Safety Around Bees

Bumblebees are usually pretty relaxed, and stings are uncommon, so many people are are unsure about whether they can sting or not. Also, their sting is not barbed like a honeybees, so does not pull out when they sting. This, coupled with the infrequency of stings, has helped the myth that bumblebees bite, rather than sting. While bumblebees certainly can bite, it's not their go to defensive weapon, and is unlikely to cause great pain, but you will definitely know if you have been stung!

Queens and workers can sting, but males, who are fewer, smaller and found near the end of the hive’s development, can not. Unlike honeybees, a bumblebee does not die after stinging, and can sting more than once (similar to a wasp). The good thing is that bumblebees are generally pretty relaxed and peaceful. They can, however, get annoyed if you disturb their nest, or if you accidentally give them a squeeze.

You can do several things to minimise your risk of getting stung. Bumblebees are attracted to the colour blue, so if you don’t like bumblebees buzzing around you (who knows, you might!), then try to avoid blue colours (and other pastels) in a working environment. Try not to breathe directly on them or near their nest as mammalian breath signals that they are in danger of being eaten. Also, avoid strong perfumes, wear closed shoes, take care around flowers, and don’t keep lollies in your pocket!

In most cases a bumblebee sting will cause nothing more than some discomfort. However, much like with other insect stings, people can sometimes experience an allergic reaction. This reaction may be localised, like swelling around the area stung, or in a few cases, it may be more generalised (occurring away from the area stung), such as swelling of other body parts or hives (a medical condition also known as urticaria), or in severe cases, causing anaphylactic shock. You might never have had an allergic reaction before, but it is possible for people to become sensitised to stings over time. For more information please consult the Allergy NZ Insect Sting webpage.

For more specific information on anaphylaxis, please consult the Allergy NZ anaphylaxis web page.

It is important to be aware of allergy symptoms, and if working around bees, it is a good idea to have an adrenaline auto-injector available on site, such as an Anapen® or Epipen®, which can be obtained from doctors and pharmacies without prescription. These are only to be used when someone is having an anaphylactic reaction. Information and videos on the use of these products can be found by clicking on the images to the left, or by downloading and displaying these handy pdf files (Anapen® or Epipen ®, also displayed below). Anaphylaxis Management Plans can be obtained for either of the auto-injectors, please consult the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website for more information.

A list of allergy specialists can be found on the Allergy New Zealand website, click here to find a specialist nearest you.