Sweat Bee Stings
Honey bees tend to hog the bee limelight, but there are thousands of other species worthy of our attention. I want to give some attention to sweat bees. They’re fairly common and are known for their tendency to land on us.
This invasion of personal space can be uncomfortable at best, and dangerous to those with allergies. So how do you protect yourself from sweat bees should they choose to sit on you? Are sweat bee stings as severe as other bee stings? Here’s what you should know.
Do Sweat Bees Sting?
Sweat bees can sting you, but knowing this won’t help much if you don’t know what sweat bees are. If you want to protect yourself from them, you’ll have to learn how to spot them.
Identifying Sweat Bees
“Sweat bee” is actually the common name of a family of bees (Halictidae). They’re the most prevalent bees, after honeybees, and are found globally. They’re tiny, growing up to only half an inch long. Sweat bees can be social or solitary, depending on the species, but they typically nest underground.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to recognize them, as they have defining metallic bodies. They’re usually black or green, but they can range between blue and purple too. Sweat bees aren’t as fuzzy as other bees and are often mistaken for flies (or flies are mistaken for sweat bees).
Just to clarify, hoverflies are not sweat bees. They’re not even Halictidae, or remotely related to hymenoptera—the order that bees are a part of.
Why Do Sweat Bees Sit on Us?
As mentioned, sweat bees have a habit of sitting on us—an uncommon trait in bees. This quirk of theirs is what makes them potentially dangerous. Having one land on you greatly increases the risk of having one sting you.
So how come they’re so forward? The answer is right in their name.
Sweat bees feed on our sweat. It’s not as gross as it sounds, though. All they’re actually after is the salt in our perspiration.
Sweat bees eat nectar and pollen just like any other bee, but they are drawn to our sweat because it’s an easy (and abundant) source of the minerals they need.
When they approach, they’re not trying to frighten or harm you. They’re just foraging, as honeybees do with flowers. Regardless of their intentions though, sometimes humans and sweat bees just don’t get along.
So what happens when they sting you? Should you be concerned?
How Bad Do Sweat Bee Stings Hurt?
Usually, gently brushing a sweat bee off of your skin will do the trick. It won’t get hurt, and will probably take off, leaving you alone. If you aren’t gentle, however, and deliberately harm, push, squeeze or press on a sweat bee, she will retaliate.
Since sweat bees are common, sweat bee stings are a likely occurrence. Under normal circumstances, you don’t have to worry too much about them, though.
On the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, sweat bee stings are rated a 1.0, where 1 is the least pain of all. For reference, honey bee stings are rated a 2: twice as painful.
Remember that this is just in comparison to other stings. Just because it’s been designated the lowest possible score, it doesn’t mean it won’t be sore if one stings you.
Also, keep in mind that pain and severity are two separate things. If someone with allergies gets stung, it can be far more dangerous, and it should be treated with a sense of urgency. Allergic reactions to sweat bee stings are not like other bee stings, and treatment for it is limited.
Speaking of which…
How to Treat a Sweat Bee Sting
If getting stung is not an emergency (in which case you should seek immediate medical attention), your best bet is to stay calm. Sweat bees won’t leave their stingers behind, so you won’t have to think about removing it.
Clean the affected area with soap and water, and put an ice pack on it to reduce inflammation or swelling. If the pain persists, consider taking pain medication.
An allergic reaction might not be instantly apparent. If the swelling or pain spreads to other parts of your body, or if you experience dizziness, nausea, or labored breathing, get yourself to the emergency room immediately.
Sweat bees aren’t as much of a threat to us as honeybees or other stinging insects, but they can (and will) sting you if you interfere with them. The best thing to do if one lands on you, is to gently sweep it away. So long as it doesn’t feel threatened, it should leave you alone.
If one does sting you, don’t panic. Sweat bee stings are mild. Unless you’re allergic, you have nothing to worry about.