Wednesday, 27 March 2013

WHICH BEES 'STING' AND WHICH DON'T?


A great many people are wary of bees because they fear being stung, but the truth is that bees are far more interested in going about their business foraging for pollen and nectar than they are in stinging human beings. Only in rare cases will a bee sting without being seriously provoked - and many species of bee don't sting at all.



Honeybees

Honeybees are equipped with a sting which they will use to defend their honey stores or their queen. They will also, of course, attempt to use their sting if they think you are threatening their lives by standing or sitting on them. 

The sting of a Honeybee (worker) is barbed, so it remains under your skin after it has pierced you. When the bee attempts to fly off her intestines are pulled out, so unless you can remove the sting without damaging it she will die. Honeybee Queens can sting repeatedly, but as they spend almost their entire lives inside the hive, the odds that you will encounter one are fairly remote.  

It is worth noting that honeybee colonies have somewhat variable temperaments, from extremely docile to quite tetchy. This is down to genetics: certain crosses can be hard to handle, even by experienced beekeepers. The good news is that honeybees almost never sting anyone who is not close to their nest/hive, so don't worry about being stung whilst gardening or walking through a field.

You are less likely to be stung whilst honeybees are swarming than at any other time. 

Male honeybees have no sting

N.B If you have reason to think you may be allergic to bee venom, you should carry an Epipen



Bumblebees

Bumblebee are not naturally aggressive and it takes a lot to provoke them. They will only sting if their nest is threatened or if you squeeze them, sit on them, or stand on them. 



Buff tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) posturing
If they do feel threatened by you they will 'tell' you. They do this by raising one of their middle legs in the air. When you back away they relax and put their leg back down again - but if you go closer (and if they are unhappy about this) they will lift another leg in the air. If you go closer still - they will lift two legs up vertically in the air and turn onto their back to show you their sting! This is called 'posturing' but very rarely leads to them actually stinging you.  If bumblebees DO ever sting, their sting has no barb like the honeybee, so they do not die afterwards.

Male bumblebees do not have a sting.  

You can identify the males of some species quite easily by their pale yellow facial hair and little yellow moustaches. Also, male bumblebees are in less hurry than the females when foraging and have thin hairy legs (females have a wide shiny, smooth, flattened corbicula on their back legs and are often carrying pollen)
I often stroke bumblebees (male and female) in my garden, or pick them up from pavements and roads to put them in safer places. None of these bees have ever stung me.



Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)
I should just add that there is one species of bumblebee, the Tree Bee Bombus hypnorum  who has a reputation for being  a little aggressive. As with any other bee, they will completely ignore you whilst they are out foraging, but this particular species is slightly more defensive in the vicinity of her nest than other bumblebee.







Leafcutter (Megachile centuncularis)

Solitary bees

There are over 230 species of solitary bee in the UK and it is VERY rare for anyone to be stung by one of these bees. As solitary bees have no honey stores to protect, there is no reason for nature to have provided them with a good defence weapon like the honeybee. The females are equipped with tiny stings but rarely, if ever, do they use them. You would have to squash them to provoke them to sting - and even then, the sting on most of these bees is so insignificant that it cannot pierce human skin.


There are just one or two exceptions. Although the effect is not as severe as a honeybee sting, our tiniest species of ground nesting solitary bee, Lasioglossum and Halictus, both have fully functioning stings capable of penetrating human skin. 

None of the male solitary bees have stings.

N.B. If you have reason to think you may be seriously allergic to bee venom, you should carry an Epipen.

If you are not allergic (the majority of us are not) but you DO get stung by a bee, look for some plantain - chew it up a bit at the front of your mouth - and then spit the chewed up leaf and saliva on the sting.






Many thanks to Natural Beekeeper, Phil Chandler, of Biobees for his input on honeybees


42 comments:

  1. This is fascinating, I'm sending all my blog readers over to see you right now! :D

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  2. This is really useful, thank you Bee!

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    1. Thank you for reading!

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    2. I just stared my summer wanting to know how to tell which bees sting... So thx

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    3. Thank you this was very helpful

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  3. Jacqueline Woodward-Smith6 April 2013 at 12:02

    Really wonderful! Thanks so much x

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  4. Really informative, will spread the word on my blog next week :)

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  5. Bridget, after listening to your fascinating talk on wild bees yesterday, when I arrived home I logged into your blog and after researching a few links I was blown away to find you were such a celebrity. I don't have TV anymore so missed your series on TV but will take a look at them on YouTube (if I had a TV this is one programme I would have watched).

    Seeing what you have done to spread the word and influence others has certainly been enlightening to say the least.I have felt for a while there is something missing in my life, only recently I am beginning to realise what it is. I like the way you have got out there amongst the public to spread the word (I only realised about two years ago I had mild aspergers so don't think I could stand in front of an audience like you do, although over the years I have learn't to overcome it, even if I didn't know what it was that was affecting me). These days so many people are living within a bubble, influenced by TV, and the media, games music etc.all controlled by the powers that be without people realising.

    I am in my latter years and feel I would rather keep going right up to the end rather than just slowly fade away. I now belong to OBOD so I can connect with like thinking individuals who connect with the earth, sky and sea.

    Yes I feel I should be doing more with my life to spread the word to others, so many people are so detached from nature. Even if you go on a train journey , very few people look out of the windows to view all the nature that is around. Believe me you see some fascinating things some times, I feel like shouting out “look you just missed something I saw out of the window”. Just walking amongst nature on my own I get such a feeling of oneness, something you cannot describe only experience for yourself.

    I cannot help but feel emotional about what man is doing to the planet all for greed and power. The powers that be have little or no regard for life, animal, plant or human. Wars being deliberately influenced/started to fuel the military industrial complex.

    So many times I have laid in bed thinking, why are things so bad, they don't have to be this way. I get a mixture of sorrow, frustration and anger. Can things keep going on the way they have been?

    Lloyd

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    1. HI Lloyd,

      I'm so glad you found my talk interesting, and thank you for your comments.

      I completely identify with everything you say here.....the way mankind rides roughshod over nature grieves me hugely. I just hope that one day soon the penny will drop and things will change....

      Kind regards,
      Brigit

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  6. very helpful

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  7. I've found a bee i think that has no stinger and the abdomen changes from black to yellow depending how hot it is, in the uk, midlands, what is it or is it a new species?

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    1. I'm not sure what this can be! When you say the abdomen changes from black to yellow do you mean the underside or the entire abdomen? This could possibly be the bee getting covered with yellow pollen which it is more likely to do when the sun is out. If it doesn't have a singer it will be one of the many species of solitary bee....or a male bee. Do you have any photos?

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  8. Thanks brigit, its just the underside of the abdomen so the pollen thing explains that, I don't have any pictures and cant find any on the internet but it must be near enough all black, minus the yellow pollen and its small but chubby with a lot of hair on abdomen.

    It has just been collecting pollen in my shed for a few weeks now and it looked like it was changing colour with the temperature and weren't part of a hive.

    It probably is what you say, a solitary or male bee, thank you for your comments

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  9. Dawn from Chicago18 July 2013 at 17:48

    This is soooo interesting! We must have a bumblebee hive somewhere in our attic or chimney. They are "coming out of the woodwork", as we find 5-20 a day. We hear them buzzing around our skylights and windows trying to get out. I have been grabbing them gently with a tissue and letting them go outside, either to fly or I set them on a lily.

    I thought I should research whether or not they sting. They are clearly NOT aggressive and rarely get angry when I try to catch them. What has really caught my attention is information from this post. Just a couple hours ago, I opened up the tissue to let one go and his right middle leg was sticking up and I thought for sure I had hurt him! Turns out he just didn't like what I was doing! Hahaha! That is so cute and endearing. I set him on a flower, thinking he was hurt. Thankfully, he was not.

    Do you have any idea where they are likely to have a nest in my house or whether or not they'll go away? They've been around on and off for about 8 days.

    Thanks!

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    1. Hi Dawn,

      I'm so glad that my blog has helped you understand more about the bumblebees nesting in your home! Bumblebee nests don't last for more than a few months. After they have produced new queens and males these will leave the nest to reproduce, the new queens will go into hibernation, and the males, the old queen and all the workers will die.

      They are most likely nesting in your roof space or cavity wall.......

      Brigit x

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  10. I have a correction to make about the bumblebee stings - if you breathe in whilst one is flying towards you, and it goes up your nostril a bit, they sting then as well. It doesn't half make your eyes water too!

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  11. I rescued a bee from my swimming pool, it was soaked thru and I thought it might be dead. I put it in my shed to dry out and placed a small blob of honey in front of it. It may have been my imagination but I thought it was sucking up the honey and after about half hour it was walking and its wings were going (was it drying them out?). I let it walk onto my finger, went into the garden and it flew away!

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  12. As I live with open doors all summer I often have to scoop up bumblebees who are trying to get out through the glass of the windows. Never been stung.

    Once I had a ride out to sea with an inflatable speed boat with some diving friends. Just out from land I discovered a bumblebee. I didn't like the idea of it stranded at sea or having to fly back a very long way, so I scooped it up and had to hold it throughout the bumpy ride and when the guys went diving. Eventually, back on land, I opened my hands and it flew off. Didn't sting. Now that was really putting it to the test! That said, when riding the motorbike and a bumblebee droppend down my neck - well, that was painfull, and I can't blame the poor creature.

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    1. Good for you!! I love nature and I am trying my hardest to keep at least my place and the places of my friends and family nature safe.

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  13. I like this its pretty cool! I have a question though, my friends and i were at a park and there was this bee always around us it never stung but it was allways on our head it was annoying. I think i was smelling us. Was it?

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  14. Thanks for this. All the information I had was less than correct, while not being totally incorrect.

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  15. Had to prove this theory to a few friends from Northumberland, My Granddad taught me as a young boy of 6 years old which one's I could pick up and which I couldn't :), As a child I was horrified he could put his fist around it, Shake and make it buzz to my ear.

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  16. Lovely accounts of people's experiences with bees here. For ages I believed bumblebees would not sting me if I carefully picked them up to rescue them. However, up until about 5yrs ago I would always find something to pick them up with. Changed one day when I saw one on a busy footpath and people just walking by nearly treading on it - indeed some were even suggesting I should tread on it rather than rescue it !

    Nothing to hand so I put my finger down next to it and it crawled up. Then I carefully took it to a nearby plant and again let it crawl off onto the plant. Never really held it or scooped it up.

    Now I am happy to rescue them and feed them a drop of honey & water mix on my hand. They really appreciate it and soon get enough energy to buzz their wings, warm up and fly away. I had also already appreciated the bees response by raising a leg but nice to see it confirmed here.

    I am now getting interested in identifying the various types I find. So far this year white tailed and red tailed. I go to the bumbleconservation trust website for help with this.

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  17. I have a couple of questions i am severely allergic to bee stings so I do panic when they are around me (mainly because I don't want to die) and it seems they multiply around me so my question is if I stop panicking will they leave me alone? I also tend to wear sprays that have a sweet smell to them does this attract them? Through out Feb and march I cut down a lot of the bushes and trees I had around my yard and there seems to be more bees around now than in the past 8 years could it be because I cut down a lot of the bushes and trees? Is there anything that will keep them away from my yard (something like a mosquito repellent) or some type of spray I could put on my self (like bug spray)? Do they smell fear from people like dogs do? I don't like to harm any type of animal or insect but I am severely allergic to the stings with the possibility of death and just want to keep them away without harming them. My last question is are all bee stings the same meaning if I am allergic to one am I allergic to all? I live in Virginia and I believe that it's your typical bees here even though I was stung while I lived in Rhode Island (I'm not sure if the locations make a difference).

    I would also like to tell you I found your information to be informative and helpful towards my reactions but I am still scared of them.

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  18. Thank you for the info. For years I have been terrorfied of bees and put them in the same bracket as wasps. However now iv no problem stroking holding and helping the humble bee as much as I can, god knows they need it right now. Thank you for destroying my phobia

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  19. Great article Brigit, thankyou ! Just thought i'd mention not to feed any bees honey. Jane Bonner you did the right thing but better to offer sugar syrup (not brown as it gives them a runny tummy). Honey can carry bee disease and best not to take that risk.

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  20. Rose James (Naomi Aksu's Mum)27 May 2014 at 12:00

    Thank you for this fascinating insight into the world of Bees, I will be watching for the legs going up from now on! It seems a bit ironic that Honeybees will sting if they feel you are threatening their lives, and yet they will die anyway, after they have stung you!

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  21. when I was a kid about 35 years ago my parents had I think you called them honey suckles but anyway there was a bee that had would look like an H on its back and they would not sting you no matter if you pulled there wings off or whatever you did. they looked a lot like a honey bee but with an H mark on the backside of themand there was usually 50 or 60 around the plants daily and just every now and then there would be a bee that could actually sting are you familiar with this type?

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    1. is that a hoverfly ramon.

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  22. Thank you for all these lovely positive comments….it's great to know that people read my blog information!

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  23. Hi Brigit,

    In the past couple of years, I have shared my shed, or least, shared the outside front corner with what appears to be Carpenter Bees. I don't believe in exterminating bees, let alone harming them. I don't mind getting this close to nature, and they didn't seem to mind me going in and out of my shed several times a week in the summer months.

    It would seem as though they are back once again, which apparently is common for certain types of bees, and the Carpenter looks to fit that profile. My only problem this year, would seem to be, they have chosen the inside of my shed. Being a lover of nature, I cannot destroy these bees, but I do need a suggestion or two. If they are in fact Carpenter Bees, apparently they don't sting, so this might not be an issue. A little daunting for some maybe, bees included, but all in all, might not be a huge issue.

    No mad rush, just when you have a free moment. Thanking you in advance.

    Best Regards,

    Vic Bartram

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    1. Hi Vic, do you have photos or a good description of the bees and exactly what kind of cavity they are going into? Could be two different species.

      Kind regards<

      Brigit

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  24. Thank you Brigit this is very interesting and so useful, I always new that bees use there sting as a last resort but I did think that all bees could sting us, they say we never stop learning thank you again xx

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  25. Thank you Brigit this is very interesting and so useful, I always new that bees use there sting as a last resort but I did think that all bees could sting us, they say we never stop learning thank you again xx

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  26. Thank you Brigit this is very interesting and so useful, I always new that bees use there sting as a last resort but I did think that all bees could sting us, they say we never stop learning thank you again xx

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  27. We have had a colony of bees reappear for the last 3 years in a bird box. This year they are very aggressive and buzz us when we go into the shed below the box. When I emptied the box last year it had a thick pad of very strong spider silk like material attached firmly to the wood, under this area the wood was scraped out in shallow boat shaped grooves- each end tapering off to a shallow point.
    What sort of bee are they and will they sting?

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    1. Hello,

      These are most likely to be Tree bumblebees (Bombus hypnorum). Bumblebees are hardly ever aggressive, but Tree Bumblebees can become a little aggressive, especially when the new queens are about to emerge and there are lots of males dancing around outside the nest waiting to mate with them. The guard bees (all female workers) inside the nest become a little more buzzy and protective of the nest. They can sting!

      Once the new queens have emerged the rest of the colony will die off. The new queens will all mate and then go into hibernation. Detritivores will move into the old nest and clean up what is left, then, sometime next spring a queen will emerge from hibernation, find the nest, and maybe start another colony.

      The very strong spider web you describe is probably 'Wax Moth'. The adult female moth will have laid her eggs in the bumblebee nest and the larvae will feed on the wax in the nest. The nest will probably have failed as a result. The grooves you found will have been made by the cocoons of the wax moth larvae

      Hope this helps!.

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