Honeybees are equipped with a sting which they will use to defend their honey stores or their queen. They will also, of course, attempt to use their sting if they think you are threatening their lives by standing or sitting on them.
The sting of a Honeybee (worker) is barbed, so it remains under your skin after it has pierced you. When the bee attempts to fly off her intestines are pulled out, so unless you can remove the sting without damaging it she will die. Honeybee Queens can sting repeatedly, but as they spend almost their entire lives inside the hive, the odds that you will encounter one are fairly remote.
It is worth noting that honeybee colonies have somewhat variable temperaments, 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
Bumblebee are not naturally aggressive and it takes a lot to provoke them. They will only sting if their nest is threatened or if you squeeze them, sit on them, or stand on them.
|Buff tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) posturing|
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 bumblebees (male and female) in my garden, or pick them up from pavements and roads to put them in safer places. None of these bees have ever stung me.
|Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)|
|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 squash 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.
Many thanks to Natural Beekeeper, Phil Chandler, of Biobees for his input on honeybees