Frequently Asked Questions
Do wild bees sting ?
Given the diversity of wild bees, it is impossible to giv one general answer.
However we can bring certain elements to light :
Although honey bee and bumblebee venom is allergenic (several known allergies) the venom of wild bees is not (bumblebees are very close to honey bees genetically). One case (the only case perhaps ?) of allergic reaction to a wild bee sting has been recorded to this day. In general, their venom, if it happens to be injected, provokes little effect.
The stinger of a honey bee though, is barbed. Once it enters the skin, it is impossible for the bee to take it back. By trying to take back it's stinger, a part of the bee's abdominal organs is torn at the same time, the bee dies quickly after, due to disembowelment. But the freed venom emits an odour (attack pheromones) which makes other bees of the colony aware of danger. Other bees come together instinctively to defend the hive. Often it is the social behaviour of bees that is most frightening since one sting can provoke great number of subsequent stings.
Another notable fact : only female bees sting (the stinger is a modified egg-laying organ), so males cannot hurt you (this is true for honey bees as well).
It is also interesting to note that human skin is quite thick, and that the stingers of a large majority of wild bees cannot pierce through it, that makes most wild bees inoffesive for humans.
To conclude, wild bees are non-agressive. One would have to really bother a wild bee relentlessly to get stung. Therefore it is totally safe to observe them.
Do wild bees make honey?
Honey is a rot-resistant food reserve for bees living in colonies, kept to last throughout winter. There are, therefore, two remarkable aspects about the production of honey: life of the group of a whole, and the sustainability of the species (lifespan of more than a year).
The only eusocial (truly social) species are honeybees and bumblebees (approximately 50 species). Almost all the other species of bee (about 950) are solitary. Moreover, contrary to honey bees (Apis mellifera), bumblebees (bombus spp.) do not spend winter in colonies (except for one species on the Porquerolles islands of France). As with wasps, only the future queens live sheltered through winter, waiting for spring to give birth to a new colony, bound to only living for one year.
Do wild bees live in hives ?
Unlike honey bees (Apis mellifera, also known as the domestic bee) and bumblebees, wild bees are solitary. They make indiviual nests in different types of structures with varied materials. Even though 80% of wild bees nest underground, where they dig holes to lay their eggs, several species are known to nest in stems, in wood, and even in stone.
Are there queens among wild bees ?
The presence of a queen is a characteristic of social insects (ants, termites, honey bees, bumblebees). Since wild bees are almost all solitary, there is no queen.
Yet, there are different levels of sociability for different bees. Solitary bees keep to themselves, gregarious species prefer to lay eggs in close proximity to each other, creating nesting aggregations.
Whereas, social species are either (i) sub-social colonies, where one dominant female lays eggs, and the others collect pollen and keep guard or (ii) eusocial species, where casts are created and the queen is morphologically different from the workers (who have atrophied genitals).
Is the bumblebee a male domestic bee ?
The bumblebee is not a male domestic bee. It is a completely different species. The confusion comes from the fact that the male domestic bee is often called a "false bumblebee". Like the domestic bee and social wasps, bumblebees live in colonies. The colony is founded by a queen in spring. She gives birth to many workers who then collect pollen to feed the colony. At the end of the summer, some males and young queens appear and mate. The colony then dies and only the young fertilised queens survive over winter. They create new colonies the following spring, often in an abandonned rodent's nest, or in a bundle of vegetation, or in dry moss*.
* Terzo and Rasmont 2007