Do All Bees Sting?

Some people are afraid of bees generally, as they fear being stung. 

A common question is:
Do all bees sting? 

The short answer is:
No, not all bees sting, and of those which do, in general they are not out to sting people - they do so only if threatened or aggravated in some way, either intentionally or accidentally.  

But which bees can sting you, and which bees cannot?

Bees that do not sting

I have actually covered all of this information before, when I created my section about ‘Bee Stings’ several years ago (more about this in a moment), however, I thought it was worth bringing some of the information into one place for ease of reference by my visitors.

Stingless bees
There are species of bees actually called ‘Stingless Bees’. Like honey bees and bumble bees, they belong to the family Apidae, but unlike honey bees and bumblebees, they have a very small stinger (actually a modified ovipositor) which is ineffective for defence (i.e. they can’t use it to sting).  Stingless bees belong to the tribe ‘Meliponini’, most of which are found in tropical countries.

Read more about stingless bees.

Male bees cannot sting
Even among bee species that can sting, such as bumble bees and honeybees, males are unable to do so, although they may engage in defensive behaviours to protect the nest or hive.

Indeed some rather harmless bees can cause people to feel a little alarmed.  For example, species of Xylocopa  carpenter bee males can appear quite intimidating as they apparently  ‘fly at you’ should you find yourself near a nest.  For those unfamiliar with it, in some countries it is a relatively large species of solitary bee, which is often mistaken for a bumblebee. 

Males typically fly toward (or ‘at’) any sign of activity close to the nest, to investigate the possibility of threat.  However, it’s all bravado, because the male carpenter bee is unable to sting! You can read more about this behaviour on my page about carpenter bees

Do All Bumble Bee Species Sting?

white tailed bumble bee foraging on blue sea holly

Yes, as far as I am aware, all species of female bumble bees can sting, including the queens.  However, bumble bees are rarely aggressive and unlikely to sting unless ‘provoked’.  If you accidentally step on one or try to handle a bumble bee too clumsily, it will probably sting you.  Male bumble bees cannot sting.  Bumble bees buzz frantically, and/or may raise a middle leg when they feel threatened, however, a sting is perfectly possible without such warning.

Do All Honey Bees Sting?

Again, as with bumble bees, females of all species are able to sting, males (drones) cannot.  If you are stung by a honey bee, the barbed sting is likely to get left behind in your skin.  Swarming honey bees are not so interested in stinging you as they are in finding a new nest site for the colony. 

They may also be ‘drunk’ on honey because they fill up their honey stomachs before swarming.  However, you should keep a safe distance from a honey bee swarm, and certainly to do not provoke or throw objects at the bees.

Do Solitary Bees Sting?

There are many species of solitary bees, but stings from solitary bees are quite rare from the common species, even when the species possesses a stinger, and of those which do, they are believed to be mostly not so painful.  This may depend on species and country in which you live.  

How To Avoid Bee Stings

You can avoid bee stings by taking a few sensible precautions.  For example, if you have young children, avoid having a flowering lawn.  Tiny feet in sandals, or bare feet running around on a grassy lawn with patches of clover, self heal or bird’s foot trefoil, could get stung by bees foraging on the flowers. 

If you are keen to have a flowering lawn for the sake of the bees, ensure it is a patch where children will not be playing.  There is much more advice about preventing bee stings

If you have an allergy to bee stings, then you will need to carry an Epipen with you, and should avoid handling bees.  You can read more about treating bee stings here.  In general, if you are concerned, I recommend using a deet-free repellent.

This site also features advice about deterring wasps.

My experience my bees......

I have handled many bee species, always very gently and respectfully, and usually when performing rescues.  I never handle them for the sake of it, or for my entertainment. In the event of rescuing bees, the intention has always been to return the bee to outdoor safety immediately.  I have never been stung (apart from once, as a child, when I clumsily tried to pick up a bumble bee), but if you are unsure, then I think it’s best to be cautious rather than take a risk, especially if you have an allergy.  

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