Bees are impotent pollinat ors and much of the fear peope have of bees is unfounded.
I know, I know, most people do not care one bit about the difference between bees. They are just afraid of them, and after all a bee is a bee. Right? Wrong. Bees provide a vital service to the world, especially we humans. They are pollinators, and without pollinators, we would have no food because most crop plants need to be pollinated in order to produce, fruit, nuts, seeds, and vegetables.
No one wants to be stung by a bee, especially those that are allergic to those stings! A sting can be life-threatening to some people if they cannot get medical assistance, or use an EpiPen. The first rule when bees are present is this: Don't swat at them. Remain calm and move back and away from them. The quickest way to get stung is to swat one with your hand! I have seen many people literally freak out and start flailing away at a bee that was simply flying by. Don't do that. Rule number two: Don't walk around barefooted when there is any kind of flowering plants underfoot such as clover, henbit, dandelions, and such. Step on a bee and I guarantee you will get stung. Better still, don’t walk around barefoot anywhere you may encounter bees! As a lifetime outdoorsman and naturalist I can give you this sound advice: Leave all wild creatures alone, and they will probably leave you alone.
Honeybees are the most social of the bees, and the most common found worldwide. For the purposes of this article, I am referring to honeybees found in North America. As social bees honeybees form colonies established by one egg-laying queen bee. Honeybees have a perennial life cycle.
Honeybees (wild honeybees) found in North America are from Europe. The European honeybees have undergone severe stress in recent years with thousands of wild bee hives dying off, or adult bees abandoning their hives and moving on to more suitable habitat. I am not a bee expert by any means, but I have learned a lot in my many years of collecting them when I was young, photographing them as a wildlife photographer, and learning to respect them.
Each honey bee colony has three distinct adult castes: egg-laying queens, male drones, and sterile female workers. Worker bees forage for food, build a well-constructed hive, care for the larvae and defend the colony from invaders. The sole job of drone bees is to mate with a queen during mating flights. After mating, drones die. Worker bees live for about six weeks, while queens can live for up to five years. The largest portion of a bee colony is made up of worker bees. Bee colonies can contain several thousand bees.
Honeybees can, and do sting. Normally non-aggressive, honeybees will attack if provoked, especially in defense of their hive. The workers will attack in mass to protect their hive. They will even chase an invader for over a hundred feet. A mass attack is caused by provocation and is an exception to the rule. However…
Killer Bees” arrived from South America to North America in 1985. They soon arrived in south Texas in 1990 “and have spread in all directions. Africanized bees are much more defensive and aggressive than other species of bees and react to disturbances (even noises) faster than other honey bees. They are capable of chasing you for a quarter of a mile (and are known to do so). Since 1957 there are 1,000 documented human deaths from Africanized bee attacks, with their victims receiving ten times the number of stings than from other honey bees. They have also killed unknown numbers of horses and other animals. They are not to be taken lightly.
The best defense against a bee attack is to be aware of your surroundings. Look for bee activity such as a swarm, bees flying in and out of trees, water meters, holes in a building, holes in the ground, or junk piles. Listen for the hum of a beehive. Bees have a defensive perimeter around their hive, and Africanized bees have a much larger perimeter. “Guard” bees will sometimes buzz you, or even bump into you. If you encounter these types of behavior leave the area immediately – the same way you came into the area. Here are a few more tips: don’t wear perfume, aftershave or other fragrant items such as hairspray. Wear light-colored clothing when hiking, biking, or jogging outside. Bees attack dark things. Be prepared for an encounter. Know what you are going to do, and where you are going to go if attacked.
If attacked here are some recommendations: RUN away. Healthy humans can outrun bees. Don’t stop until you are inside your car, home, tent, or another inside area. Cover your face and head. Use a large bandanna, head net, or pull your shirt up over your head if that is all you have. Stings to your body are not as painful or serious as stings to your face and eyes. People that have been attacked say the worst part was being stung on their face and eyes. If you receive more than ten stings seek medical help immediately.
Digger bees are non-social, solitary bees. They live in the ground with the female being the sole provider for her brood. While they are solitary nesters many females may choose to live close to one another. This is probably due to the habitat. Given the right habitat, there can be hundreds of individual nests in one area. Digger bees are important pollinators. Some are even plant-specific – such as the blueberry digger bee. Since many females sometimes choose to nest close together, during the mating season there can be swarms of male bees flying close to the ground in search of emerging females. Digger bees can sting but are typically non-aggressive bees. Again, provoking a bee, or walking around barefoot will get you stung if you step on one of these ground loving bees
Bumblebees are the most colorful and (to me) the most easily identified between the Digger, Carpenter, and Bumblebees. These bees are social bees and they nest underground most of the time, but occasionally nest in hollow trees. Bumblebees have a similar caste system as honeybees with one egg-laying queen, drones (males) and female worker bees. Bumblebees are also important pollinators. They are the only bees that are “buzz pollinators”. Many flowers and plants (including tomatoes) have their pollen deeply hidden in the anthers. Bumblebees grip these anthers tightly and use the wing muscles to rapidly vibrate their bodies, This causes the pollen to shoot out of the anthers and cover the bee's body. The bee then forms a waxy glob of the pollen and flies to the next flower. Many crop plants rely on buzz pollination.
Bumblebees have stingers and can sting, but they are usually docile unless provoked or their colony is threatened. I have never been stung by a Bumblebee (or any other bee for that matter), but I have been stung by wasps many times. The wasp stings were my own fault — I was either trying to catch one or, get rid of a nest! If you see bumblebees entering the ground or a cavity of some type, it is best to avoid the area if you can. These bees have an annual life cycle and do not nest in the same spot the following year (except by accident). If you have a nest in your yard that may be hazardous to you and your family it is best to have a professional remove them. But if possible, leave them alone and let them pollinate your, and your neighbor’s plants and flowers — they will be gone by fall.
Carpenter bees are important pollinators. They are often the only insects that pollinate a particular plant, such as the Maypop, or “passion flower”. Carpenter bees are also capable of pollinating tubular flowers that other insects can’t pollinate due to the depth of the tube. Overall they are considered to be an economic benefit (until they choose your house for a nest site) due to their status as pollinators.
The female does have a stinger but is usually docile, unless provoked or handled. Her purpose in life is to build a nest and lay her eggs. After laying her eggs, she dies. While these carpenter bees drill into wood, they do not eat the wood. The female drills the entrance hole into the wood and then turns ninety degrees and can drill about twelve inches the length of the wood. Damage by one bee is somewhat minimal, but subsequent generations and other females choosing to nest in the same area can cause considerable damage over a period of years. One of the best defenses against these bees is to keep wood painted or sealed with polyurethane. The lifecycle of these bees is one year.