Can Bees Bite – Bees & Beekeeping Information

illustration of bear running away from bees

Bees are an integral part to the growth of our agriculture and ecosystem. They're a living necessity that are unappreciated and often considered as disposable pests undeserving to live alongside us in society. What many fail to realize is that they are single-handedly responsible for the pollination and spreading of some of our favorite edible crops, flowers, and plants.

But despite their good intentions and industrious demeanor, bees have the tendency to sting us, our pets, and even other animals but, we have a question many probably never thought to ask, can bees bite?

Different Species Of Bees

Before we answer the question "can bees bite," let's cover some basics about bees. A majority of metropolitan and developed cities/countries have no choice but to coexist with bees.

In most of these advanced societies, honeybees are the dominant bee species but, cases of aggressive Africanized bees are occasionally reported, resulting in the hospitalization of some of their victims.

Unfortunately, these instances give our pollinating, flying friends a bad reputation when in reality, bees have no intentions of interfering with humans unless we become a direct threat to their production.

Bees' entire existence focus on the pollination of flowers and plants and protecting their living spaces and queen.

And this goes for all bee species found around the world, check out this entire list of bee species and the other insects that mimic their aesthetic/actions:

Bee on the flower

Bee Species:

  • Honeybees (Apis mellifera)
  • Bumblebees (Genus: Bombus)
  • Mason Bees (Genus: Osmia)
  • Leaf-cutter Bees (Genus: Megachile)
  • Blueberry Bees (Habropoda laboriosa; Southeastern blueberry bee)
  • Squash Bees (Genera: Peponapis and Xenoglossa)
  • Sweat Bees (Various genera)


Bee-Mimicking Insects:

  • Honeybees (Apis mellifera)
  • Hoverflies (Order Diptera, family Syrphidae)
  • Yellow Jackets (Genus: Vespula or Dolichovespula)
  • Paper Wasps (Family: Vespidae)
  • Potter Wasps (Family: Vespidae)
  • Hornets (Family: Vespidae)

These different bee species carry out their duties of pollination, reproduction, and can sting but it still raises the thought-provoking question, can bees bite?

Can Bees Bite?

So, can bees bite? Many of us have the experienced the painful sting of a bee but have never known about or experienced the numbing bite of one of nature's greatest architects and horticulturists in existence. Ultimately, yes, bees do bite their targets, but this rarely occurs when confronting humans.

Bees usually refer to biting as a second line of defense for beehive invading arthropods including wax moth larva and Varroa mites that destroy/eat bee wax and pollen.

These bee bites deliver a temporary paralyzing anesthetic that allows for guard bees to eject their victims from their hives and continue their daily functions.

Fortunately and unfortunately, for us, we'll never have to worry about the bite of the bee but still have to be cautious of the stinging ability of the fruitful insect.

bee on a flower

How The Bee Bites Paralyze

When a bee bites its intended target, it's not to kill their victim, but to temporarily disable them from moving in order for their victims to extract from the premises.

Bees secrete a paralyzing anesthetic compound substance by the name of 2-heptanone (2-H) into the wound of their targets causing the bitten insect to become fully paralyzed for up to nine minutes before regaining consciousness and maneuverability.

Researchers have discovered that 2-heptanone (2-H) has many functions for bees including:

  • The compound could be used as a chemical marker
  • An alarm pheromone to signal/recruit guard bees to the targeted area
  • A temporary paralysis agent and more

This recently discovered defense mechanism for our plant-loving insect friends acts similar to that of snake venom as the mandibles of the bee pump the non-lethal compound, 2-H into their victims in order for the colony to continue their duties as pollinators and breeders but, without the factor of guaranteed death for invading enemies.

The Surprising Benefits Of Bee Bites

smiling bee illustration

Some of you might wonder how the insect-paralyzing bite of a bee could benefit humankind and a multitude of other animal species out there. Well, 2-heptanone abbreviated as, 2-H, acts similarly to the numbing medication known as lidocaine.

A team of Greek and French researchers collaborated with the UK-based honeybee health specialist company, Vita LTD, and conducted experimentation comparing both 2-H and lidocaine.

The researchers used voltage-gated sodium channels by the name of hNav1.6 and hNav1.2, both of which are human proteins encoded by the SCN2A gene and the results of the comparison tests showed that the nerve endings were successfully blocked causing the sensation of numbness by both 2-H and lidocaine.

Now, that the previously unknown anesthetic compound, 2-H, and its effects of minor neurotoxicity are found in bee bites, scientists claim a new natural-based anesthetic can be developed using the substance for both human and veterinary medications.
 
Not only does the secreted bee bite compound have potential uses for medicinal usage, but 2-H could also guide bees toward suffering crops for pollination and to control the population of harmful arthropods and Varroa mites.

Ph.D. Alexandros Papachristoforou, who was working at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, had this to say about the researchers' discovery,

"Beekeepers will be very surprised by our discovery, and it is likely to cause a radical rethink of some long-held beliefs. It will probably stimulate honeybee research in many new directions. For instance, many beekeepers have spoken of the 'grooming' behavior of honeybees in helping to control varroa populations. This grooming behavior can now be interpreted as biting behavior."

Why Do Bees Attack People?

As previously mentioned, bees really have no desire to take part in any violent confrontation whether it be other animals or human beings. When bees are in search of nectar and pollen, they usually do so individually and avoid using their poisonous stingers at all cost but, when bees are trying to display strength in numbers, they can become potentially dangerous.  

There is a multitude of reasonable explanations for why bees attack people and other animals including:

  • Targets potentially disturbing/destroying their nests
  • Disoriented bees that find themselves in enclosed spaces with other living beings
  • Hot and humid conditions that cause them to be exceptionally aggressive

For larger animals, bees don't resort to biting their victims like they do with other insects, they use their stingers to unleash a painful attack. 

Bee stingers are filled with a poison called apitoxin,which is injected into their targets and releases a pheromone that attracts and signal other bees to attack the desired target as a swarm.

Luckily, even a massive amount of bee stings aren't deadly unless you have a bee allergy, which might cause victims to slip into anaphylactic shock. Fortunately, death could be prevented by seeking immediate medical attention, but all bee stings can be painful for recipients.

Bee Conservation

Now that you're fully informed on the biting and stinging power/benefits of bees, we have to do our best to preserve the livelihood and living spaces of our flying, gardening partners.

Unfortunately, from April 2016 to March 2017, a third of the nation's bee colonies died causing this to be more than a local societal issue but an international pandemic that could affect cropand plant growth on a global level.

What's Causing This Massive Drop In Bee Population?

Even though we've seen a recent surge in bee population over the course of six months, conservation efforts for the entire bee species should be taken seriouslyon a global level to protect them.

According to the assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and Project Director for the Bee Informed Partnership, Ph.D. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, bees have been facing serious challenges over the past three decades. PhD D. vanEngelsdorp conducted a survey for beekeepers and found the following three reasons to be the main cause in the recent drastic dip of the bee population:

The Introduction Of The Varroa Mite From Asia Thirty Years Ago

The varroa mite made its way to Florida by way of Asia in the 1980s and even though bees can bite and extract these pests from their nest, the mite carries a virus that honeybees have B. 

Unfortunately, the bothersome pests that feed on bee nests and wax can easily transfer the virus from mite to mite making just three varroa mites an extreme concern to 100 bees in their proximity.

Poor Bee Nutrition

Natural resources regarding massive flowerbeds, plant fields, and crops are becoming limited. And with some of these spaces becoming chemically controlled, bees cannot find bountiful, untainted nectar and pollen sources to feed their larvae causing bee colonies to become significantly weaker.

Pesticides, Fungicides, And Insecticides

This is the most commonly known reason for the recent decline in the bee population. Chemical farmers spraying their crops with harmful pesticides, fungicides, and insecticides have killed bees by the millions.

This is a difficult factor for beekeepers to monitor being they can't control where the bees go to gather pollen/nectar from. Also, the effect of pesticide poisoning isn't instantaneous and develops over the course of three to four months after they are exposed to harmful chemicals, causing an extreme and random spike in the mortality rate of bee colonies.

Can Bees Bite? - Conclusion

We know the answer to the question "can bees bite." We know that their bites are not harmful to humans or large animals, and how these bee bites can benefit the world. We have to do our best to protect the species by any means necessary. Do your part and educate those around you regarding the decreasing bee population so we can save the precious living resource we know as bees.

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