Answers to common questions about native pollinators

Honey bees were introduced to North America by European settlers in 1600s. The honey bees we keep in hives belong to the species Apis mellifera, which is native to Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. North America has no native honey bees. (Bumble bees store small amounts of honey, but not enough to harvest.)
It’s not easy. Recommendations for carpenter bee control in North Carolina are available in this NCSU Insect Note. Before waging war on carpenter bees, remember that they can also be good pollinators—especially for passion vines.
The risk of getting stung by wild bees is very low. To make sense of stinging, it helps to have some background on the biology of bees and wasps.

  1. Many stinging incidents involve social insects defending their nests. The nests you’re most likely to disturb are those of yellowjacket wasps, paper wasps, and hornets (all wasps, not bees). Bumble bees and honey bees will also defend their nests, but you are less likely to encounter these by accident. The vast majority of native bees, about 90% of species, nest alone or in very small groups. These species are not defensive and only sting when handled directly, if at all.
  2. Be mindful in outdoor eating/picnic areas. This is another top source of stinging incidents. Yellowjacket wasps and honey bees are attracted to many sugary foods, not just flowers. They may land on or in food and beverage containers, where they can be accidentally provoked into stinging.
  3. Male bees and wasps can’t sting at all. The stinger is derived from the egg-laying apparatus. The males of some wasps have “fake” stingers that can deliver a little pinprick, but lack venom.

Although the risk of stinging in a flower garden is very low, allergic individuals should of course take precautions.

Africanized honey bees, often called “killer bees,” are honey bees whose ancestry includes an African subspecies of honey bee (Apis mellifera scutellata) that was introduced to Brazil in the 1950s. These bees are more defensive of their nests than European honey bees. Although not more venomous on a sting-for-sting basis, Africanized bees are apt to deliver more stings.

Africanized bees have not established in North Carolina, and it is unclear whether they will do so. As of 2015, the closest populations are in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Florida. More details are available from the NCSU Apiculture Program and the USDA.

Bees are vegetarian wasps. In the insect family tree, bees are one branch within a larger group that includes various wasps (such as sand wasps and paper wasps). The wasps in this group all hunt other insects or spiders to feed their young, whereas bees use pollen for this purpose. The adults of both bees and wasps use flower nectar as a source of energy.

Also, if you look at bees and wasps under a microscope, all bees have at least some branched hairs on their bodies, but wasps do not.

Nope, only honey bees. Honey bees have barbed stingers that stay embedded in your skin. When the bee flies away, the stinger is torn from her body and she will die. Wasps and native bees have straight, non-barbed stingers that stay attached to the insect and can be used over and over again!

If you are stung by a honey bee, remove the stinger immediately (and don’t worry about pinching the venom sac). Quickly removing the stinger is the most important way to reduce sting severity. Pinching the venom sac during removal does not actually inject additional venom.