Do Bumble bees Bite

Do Bumblebees Bite?

There are insects who sting and there are those that bite, but rarely can they do both. Is the bumblebee an exception to this rule of nature? We know that bumblebees bite flowers to extract nectar, or when they gather supplies for their nest.

Today we’re going to crack the mystery if bumblebees use their bite as a defense mechanism. If so, what is the damage? Let’s get started.

Do Bumblebees Sting or Bite?

Bumblebees, much like honeybees and other bees, are known to sting. The queen and female workers have a modified egg-laying tool, which has hardened and is now used to sting. Their stinger is their primary choice of defense in case of threats or intruders.

bumblebee stinger

The bumblebee’s sting can be painful, although not as painful as other bees. The stinger is smooth and will rarely get stuck in the skin, so she can sting multiple times.

On the other hand, bumblebees don’t have a mouth full of teeth, so it’s difficult to imagine that they can bite. These bees live mostly on pollen, nectar, and honey which they eat with their tongues.

Behind their tongues, they have small pores covered by hair. Tiny molecules will pass through when they eat or gather food, which sticks to receptor cells. From this, the bumblebee can taste and smell.

They do also have something called mandibles. These are mouthpieces which other bees, carpenter bees for example, use to drill inside wood.

wood bee (carpenter) in nest

Bumblebees, therefore, do have a biting tool, but it can’t really inflict much damage, as this part is somewhat weak. This means that, if a bumblebee were to bite you, chances are you wouldn’t feel a thing.

Why Might a Bumblebee Bite?

Although bumblebees aren’t keen to bite, there are some situations where they might use their mouth as a tool.

When Collecting Nectar

Most bumblebee species have long tongues, some stretching as long as 0.78 inches. They use these tongues to dig into flowers in order to extract the nectar inside.

There are, however, some bumblebee species, such as the Bombus lucorum, who have shorter tongues and therefore can’t reach the nectar. These will instead bite onto the bottom of the flower and suck the nectar out. This method of extraction is generally known as “nectar robbing.”

The bee will pierce or bite a hole near the flower’s nectaries. This method won’t damage the flower, unless of course, the bee does it the wrong way. Other bees or insects gathering nectar may use the same holes following the bumblebee.

This process is quite a time-consuming task and it takes the bee some time before the holes are ready. This is also proof that a bite on human skin would only feel like a tickle.

The problem with this method is that the bee will not pollinate the flower in return for its precious nectar. Because the bee never enters the flower, it doesn’t come into contact with the reproductive parts and will instead just take the nectar, hence the name.

Other bumblebees may also use this method on specific flowers where they simply can’t reach the nectar otherwise.

When Cleaning the Nest

This is, again, not a defense mechanism, rather they use their mouthparts as tools. Bumblebees live in small nests, usually underground in old burrows, compost piles and even under sheds. Their nests are not nearly as tidy as a honeybee hive, but they still take measures to avoid disease spreading.

Where Do Bumblebees Live

Bumblebees don’t live very long and their workers may die while inside the nest. The other workers will quickly grab them and drag them out to the entrance. This is mostly to avoid parasites and other diseases prone to infest a bee corpse.

Are Bumblebees Aggressive?

No, bumblebees aren’t aggressive. They have short lives and spend most of their time foraging and pollinating, much to our benefit.

Bumblebees will only sting when provoked, for example if you were to stomp on their nest, poke a stick in it, or try to grab the bee. The males are even less harmful. They don’t have stingers and they’re not known for biting either, but still, it’s best to leave them be.

Will Bumblebees Drill in Wooden Houses?

This is highly unlikely. As we mentioned, the mandibles on a bumblebee are very soft when compared to other species, so they wouldn’t be able to dig tunnels in wood, although they’ll happily use a pre-drilled piece of wood as a home.

bumble bees inside some wood
CC Image courtesy of allan_harris

Bumblebees, in general, aren’t even great at building their own nests. Queens will look for places where supplies are nearby so all she has to do is drag them a few inches.

If you have bees swarming your house and you hear faint drilling sounds, then it’s likely carpenter bees. These look quite similar to bumblebees, but their mandibles are rougher and can easily drill into wood.

Summary

Bumblebees can do many things, even bite, but the bumblebee bite is so soft that a human wouldn’t feel it. This is probably also why it’s not their primary means of defense. They do, however, bite flowers when they can’t reach the nectar otherwise.

Bumblebees are gentle and not prone to attack without provocation. If you see bees flying in and out of the woodwork on your house, they’re probably carpenter bees, which look very similar to the bumblebee.

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