Do Bumble Bees Sting?



Yes, some bumble bees do sting, but as a species they are not generally aggressive.

Here, you can read about which bumble bees sting, when they are most likely to use their stingers, plus other facts about bumble bee stings.

Do All bumble bees have stingers?

All female bumble bees have stingers, are able to sting, and may do so if they feel threatened.  However, male bumble bee species cannot sting. 

gingery colored bumble bee - a Bombus pascuorum female worker on pinkish knapweed flowerCommon carder bumble bee foraging on knapweed

Why don’t male bumble bees sting and when do females use their stingers?

  • Firstly, the bee sting is a ‘modified ovipositor’ – or egg-laying tube that is kept concealed in a cavity at the rear end of the abdomen when not in use.  It is used for laying eggs, but may also be used in defense.  Only the females lay eggs.

    Officially, egg laying in a colony of bumble bees, is the exclusive role of the queen, however, female workers can and do sometimes lay eggs. 

    Such eggs would produce only male bees if allowed to develop, and are generally destroyed by the active queen as soon as possible, by eating the eggs. 

    This same phenomenon is seen in honey bee colonies where some workers take on the role of ‘policing’ the egg laying of other colony members to prevent worker eggs developing into adults.

  • The females rather than the males, engage in colony defense activities as required, including nest guarding and combatting predator attacks.  This may require the workers and/or queen to use their stingers.

  • Queens may fight with other queens when competing for nest sites, and may use their stingers at such times.

Can bumble bees sting more than once?

Yes, unlike honey bees, bumble bees have a smooth stinger.  This means that the stinger can pierce the skin without getting lodged. 

Honey beesin contrast, have a barbed stinger that hooks into the skin, and tears the abdomen of the bee as it tries to pull away, hence simultaneously killing the bee.  A female bumble bee can, however, sting repeatedly due to her smooth stinger.

How painful are bumble bee stings? 
Do big bumble bees have a more painful sting than smaller bumble bees?

A large black bumble bee with a red-tail foraging on blue muscari flowerA red-tailed bumble bee queen may be larger than workers and some others species, but does this mean the sting would be more painful?

I’m not aware of any studies comparing see sting by size of bee, however, on my page detailing various bee sting facts, I mention the Schmidt Pain Index

The author of the index, Justin O Schmidt subjected himself to stings from all kinds of arthropods, including bees and other hymenoptera (ants, wasps and hornets) and categorized the level of pain as he experienced it, giving a score of 1 for least painful, and 4 for most painful. 

All bees species tested, including honey bee, bumble bee, carpenter and digger bee, were graded at around the 1 mark – significantly less painful than say, the bullet ant.

Resources

  • Schmidt JO. Pain and Lethality Induced by Insect Stings: An Exploratory and Correlational Study. Toxins (Basel). 2019;11(7):427. Published 2019 Jul 21. doi:10.3390/toxins11070427

  • Schmidt, J. O. (1990). Hymenopteran venoms: striving toward the ultimate defense against vertebrates. Insect defenses: adaptive mechanisms and strategies of prey and predators. State University of New York Press, Albany, 387-419









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water melon on a plant

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