Bumble bees are fascinating and important insects that play a crucial role as pollinators in our ecosystems.
They are large and hairy, often sporting vibrant colors like black and yellow or black and white. But one question that commonly arises is whether or not bumble bees have stingers.
Yes, bumble bees do possess stingers.
However, not all bumble bees sting. Female bumble bees, which include both queens and workers, can sting when they feel threatened or when protecting their nests.
Unlike honey bees, bumble bee stingers do not have barbs, allowing them to sting multiple times without harming themselves.
Interestingly, male bumble bees do not have stingers at all, which renders them incapable of causing any harm through stinging.
Bumble Bee Basics
Types of Bees
Bumble bees are one of many types of bees that make up the insect group known as pollinators.
They are typically larger and fuzzier than honey bees, with three distinct types within a colony: queens, workers, and males.
- Queens: Female bees that reproduce and establish new colonies
- Workers: Female bees that gather nectar and pollen, and defend the colony
- Males: Male bees that mate with queens and have no further duties
Habitat and Ecosystem
Bumble bees can be found in various habitats, often near native plants that provide nectar and pollen. They play a crucial role in the ecosystem by:
- Pollinating wildflowers, trees, and shrubs
- Providing food for birds, bats, and other insects through their pollination efforts
Bumble Bee Pollination
Bumble bees are efficient pollinators because they can gather pollen from numerous plant species.
They use a unique method called “buzz pollination” to release pollen from flowers:
- The bee rapidly vibrates its wing muscles, creating vibrations to release pollen from flowers
- This allows better access to the flower’s nectar and increases the pollination process
Endangered Species and Conservation
Climate change and habitat loss have led to a decline in bumble bee populations:
- Some species are listed as endangered
- Conservation efforts focus on preserving native plants and habitats
To support bumble bee conservation, consider:
- Planting native flowers and plants that provide food sources for bees
- Avoiding pesticides harmful to bees in gardens and landscapes
|Habitat loss||Climate change|
|Destruction of native plants||Changing temperature and precipitation patterns|
|Urbanization||Extreme weather events affecting food sources and nesting sites|
By understanding these basic concepts about bumble bees, we can better appreciate their vital role as pollinators and work towards protecting their habitat and population for future generations.
Stinging Behavior and Mechanism
Do Bumble Bees Have Stingers?
Yes, bumble bees have stingers and can sting. However, they are generally docile and not aggressive unless their nest is disturbed or they feel threatened1.
- Bumble bee stingers are smooth and have a slight curve.
- Unlike honey bees, bumble bees do not possess barbs in their stingers2.
- Due to the absence of barbs, bumble bees can sting multiple times.
- Bumble bee identifies the threat.
- The bee positions itself to sting.
- The stinger penetrates the skin, and venom is injected.
Note: Bumble bee venom may cause pain, swelling, and itching at the sting site3.
Male and Female Bumble Bees
- Only female bumble bees have stingers4.
- Male bumble bees, on the other hand, do not possess stingers.
- The sting of a female bumble bee can be more painful than that of a male carpenter bee5.
|Feature||Male Bumble Bee||Female Bumble Bee|
|Sting pain level||N/A||Moderate|
|Aggressiveness||Low||Low (unless provoked)|
Reactions and Risks
Symptoms of a Bumble Bee Sting
- Pain: A bumble bee sting is usually painful and occurs immediately after the sting.
- Swelling: The area around the sting often becomes red and swollen within a short period.
- Itchiness: The sting site may become itchy after the initial pain and swelling.
Some individuals may experience an allergic reaction to a bumble bee sting, which can include symptoms like:
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
- Hives or rash
- Nausea or vomiting
It’s essential to consult a physician if any of these symptoms arise as they can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention.
First Aid For Bumble Bee Stings
Anaphylaxis and Treatment
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic response that can be life-threatening. Signs of anaphylaxis include:
- Trouble breathing
- Swelling of face, lips, or tongue
- Chest tightness or pain
In cases of anaphylaxis, emergency treatment is necessary, which often involves administering an epinephrine injection and seeking medical help.
|Bumble Bee Sting Symptoms||Allergic Reaction Symptoms||Anaphylaxis Symptoms|
|Pain||Difficulty breathing||Trouble breathing|
|Swelling||Rapid heartbeat||Swelling of face, lips, tongue|
|Itchiness||Hives or rash||Chest tightness or pain|
To reduce the risk of getting stung by a bumble bee, take the following precautions:
- Avoid disturbing a bumble bee nest or approaching a queen bee.
- Do not wear bright colors or floral patterns that may attract bees.
- Refrain from using strong scents, perfumes, or lotions that may attract bees.
- When outdoors, cover food and drinks to avoid attracting bees.
Remember to stay calm if a bumble bee approaches, as swatting at it may provoke a sting.
If you know you are allergic to bee stings, always carry an epinephrine auto-injector when spending time outdoors.
Bumble bees, vital pollinators in our ecosystems, possess the intriguing ability to sting, a trait found only in females.
Their unique “buzz pollination” technique showcases their significance in plant reproduction.
However, with the looming threats of climate change and habitat loss, their populations face decline.
While their stings can cause discomfort and, in rare cases, severe allergic reactions, understanding their behavior and taking preventive measures can minimize risks.
Preserving these essential insects is paramount for maintaining a balanced ecosystem.
- https://extension.msstate.edu/blog/whats-the-difference-carpenter-bees-and-bumble-bees ↩
- https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publichealth/insects/stinging.html ↩
- https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/honey-bees-bumble-bees-carpenter-bees-and-sweat-bees.html ↩
- https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/bumble-bees-around-the-home/ ↩
- https://beelab.umn.edu/Native-Bees/bumble-bees ↩
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Red-Tailed Bumble Bees move into Bird House!!!
Help identify this nest of bees
I am so grateful I found this site and I am hoping you can identify this nest of bees which have decided to take over a bird house in our back yard. Are they dangerous? Are they endangered? I hope you can help, they make me a little nervous!
Thanx a lot!
Because we are feeling cantankerous, we must begin by yelling at you. Where are you???????? Insect identification is difficult enough when location is known. If we didn’t love your photo, which is awesome, we would have simply hit the delete key and moved to a letter with more substance.
If you are in the eastern U.S. or Canada, these are Red-Tailed Bumble Bees, Bombus ternarius. According to our Audubon Guide: “In early spring queen enters opening in soil to build honeypots and brood cells. Small workers develop first, visit flowers for nectar, and construct new brood cells. With warmer weather, larger adults develop.
Only young mated females overwinter.” With the current state of the world, all living things are endangered but your native bees are not rare. They are not aggressive, but you should not disturb their nest or they will sting repeatedly. Please let them live in their awesome new home.
I live in Portland, Oregon. Thanks for identifing our bees. I have a few more awesome photos of them if you want me to send them to you. I have never seen a bee that looked like that before.
They swarm around the front of the bird house in the middle of the afternoon when it is hot. It looks like they have some kind of a cone just inside the opening of the house. So sorry I didn’t give you more information in the beginning, it is the first time I wrote to someone about them! Best Regards,
Eric Eaton provided us with some assistance on this one: ” Ok, the bumblebees should be Bombus melanopygus, if my memory serves. We called them red-tailed bumblebees when I lived in Portland. That is a neat shot, one we could use on Bugguide because we don’t have that species yet.”
Letter 2 – Probably Hunt’s Bumble Bee
Location: Colorado front range
July 12, 2014 3:22 pm
I have seen the attached orange body bee twice now at elevations above 9000 feet in Colorado. Can you identify it for me?
Signature: Fred Foto
There are several species of Bumble Bees with red stripes on the abdomen, and we believe your individual is a Hunt’s Bumble Bee, Bombus huntii, a species that BugGuide reports at high elevations. The Yellow Fronted Bumble Bee, Bombus flavifrons, which is pictured on BugGuide, is also a high elevation species and like your individual, it appears considerably furrier than the Hunt’s Bumble Bee. Our money is on Hunt’s Bumble Bee.
Thanks very much. I take a lot of flower pictures, and often see a pollinators on flowers.
Let me know if I can help support your site.
Letter 3 – Orchid Bee from Mexico
Subject: ID of Cancun bee
Location: Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, Mexico
December 31, 2016 12:51 pm
I took these pictures on 12/28 at about 8:30 AM in Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, Mexico, just south of Cancun. I thought it was some species of bumble bee, but have not been able to identify it through on-line research.
I believe the white on the head and thorax is just pollen. I’m sorry for the blurriness of some of the images – I’m sending you the best of the lot. Could you please tell me what species you think this might be? Thank you.
We believe you are probably correct that this is a Bumble Bee. We also agree that the white on the head and thorax is pollen. We have not had any luck locating any solid black Bumble Bees with solid yellow abdomens online, but we will continue to attempt to provide a species identification for you.
Thank you Daniel. I also have come up empty. Possible new species?
Correction Courtesy of Karl
Hello Daniel and Nochejt:
I believe this is actually an Orchid Bee in the tribe Euglossini. The genus is Eulaema and the species is likely E. polychroma. Regards, Karl
Awesome Karl/Daniel! Thank you so much. After looking up Eulaema polychroma, I agree. The distribution is a good match.
Letter 4 – Mating Yellow Faced Bumble Bees
Mt Washington, Los Angeles, CA
July 2, 2006
Since our internet access here at the What’s That Bug? offices is so pokey because Earthlink has downgraded us to dialup, we decided to catch up on some gardening. First we pulled out the swiss chard that had gone to seed and then decided to heat up some coffee.
A large dark flying shape caught our eye in the front yard. It landed on the zucchini. Closer inspection revealed this pair of mating Yellow Faced Bumble Bees, Bombus vosnesenkii. They have been going at it for about 15 minutes and allowed us to make use of our photographic training by capturing the action digitally.
Letter 5 – Milkweed Ecosystem: Mating Milkweed Bugs and Bumble Bees
Subject: Busy milkweeds
Location: Columbus, Ohio
July 12, 2016 1:04 pm
So the milkweeds seem to be the water cooler of the insect world. We have monarchs, Japanese beetles, tons of bees (honey and bumbles), and these red mating things!
Their flowers are a pretty color and they really have a pleasant and strong scent. I’m rather surprised that these weren’t grown on purpose before the whole monarch decline. Any way, were enjoying the show and hope to get a caterpillar or two.
There is indeed quite a robust ecosystem surrounding milkweed, which is one of the reasons we created a Milkweed Meadow tag on our site recently. Monarch Butterflies need milkweed as it is the only food consumed by the Monarch Caterpillars. Milkweed Borers and Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillars are other visitors you might expect in the future. Your mating Large Milkweed Bugs are another species that depends upon milkweed. Many pollinators like your Bumble Bees, numerous species of butterflies and many wasps including Tarantula Hawks (mostly in western states), while not dependent upon milkweed as a sole food, are attracted to the fragrant blooms that are laden with nectar. We will attempt to identify your Bumble Bee species.
Letter 6 – Milkweed Meadow: Bumble Bee and Soft Winged Flower Beetles
Location: Elyria Canyon State Park, Mt Washington, Los Angeles, California
August 13, 2011
WE keep returning to the Milkweed Meadow to document the progress there, and the Monarch Caterpillars have both vanished. The Bumble Bee is usually there during the time the sun strikes the blooms, but we are still not certain if this is Crotch’s Bumble Bee or the California Bumble Bee.
We also noticed numerous tiny beetles on the milkweed blossoms.
Alas, the old model digital camera we are using does not have a macro setting that will allow us to get closer. We would like to identify these beetles. After the fact, we had a terrible thought that they might be the Walnut Twig Beetles that are spreading the 1000 Cankers Diseaseto black walnuts in the western states.
This matter will take additional research. Many beetles with wood boring larvae feed on pollen as adults. We should return tomorrow morning and collect a few specimens to take to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
These is about the largest closeups that we can make.
Eric Eaton to the Rescue, Again
These are pretty easy to subfamily level. They are soft-winged flower beetles in the family Melyridae, subfamily Dasytinae. After that it gets really messy, really fast! Nobody wants to try to ID them even to genus…..
Letter 7 – Northern Golden Bumblebee
Michigan Northen Golden Bumblebee?
Large, fuzzy and almost solid yellow bumblebees have been buzzing around our S. E. Michigan gardens for a few weeks now. I’ve never seen one so big and solid yellow before; about 1″ long, possibly a queen?
They are attracted to the zinnias in our planter box. After looking online to identify it, I believe it may be a Northern Golden Bumblebee. I looked through your on-site bee photos and don’t remember seeing one like this in your galleries. Could you confirm if this is indeed a Golden?
Letter 8 – Orbweaver eats Bumble Bee
About your site
Hello! I just wanted to let you know that you have the most helpful and organized site I have ever been on. I’ve spent a good 20 mins. looking at other websites attempting to find out what kind of spider I had next to my back door. After a few moments on your site I found her (or him), turns out she is a Orb Weaver, she is very interesting to watch.
While on a field trip for biology I found a very unsual caterpiller and again, only a few moments and I found he was a White Marked Tussock Moth Caterpiller. I will be using your regularly since I am always finding interesting bugs. I am also sending a pic of the Orb Weaver munching on a large bumblebee. Enjoy, Thanks again!!!
~Caitlin of NJ
Thanks for your thoughtful letter. We do get our share of letters telling us how difficult our site is to navigate and offering us suggestions on how to make it better, so it is nice to hear you call it organized. Organization is really not our strong feature. Your Araneus Orb Weaver is a magnificent specimen.
Letter 9 – Perplexing Bumble Bee
Subject: Perplexing Bumble Bee
Geographic location of the bug: Campbell, Ohio
Time: 4:25 PM EDT
Obviously Daniel is spending more time in the garden than he is at the computer, but it is raining this morning and it seemed like a good time to post some of your requests as well as some of Daniel’s sightings.
Despite the multitude of Japanese Beetles, this Perplexing Bumble Bee, Bombus perplexus (which we identified on BugGuide) is still able to find plenty of nectar in the yard thanks to Pearl’s row of Monarda across the back garden and the many varieties of Hosta that are currently blooming.
Letter 10 – Perplexing Bumble Bee, we believe
Subject: Fuzzy Buzzy Bee
Geographic location of the bug: 23454 – Va Beach, VA
Time: 05:19 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I’ve noticed a new pollinator in our gardens this summer but don’t recognize the species. I’m estimating 20-25MM in length, fairly robust, but not “chunky” like a bumble bee. I saved one in our pool and grabbed a couple closeups of their uniquely colored eyes. He/she flew away safely :-]
How you want your letter signed: W/ appreciation
Thank you for the response. I see many similarities, however the size, shape, and coloring of the eyes do not correspond. Head scratcher. :-]
Ed Note: See Eastern Carpenter Bee
Letter 11 – Queen Bumblebee
Subject: Giant Bee!
Location: Toronto, ON, Canada
May 3, 2013 1:49 pm
This giant bee flew into my office not once, but twice! Early May, Toronto, ON Canada.
Very aggressive, about 2” long, maybe 0.5” thick. Was trying to sting the windowsill, left venom where it had stung the metal windowsill. Once caught in a cardboard box it could be heard and felt stinging the box…!
Signature: Best, Claire
Based on the behavior and size you described of the insect in this instagram image (not ideal for species identifications), we deduce this is a female Bumblebee recently emerged from Hibernation. She is a aggressive because she wants to build her hive in some abandoned underground mouse burrow or bird house.
Letter 12 – Red Footed Cannibalfly eats Bumble Bee
Subject: Large Flying Bug
Location: Maryland Eastern Shore
June 12, 2016 5:58 pm
I found this guy with a large bumblebee in its grasp. I searched extensively but got nowhere. Thanks for your help!
Large Robber Flies are arguably the most adept aerial predators in the insect world. Dragonflies are larger, but they don’t tend to prey on larger insects, mainly satisfying themselves with mosquitoes and smaller prey. Not so large Robber Flies that tend to prey on bees and wasps.
Your individual is a Red Footed Cannibalfly, Promachus rufipes, a species that begins to make a regular appearance among our identification requests beginning in June, and continuing through the hot summer months. The Red Footed Cannibalfly is also called a Bee Panther.
Letter 13 – Red Tailed Bumble Bee from the UK
Subject: Orange and black bee presume
Geographic location of the bug: Uk Dewsbury wf12ort
Time: 07:19 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi I opened my door this morning to see a big black and Orange bee I think but not supposed to be in the UK never seen this in all my 25 years
How you want your letter signed: T.walker
This Bumble Bee is so distinctive, we quickly found this Art by Tereska site with an illustration that includes the Red Tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus lapidarius. According to Bumblebee.org, it: “is probably the most easily recognised species with its black body and bright orange tail.” According to Nature Spot: “Fairly common in Britain and have expanded northwards to include Scotland.”
Letter 14 – Red-Tailed Bumble Bees mating
Paul from Eastern Washington just sent in this image of mating Red-Tailed Bumble Bees, Bombus ternarius, mating on a corn stalk. What a nice addition to Love Among the Bugs.
Letter 15 – Silken Fungus Beetle engaging in Phoresy with a Bumble Bee in Sweden
I heard about your site in German TV and so I remembered a photo I’d taken in 2006 in Sweden. That little bug is “torturing” a bumble-bee by pinching its proboscis. Can you tell me what ‘s happening there? Kind regards
You are the second letter we received today that mentioned seeing our site on television. Our first job is to identify your beetle. This appears to be a Flea Beetle in the tribe Alticini, but we would like verification. Hopefully, Eric Eaton can substantiate that. This diminutive beetle cannot possibly think the bee is food, but it might be hitching a ride, a phenomenon known as Phoresy. We hope to get clarification on that from Eric Eaton as well.
That is a really remarkable shot of the beetle clamped onto the bumble bee! It is not a flea beetle, or any other type of Chrysomelidae leaf beetle as far as I can tell (flea beetles get their name from their ability to jump, not because they are parasitic). I suspect it is some kind of sap beetle (family Nitidulidae), some of which can be abundant inside flowers.
I think I have a proper guess what sort of a beetle this might be! It belongs to the genus Antherophagus (fam. Cryptophagidae, silken fungus beetles), which has three species in Sweden, all developing in nests of bumble bees.
I think this one is A. pallens (Linnaeus, 1758) (~4 mm), which is the most common species of the genus. All species visit flowers to clamp onto bumble bees to hitch a ride and infest their nests. But the larvae are supposed to be harmless to their hosts, feeding on the bees’ faeces. So this is a perfect example of a picture showing the start of a Phoresy! Best,
Bengt Andersson Sweden
Letter 16 – Sonoran Bumble Bee
is this some type of Yellow Backed Bumble?
Location: Hawthorne, CA
July 18, 2011 5:27 pm
I can’t figure it out. You’re so great at helping me, I thought I’d send you yet another photo. It/they seem very attracted to the catmint plants that I’ve let bloom this summer, but until today have been to shy to get a shot of. We’ve had yellow faced bumbles and male and female carpenter bees this year, but I’m positive this is something different. Can you help?
Signature: Thanks, Anna Carreon
According to Charles Hogue in his wonderful book Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, there are four species of Bumble Bees in our area, and this is the Sonoran Bumble Bee, Bombus sonorus, a species not previously represented on our website, so we are very happy to get your photo. You may verify our identification by comparing the photos on Bugguide.
Letter 17 – Sonoran Bumble Bee
Location: Hawthorne, CA
October 1, 2011 2:02 pm
We have a lot of bumble bees in the yard this time of year. This particular bee looks like a Sonoran, but it’s stripes aren’t as yellow as others. Is it a Sonoran or some other type of bumble bee. Is it maybe a female Sonoran?
Signature: Thanks, Anna Carreon
Though the photo you sent us in July shows the distinguishing thin black band across the thorax more distinctly than these current photos, we agree that this is a Sonoran Bumble Bee, Bombus sonorus. The pale coloration might be an individual variation, or this might be an older and more faded bee.
Letter 18 – Sonoran Bumble Bee
Subject: Adorable bee
Geographic location of the bug: Long Beach, California
Time: 02:51 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi Bugman! This cute fat fuzzy little friend and her buddies are frequent guests in my garden. My understanding is that only females have pollen baskets. Do they also distinguish her as a bumblebee, rather than a carpenter bee? If so, can you tell what kind of bumblebee she is? She’s taking her job very seriously and she is welcome in my yard.
How you want your letter signed: Rachel L
We wish we had your luck. Daniel hasn’t seen a Bumble Bee in the WTB? garden for quite some time, despite there being numerous other native pollinators. We believe based on images posted to The Natural History of Orange County that is is a Sonoran Bumble Bee, Bombus sonorus. According to Accent on Natural Landscaping: “Male bees do not actively collect pollen, only the queen and worker bumblebees do. They transfer the pollen they collect to the sacs or baskets on their hind legs to make it easier to transport back to the hive. Bumblebee pollen sacs or baskets are known as corbicula.”
Letter 19 – Southern Plains Bumble Bee
Subject: Bombus with long abdomen
Location: Wilmington NC
July 25, 2017 6:39 pm
7/23/2017 – Saw 5 of these on Cup Plant (silphium sp.) All had very extended abdomens. A friend on Facebook pollinator group suggested it may be Bombus Fraternus. If so, this is good news as I believe they are in a threatened status. Thanx in advance for your expert assistance.
Signature: Dave Hobbs
These images do indeed look like a Southern Plains Bumble Bee when compared to this BugGuide image, also taken in North Carolina. According to BugGuide: “Has disappeared from the northern margins of its range, with few or no records from the northernmost states where recorded historically, but still regularly encountered in its core range on the southern Great Plains, and still found in the Southeastern United States.” This species, as you indicated, is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. Congratulations on your awesome sighting and thanks so much for sending in your images with the identification.
Thank you for your response. Your staff is amazing.
Letter 20 – Tri-Colored Bumble Bee
Subject: Bombus ternarius
Geographic location of the bug: North-West BC, Canada
Time: 03:14 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Looks like a Bombus ternarius to me, but I’m new to bumble bees.
How you want your letter signed: Shawn C
Based on this BugGuide image, we are in agreement that this is a Tri-Colored Bumble Bee, Bombus ternarius. According to BugGuide: “First abdominal segment with yellow hair, segments 2 & 3 reddish-orange, segments 5 and 6 and facial hairs black.”
Letter 21 – Tricolored Bumble Bee
July 16, 2009
I just started seeing these this summer in central Maine. After watching a few, it seems as they live in the ground/pine needles? Always lived in Maine and never have seen one of these.
Fairfield, Maine, USA
Your Tricolored Bumble Bee, does build a nest underground. The fact that you have never seen them before this year may be that either you just never noticed them, or that the local population is small. Some insects do not range far and it is possible that the species might be common a quarter mile away, but virtually nonexistent in your immediate area. Thanks for sending your awesome photo.
Letter 22 – Tricolored Bumble Bees
Are these red tailed bumble bees or not?
We just discovered this nest in a small birdhouse in one of our trees. They look to me like the same bees Linda Robb wrote to you about, however, my wife disagrees. Linda was in Portland, we live in the Seattle area. We spent quite awhile near the nest taking photos and they seemed pretty docile.
These are Bumble Bees, and they do have red on them, but we just learned that the common name Red Tailed Bumble Bee belongs to a Eurasian species, Bombus lapidarius. We believe this to be the Tricolored Bumble Bee, Bombus ternarius. BugGuide lists the Tricolored Bumble Bee as ranging from “Yukon to Nova Scotia, south to Georgia; widespread in the United States but rarely observed south of Pennsylvania.
We then located a wonderful website of Bumblebees fourn in North America that shows body marking comparisons. They list the range as “Yukon east to Nova Scotia, south to Georgia, Michigan, Kansas, Montana, British Columbia. ” Another possibility is that your Bumble Bee might be Bombus huntii, a species listed on BugGuide with no common name. We may have to correct our archive regarding the Red Tailed Bumble Bee when we have time.