Will Bees Sting For No Reason?

It's not surprising that for those who are afraid of being stung by a bee, the obvious question is:

"Will bees sting for no reason?"

In short, the answer is: I'm not aware of this happening. Stinging tends to occur when bees feel threatened in some way.

When, or why do bees sting?

Bees sting for the purpose of self defence or defence of the colony from predators.  

Bumble bee foraging on white bramble flower.Bumble bee foraging on bramble.

An example of this would be a colony under attack from other invertebrate predators, such as wasps or hornets.  I am also aware of bees defending their nest or colony from larger threats, such as birds.

However, they do not sting for no reason.   As an example, even though wasps can behave as predators, bees will often be seen foraging close to wasps, with neither insect attacking the other with intent to sting.

How can you know whether or not a bee may sting you?

It's difficult to tell whether a bee is about to sting you (though you could hazard a guess if you hear them buzzing loudly and angrily should you disturb or harm them!).

However, bees may try to warn you that they feel threatened.  If stationery, a bee may tilt its body to one side slightly, and raise its middle leg in the air - this is quite commonly seen in bumble bees that are disturbed.  It's a defensive reaction to threat.

In the interests of not being stung, and not causing unnecessary stress for the bee, it is best to leave the bee alone.

How can you avoid being stung?

Bumble bee on white clover flower, side view.Bumble bees are attracted to clover, therefore, avoid walking around in bare feet in the summer, to avoid being accidentally stung.

I have more comprehensive pages elsewhere on my site.

If you are concerned about bee stings:

  • avoid waving your arms around and panic around bees
  • don't try to pick them up
  • keep a distance from nests
  • don't walk around flowering lawns with bare feet - this includes lawns with low growing flowers, such as clover
  • leave honey bee swarms alone.

For extra reassurance, if you are particularly concerned, you could wear a deet-free insect repellent.

How dangerous are bee stings?

The vast majority of people will get over a bee sting - see my page about treating bee stings.

If you have a severe allergy to stings, you should see your doctor about acquiring an Epi-pen.

The chances of death from bee sting are very remote indeed - it's a very tiny number.

In the USA, more people are killed by lightning strike very year that die through bee sting!  You can read more about this on my page about bee sting facts.

It's also worth remembering that male bees cannot sting, and solitary bees rarely do.  Bumble bees and honey bees sting only if provoked.  

If bees are not aggressive, why do beekeepers wear protective clothing?

Honey bee on knapweed.Honey bee on knapweed.

It is not that honey bees are habitually aggressive, it is merely the fact that such close proximity to the bees in such a situation could provoke a stinging incident.

Beekeepers wear protective clothing in order to deal with a mass of honey bees inside hives  (or indeed a swarm of honey bees).  In such circumstances, the direct interference with the hive (where the bees have made their nests, built honey comb and made honey stores, and are rearing their young) could understandably be perceived as threatening for the bees and provoke stings.  In addition, accidents can happen.  However, there have been a number of videos on social media of beekeepers who are so calm and experienced with their bees, they are able to approach their hives with minimal protective clothing. 

What if I have a fear of bees?

Read my page about fear of bees: apiphobia.

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