Bumblebees are amazing creatures. They are the largest and gentlest of bees – and a true pollination champ! As temperatures warm up, you’ll begin to see some familiar yellow and black insects buzzing around your yard.
Around the world, there are around 20,000 described bee species. Most of these bees are known as solitary bees, with only 250 bumblebee species, 9 honey bee species, and more than 600 social stingless bees worldwide.
Now to the question:
Do bumblebees sting?
Yes, they do, but they do so very rarely. Similar to most animals, they are quite peaceful and will only sting if they feel threatened or their hive is in danger. They do not form swarms like other bee types and only sting when truly provoked.
Only female bumblebees (queens and workers) have stingers, male bumblebees (drones) do not. But they are so good-natured that getting a female to sting you is actually a major undertaking.
“No male bee of any species can sting, even honeybees, and bumblebees”Richard Comont, Bumblebee Conservation Trust
Normally, when not agitated, the female bumblebee hides her sting inside the last abdominal segment.
Do bumble bees sting hurt?
Yes, they might. When a bumblebee stings, it injects venom into its victim. Bumblebee venom, similar to wasp venom or honeybee venom, affects the blood vessels of your skin. In particular, the acidic compound called melittin in their blood might activate your pain receptors.
For most people, this means that they see a local result on their skin, which might include painful swelling (caused by histamines), redness, and potentially also itching close to the sting.
Be careful when stung in the mouth or throat
For most people, those reactions disappear quickly. In comparison, no matter from which type of bee, a sting in the mouth or throat can be highly dangerous because you can suffocate (e.g. due to the swelling).
A word on allergies
If you have allergies, though, bee stings can prove dangerous or even fatal (though rare). People with severe allergies may die within an hour after being stung, usually the result of respiratory dysfunction or anaphylaxis. But relax, this only happens in around one percent of cases, typically in adults who have been stung in the head or face.
Do bumble bees die after stinging?
No, most likely they won’t. Contrary to a honeybee sting, the sting of a bumblebee has no barbs. So a bumblebee can actually pull out the sting without detaching it (and can sting again).
A honey bee in comparison faces the issue that the barbs in her sting and the relatively elastic skin around the stinger prevent her to pull out. So either she is stuck and gets swatted by her victim, or she will pull so hard that the poison sac, and eventually even part of her abdomen will be pulled out of the body, only enabling her to fly off and die.
What kind of bee doesn’t sting?
Bee stings are no fun. Do really all of them sting? Or is this a simple misconception held by a lot of people?
Generally speaking, most bee species don’t do much stinging – this is especially the case for most solitary bees, which make up around half of all known bee species. Female solitary bees are fertile (compared to social bees with a lot of sterile worker bees), which means that stinging for them is quite a risky strategy and will only be used in highly dangerous situations.
There are more than 600 stingless bee species, however, whose stingers have been so reduced that they are also known as entirely stingless bees (Meliponini), with the majority of these located in Latin America, Australia, Africa, and Eastern and Southern Asia.
Read our article on how honey bees compare to bumble bees!