I use to cringe when unknown bees landed on me or buzzed my head. It took a few years to keep calm when “under attack.”
As I began to understand solitary bees, I was able to see a better picture of why we get stung.
Why do bees sting? In a hive, or “social insect” environment, someone has to guard the defenseless queen, nurses, and developing larva. In these social hives, bees can have a specific duty to patrol and defend the hive. That’s all they do before they move on to other jobs.
I was once brought really close to a commercial hive because the orchard manager wanted to watch my reaction. As a sentry bee “bonked” my head several times while wildly buzzing me, I slowly backed away from the hive. "Nice job Dave, if you had swatted at the bee, you’d probably have been stung.” I don’t recall my reply…
I realize now that I had invaded her turf and she was only doing her job… to get my attention and have me move away. She didn’t want to sting me, rather, she was helping me move away. I complied, and she kept her life. (Honey bees leave their stinger in you, and then die as their insides are pulled out.)
Solitary bees (mason bees are in that kingdom) live much simpler than the complex social honey bees, bumble bees, or anything else that lives as a hive.
Since each female bee does all duties, she has a simple choice:
Do I gather pollen/nectar, lay eggs, and gather mud?
- Do I protect my hole from everything else?
The answer is quite simple. She can’t get her myriad of tasks done if she’s busy protecting. As a result, they don’t defend their nesting hole at all.
Put your hand in front of the nesting mason bee tubes. Bees will hit your hand, land on it, or wait patiently until it’s out of the way.
The solitary bee only stings when its life is in peril. For example, caught between your fingers or up your sleeve.
This season, learn to relax around your mason bees. As you get accustom to the bees, try petting a bumble bee on a flower. You may have a difficult time as they move quickly. However, you’re not attacking their hive and you’re bothering a pollen nectar gatherer, not the sentry!
To read more on how you can raise your own mason bees, visit www.crownbees.com.