Do Bees Feel Pain?

Researchers report recent observations of bees tending to their wounds, strengthening the debate on whether bees feel pain. Bees that appear to groom injuries are re-igniting questions on bees’ consciousnesses and if they feel pain or are simply following a biological natural response. It is currently thought that bees and other insects do not feel pain because neurons have not been found in their brains. This reasoning is based on insects with evident injuries that continue to feed and mate without interruption. However, when bumblebees are observed tending to body parts that have been injured, some believe this response may indicate that bees do feel pain from injuries. There are two camps when it comes to this subject, both with valid data to back up their theories. Regardless of which side you fall on when it comes to bees’ ability to feel and respond to pain, the important thing is that bees continue to be relevant enough that the conversation and research continue. Bees are incredibly vital to the balance of our ecosystems, offering countless benefits to food production, pollination, and the environment.

Research Continues on If Bees Feel and Respond to Pain

A research team used bumblebees to test whether they responded to painful stimuli and whether they groomed the injured body part. Bees were divided into three different groups. One group of bumblebees received a prod from a soldering iron to one of their antennae, another group was touched with an unheated iron, and the third group was left alone. Within minutes of the stimuli, the group burned with the hot soldering iron groomed and tended to their antennae more frequently than the other two groups. And for more extended periods. Instead of subtle differences between the groups, this group believes the difference is substantial and shows evidence of the bees' response to the injury.

These recent studies are growing research to support the idea that insects feel emotions and pain. The same research group has documentation of bees being willing to endure pain for a sweet reward, which also indicates that bees make choices based on gaining a reward that is worth the pain induced. Researchers behind these studies believe these new observations paint a broader picture and can help assess if insects feel pain.

The Flip Side

Other groups of researchers and experts in the field do not believe that these observations and behaviors are rooted in bees’ abilities to feel pain or emotions. This group believes that the observed grooming is simply the evolved response that bees use to minimize long-term damage and does not indicate that bees feel pain. Instead of feeling pain, they believe that tending to an injured body part is part of the immune response to damaged tissue, which is universal in all animals. The example used by this group is a frog that wipes itself to get rid of poison even after the brain is destroyed.

Some experts believe that this apparent act of grooming after an injury does not indicate that bees feel pain. Still, it does raise enough curiosity to continue research efforts on the subject. Animals are able to process stimuli that hurt without feeling pain. This is called nociception, which is an animal's perception of something harmful or noxious.

Bees are thought to respond more like robots than humans, avoiding unpleasant stimuli after initial exposure, thus altering behaviors. Although this looks like pain, it is more of a nervous system response. As it stands, insects’ brains have not shown the presence of neurons that would allow bees to experience pain or other emotions.

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What Do Beekeepers Think?

What would beekeepers say on the subject? Beekeepers openly share their stories of observing and caring for bees all over the world. Many claim bees have personalities and may even have observed first-hand behaviors that indicate bees do feel pain. Beekeepers are wholly dedicated to the health and vitality of their beehives and continue to care for them and do their part in helping the declining bee crisis. The continuing decline of many bee species is attributed to land development, pollution, and the use of toxic pesticides. It is critical that beehives are handled with care and that pesticide is never used as mitigation for an unwanted or concerning beehive.

As with all living things, bees are solely focused on species survival so that they will find ideal locations for beehives. However, if it is in a precarious place that poses a risk to anyone, it should be handled by a professional bee technician. Companies like D-Tek Live Bee Removal have highly trained bee technicians with the knowledge, experience, and equipment to remove and relocate beehives safely. Owned and operated by a beekeeper, D-Tek prioritizes people's safety while safely and humanely removing bees from unwanted locations. Contact D-Tek today for a quick response and solution to your bee concern, whether it is a swarm, a beehive, or another bee issue.