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Do All Bees Sting?

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Bees are one of the most beloved insects on the planet. They are appreciated for their role in pollination and some of them make honey! But, one thing about them that we don’t always appreciate is their ability to sting. If the idea of being stung sends a little chill down your spine – you might wonder – Do all bees sting? It may seem that this is a simple question to answer. But, as with many other topics about these fascinating insects – the answer can be a bit complicated.

Bees and Their Stinging or Stingless Relatives

Honey bee worker, bumble bee female and mason bee - do all bees sting.

We need a few definitions – before we can truly answer the question: Do all bees sting? Scientists use a system of classification called taxonomy to organize all living things according to shared traits.

For instance, bees and wasps are close relatives – they are all insects. Yet, there are some important differences between wasps and bees.

For the purpose of this journey, we will stick with the insects that are known as true bees. While there are many different species of bees, lets look at 3 of the most popular. These are honey bees, bumble bees and solitary bees.

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Honey Bees

Honey bees are social insects (Genus “Apis”) that live in large families. Their homes, commonly called “beehives” are occupied year-round with some colony members always in residence.

The members of a honey bee colony consist of three individual types of bees. Each one is either a worker, a queen or a drone. 

Workers and queens are females that develop from a fertilized egg laid by the queen. Drones are male bees that develop from unfertilized eggs.

Drone, queen and worker honey bee, red x can not sting, green check can sting.

In honey bees, only the females have stingers. Female workers leave the hive to go out into the world. 

These bees work as foragers who gather the resources (nectar and pollen) needed by the colony. They may need to defend themselves from predators in the field.

Also, workers have the task of protecting the hive. Honey stored for the cold months must be protected from predators or the colony will starve.

When the colony is threatened, worker bees release alarm pheromones to call their sisters to the fight.

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The Queen honey bee also has a stinger. Queens rarely sting humans as their role is not hive defense. Instead, their stinger is used to battle potential rivals when new queens are produced.

Drones do not have stingers as their sole purpose is reproduction. When new virgin queens are produced, they must mate with drones in order to lay fertile eggs. Drones do no work in the hive – nor do they protect it from attack. 

In the honey bee colony, only the female bees can sting. They usually do not attack unless threatened. Stinging means the loss of their lives because their barbed stinger becomes stuck in your human skin.  

Striped bumble bee gathering nectar.

Bumble Bees

There are several different Bumble bee species (Genus “Bombus”) – all of which are capable of stinging.

The stinging behavior of bumble bees is a defense mechanism. They are not typically aggressive and only sting if they are threatened or provoked. Of course, bumble bee stings are painful so give them some personal space.

Much like the honey bee, it is the females worker and queen bumble bees that have a stinger. However, bumbles have a smooth stinger without a barb. They can deliver repeated stings.

Of course, the males cannot sting in a bumble bee colony either. But, they may engage in other defensive behavior such as flying near your head to scare you off.

Brown adult mason bees macro.

Solitary Bees

Solitary bees (Family: “Andrenidae “: mason bees, digger bees, carpenter bees) live alone and do not form colonies or hives like social bees such as honey bees or bumble bees.

Instead, they build their nests alone or with a few individuals. They nest in the ground, build nests of mud or prepare homes in hollow tubes or stems.

Because they do not form large colonies with a lot of stored food, they do not have to protect or defend the nest like honey bees.

They can focus more of their energy on food collection. This makes them excellent pollinators because they spend so much time in the field. Some solitary bees can sting or bite. But, they rarely do unless provoked.

Stingless Bees?

Is there really such a thing? Sure. In fact, the idea of stingless bees (Family: Apidae) sounds great – especially for a beekeeper. However, stingless bees are found primarily in tropical regions.

They do have a type of social organization but instead of one queen, they have many reproductive females. They construct their hives in tree trunks, hollow logs, and even in underground burrows

What Does a Bee Stinger Look Like?

A bee sting is a complex structure that is made up of several different anatomical parts. It is not simply a sharp needle but has three main parts: the stinger, the venom sac, and the lancets.

We have discussed the fact that it is normally the females that have the ability to sting.  This is because a stinger is a modified ovipositor. 

An ovipositor is a body part that the female bee uses to lay eggs.  In it’s most basic form, think of it as an egg-laying tube.

At the end of the bee’s abdomen the stinger is made up of two needle-like sharp lancets. These are used to penetrate skin. 

Your skin might be tender but what if the bee is trying to sting a bear! These lancets are barbed to help them stay embedded after insertion.

A venom sac is found at the base of the stinger. It produces and stores venom – chemicals that cause pain, swelling and inflammation.

These symptoms represent minor allergic reactions are not usually dangerous to someone without a true venom allergy. Minor reactions respond well to home bee sting treatments.

The composition of venom depends on the insect doing the sting but common chemicals found in venom are histamine, serotonin, and melittin.

Honey bees stinger and venom sack after stinging human skin.

What Happens When Honey Bees Sting?

The threatened bee approaches the target and grabs hold with her legs. The insect’s abdomen is pressed down on the skin. 

Sharp lancets penetrate the skin and the barbs help hold the inserted stinger in place. Muscles pump venom from the venom sac through the venom gland into the “victim” until the sac is empty.

Male vs Female Sting Abilities

Overall, the difference in stinging ability between female and male bees is a result of their anatomy and function within the hive.

Female bees have evolved to be the primary defenders of the hive, and their stingers are a key part of their defensive strategy.

Male bees, on the other hand, are focused on reproduction and do not have the same need for defensive mechanisms.

While male bees cannot sting, they still play an important role in the hive and are essential for the successful reproduction of the colony.


When you understand more about stinging behavior, it is easier to avoid being stung by a bee. Simply give them them space and stay away from nests.

The function of a bee sting is primarily defensive. They use their stingers to protect themselves and their hives from predators or threats.

However, not all bees can sting; only female bees have stingers. And some bee species do not have true stingers at all.

While bee stings can be painful and unpleasant, they also play an important role in protecting bees and their hives or nests.