|Honeybee (Apis mellifera)|
will sting if defending their honey stores or their queen, or if they think you are threatening their life by standing or sitting on them.
Honeybees have a barb at the end of their sting which remains under your skin after they have stung. They usually die after they have stung.
It is worth noting that honeybees have a somewhat variable temperament, from extremely docile to quite tetchy. This is down to genetics: certain crosses can be hard to handle, even by experienced beekeepers. The good news is that honeybees almost never sting anyone who is not close to their nest/hive, so don't worry about being stung whilst gardening or walking through a field.
You are less likely to be stung whilst honeybees are swarming than at any other time.
Male honeybees have no sting
N.B If you have reason to think you may be allergic to bee venom, you should carry an Epipen
|Tree bee (Bombus hypnorum)|
will only sting if their nest is threatened or if you squeeze them, sit on them or stand on them. They are not naturally aggressive and it takes a lot to provoke them. If they feel threatened by you they will 'tell' you. They do this by raising one of their middle legs in the air. When you move away they will put their leg back down again - but if you go closer (and if they are unhappy about this) they will lift another leg in the air. If you go closer still - they will lift two legs up vertically in the air or turn on their back and show you their sting! This is called 'posturing' but very rarely leads to them actually stinging you. If bumblebees DO ever sting, their sting has no barb like the honeybee, so they will not die afterwards :)
Male bumblebees do not have a sting. You can identify the males of some species quite easily by their pale yellow facial hair and little yellow moustaches. Also, male bumblebees are in less hurry than the females when foraging and have thin hairy legs (females have a wide shiny, smooth, flattened corbicula on their back legs and are often carrying pollen)
I often stroke the bumblebees (male and female) in my garden, or pick them up from pavements and roads to put them in safer places and none of these bees have ever stung me.
|Leafcutter (Megachile centuncularis)|
There are over 230 species of solitary bee in the UK and it is VERY rare for anyone to be stung by one of these bees. As solitary bees have no honey stores to protect, there is no reason for nature to have provided them with a good defence weapon like the honeybee. The females are equipped with tiny stings but rarely, if ever, do they use them. You would have to be squashing them to provoke them to sting - and even then, the sting on most of these bees is so insignificant that it cannot pierce human skin.
There are just one or two exceptions. Although the effect is not as severe as a honeybee sting, our tiniest species of ground nesting solitary bee, Lasioglossum and Halictus, both have fully functioning stings capable of penetrating human skin.
None of the male solitary bees have stings.
N.B. If you have reason to think you may be seriously allergic to bee venom, you should carry an Epipen.
If you are not allergic (the majority of us are not) but you DO get stung by a bee, look for some plantain - chew it up a bit at the front of your mouth - and then spit the chewed up leaf and saliva on the sting.
The bee in this photo is a Buff tailed bumblebee. She is 'posturing' at me after I lifted her up from the road to place her somewhere safe....
Many thanks to Natural Beekeeper, Phil Chandler, of Biobees for his input on honeybees