlikely that I’m going to disturb an aerial nest by mistake. But those damned underground yellowjacket nests are just unfair. You’re a flying animal, for Pete’s sake. You should be in the sky. The ground is MY domain.

        2. I think Inventorjack is entirely wrong here.

          Honeybee stings have barbs, which increase the damage they do. This means they break off against mammals. However, they break off in just such a way that the glands go with it, and keep pumping autonomously for a long time.

          @zombiebob:disqus : Wasps (and some other bees, like bumblebees) don’t have the same kind of barbs. This lets them sting us more than once, but true, but it means their sting is physically weaker.

          @boingboing-e16a4ca71de93b9d1e35186e568d9fdf:disqus : This difference make a lot more sense if you consider fighting mammals than insects. Wasps are predatory, and have no trouble killing insects if they can sting them. They probably don’t have as much concern from mammals, though.

          On the other hand, honeybees have large colonies, with much more plentiful workers but also more alluring food stores, and so more threat from mammals. It really looks to me, then, that the upgraded sting is at least partly adapted for driving them off.

          After all, a worker is sacrificed because her sting breaks off, but this is precisely what enables it to continue injecting poison and do as much damage as possible. It seems hard to imagine that’s purely incidental to its function.

  5. This makes me sad. I love bees. They just don’t understand that unlike stinging another insect, stinging us means certain death :(

  6. someone call  my laywer… This is not just, but I alude too, like that high school thing that teacher did with the internet and the shouldnotof…..man having your ass takin out like that! Literally. No shit that bee don’t live.

Comments are closed.