When we think of bees, we imagine their fearsome stingers—but not all bees sting! Let’s take a look at our not-so-sharp buzzing buddies.
1. All male bees – A stinger is a modified version of the egg-laying part of a female bee’s body, called the ovipositor. Since males were never meant to lay eggs, they never evolved a stinger.
Despite not being able to sting, many male bees exhibit a sting-based behavior. When grabbed, they buzz loudly and curl the end of their abdomen toward the hand holding them. This mimics a female’s stinging position, but only the fuzzy male bee butt makes contact. Still, the behavior is scary enough that even experienced bee handlers often let go!
2. Stingless bees –Meloponines, or stingless honeybees, are a group of approximately 500 species that live in tropical and subtropical zones. Stingless is a bit of a misnomer – female bees have stingers, but they are so tiny, they cannot even pierce human skin. They can bite, though, and will pinch away at your forehead with their tiny jaws if you try to steal their honey!
Fairy bees (Perdita) and other mining bees in the Andrenidae family lack the valve in the stinger that pumps venom, rendering their stingers effectively stingless. Not to be outdone, the Dioxyini, a group of cleptoparasitic bees that lay their eggs in the nests of other bees, have the most reduced stingers of all!
3. Most bees, most of the time – Bees only use their stingers when in danger. No need to fear around bees. Just move slowly, watch your step, and everyone will leave sting-free.
Written by Meghan Barrett and illustrated by Hoot.
Barrett is currently a Biology PhD student at Drexel University, studying an expanded version of “bug brains.” When not fawning over native bees as part of her Bee Bytes initiative (byte-sized introductions to the bees of the US), she spends her time writing ecological poetry and science plays (or dabbling in #scicomm). More about her work can be found at meghan-barrett.com; you can find her on Twitter (@Bee_Bytes).
Check our facts!
Michener CD. 2000. The bees of the world. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press