Answers to common questions about native pollinators
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
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.
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.