Can bees sting bees

Wild bees

  • “Hundreds of bees have been flying around since the spring sun warmed the terrace again. What can we do now so that we can use the space on our terrace for ourselves again when the sun is shining? These insects are really everywhere. "
  • “I am happy to share my balcony with these animals. However, I also have an 8 month old son who is crawling around on the balcony. Now I would like to know whether these little animals are not too aggressive either - not even near their nests. So far you don't give the impression, but since they populated every hole in my table and in the bamboo frame, some information would be nice. These little animals are definitely beautiful and a great addition to our balcony. "
  • “Do the earth or sand bees have the same poison as the honey bees? I would like to know if a sting would also lead to anaphylactic shock in me. "
  • “We're having a heated discussion here about whether bumblebees sting or bite. Can you give us an answer? "
  • “Since this spring, beautiful stone bumblebees have settled on our terrace. My question: Can bumblebees also sting, and could it be that they can become such a "nuisance" as wasps in summer? "

The question of whether wild bees (which also includes bumblebees) sting or how one can protect oneself against stinging wild bees is a classic among the questions that are asked about bees in a bee forum and in emails. First of all, this remark in advance: The question of whether bees sting is just as "smart" as the question of whether dogs (or horses, etc.) bite: The question suggests that a dog bites as soon as it bites without any provocation or other cause only has the opportunity to do so, and the same applies to the question of the bees' supposed stinging lust. This is of course nonsense. The right questions would be whether wild bees can sting and, if so, when they do it or what could cause them to do so. The answers are completely undramatic:

  • Yes, bees are basically physically able to sting, because they belong to the so-called sting voices, i.e. they have a defensive sting that has developed from the laying tube. Males (drones) had never a laying tube, so they cannot sting either. However, the greatest impression of supposed dangerousness is regularly created by the drones when they swarm en masse in front of or over the nesting sites of the females.
  • The physical ability to sting naturally depends on the size of a female bee or its sting and that of her opponent: Small bees are not at all able to penetrate human skin with their tiny sting, so you can easily reach them with two fingers, for example plucking from a cobweb if you want to save them from their predators; just don't press too hard so as not to injure them. Larger bees and especially bumblebees, on the other hand, can easily pierce human skin - they just almost never do it:
  • Most bees - including those that could sting humans - are ethologically incapable of stinging because of their inherited behavior patterns, and this is related to the task that every fertile female bee has, namely reproduction: planting honeybees workers do not move away by themselves, they sting and lose their lives in order to save their queen and siblings, i.e. the bee colony, and thus ensure successful reproduction. Solitary female bees, however, work alone, they must not take any risks that could endanger the transmission of their genes. The "egoism of the genes" causes a female bee not to react aggressively to a possible endangerment of her nesting place, but rather to start a new nesting attempt elsewhere.
  • The defensive sting was not developed against reptiles and mammals (these animal classes only appeared later in evolution), but against other bees, wasps, ants and spiders of similar size, and there it can also be used effectively. A mammal or a human being will only be stung if a) it attacks a sufficiently large female bee directly, b) if it does not allow it to escape and c) if it touches it with its skin for a sufficiently long time. So if a forearm crushes a large female bee to death in the grass, it could sting.
  • As we have seen, stings to defend the nest are only to be expected from colonizing bees, especially honeybees and bumblebees. However, aggressive nest defense is only known from our honeybees and a few species of bumblebee, especially tree bumblebees (Bombus hypnorum)which are known to nest above ground and are of course particularly endangered by predators there. Most bumblebees even take it easy if you examine their nest!
  • Even if the toxins of the many types of bees have not yet been investigated, allergy sufferers have problems with some types of wasps and with honey bees. So far, nothing is known of an anaphylactic shock caused by solitary bees.

Another tip: it is possible without any risk to let each bee crawl onto your own hand or a finger! The opportunity arises when bees (solitary bees and bumblebees) warm up in the sun on a cool morning or are surprised by a cold snap and are then grateful for a warm hand. Flightless bees, on the other hand, seem to be hoping for a transport opportunity, their wings due to a genetic defect, a developmental disorder (due to long extreme drought) or the attack of a bird or a large woolly bee (Anthidium manicatum) are crippled.

More information at Wild bee biology on the "Dangerous?" Page.


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