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A stinger (a colloquialism for the term "sting") is a common term for a sharp organ or body part found in various animals (typically arthropods) or plants that usually delivers some kind of venom (usually piercing the skin of another animal). A poisonous sting differs from other piercing organs in that it pierces by its own action, as opposed to teeth, which pierce by the force of jaws, or thorns, which pierce by the action of the victim.
"Sting" also refers to the wound caused by a sting. It is also used as a verb: "to sting" is to inflict such a wound.
The main type of construction of stings is a sharp organ of offense or defense, especially when connected with a venom gland, and adapted to inflict a wound by piercing; as the caudal sting of a scorpion.
The sting is typically located at the rear of the animal, near the tail (if any). Animals with stings include bees, wasps, hornets, and scorpions - although the scorpion's sting is not homologous to that of the other three, but is rather an example of convergent evolution.
Uniquely in honey bees amongst bees and wasps, the workers' stings (a modified ovipositor as in other stinging Hymenoptera) are barbed, and lodge in the flesh of mammals upon use and tear free from the honey bee's body, leading to the bee's death within minutes. The sting has its own ganglion and it continues to saw into the target's flesh and release venom for several minutes. The question of how such a trait could have evolved, when it is of such an obvious disadvantage to the individual, is resolved when one realizes that mammalian predators can easily destroy the entire colony if not repelled; if the colony is destroyed, a worker, being sterile, will die without offspring, so only through defense of the colony can she see to it that her genes are passed on. The barbs ensure that a honey bee's attack is only suicidal if the attacker is a mammal; they can sting other bees (in inter-colony raids) repeatedly. Thus, under natural conditions, the suicidal aspect of the honey bee sting's barbs only come into play in the event of an attack which threatens to wipe out the entire colony. The sting of nearly all other bees and wasps is not barbed, and so can be used to sting mammals repeatedly; the only exceptions (yellowjacket wasps and the Mexican honey wasp) have barbs so small that they do not cause the sting apparatus to pull free, so they may sting more than once.
Non-arthropods with stings
Organs that perform similar functions in non-arthropods are often referred to as "stingers", although they are all technically considered to be something else (e.g., a poisonous barb). These include the modified dorsal fin of the stingray, the venomous spurs on the hind legs of the male duck-billed platypus,and even the cnidocyte tentacles of the jellyfish.
As well, the term is sometimes applied to the fang (a modified tooth) of a snake. One species of snake, Psammophylax rhombeatus, is even known as skaapsteker (Afrikaans for sheep stinger). It is extremely common in South Africa, and far north along the east and west coast.
A sharp-pointed hollow hair seated on a gland which secretes an acrid fluid, as in nettles. The points of these hairs usually break off in the wound, and the acrid fluid is pressed into it.
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Sources and references
- the 1913 edition of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.