Two of the most common defensive mechanisms in the animal kingdom are biting and stinging. Typically, a bug can sting but not bite and vice versa. So it’s somehow rare to have both biological arsenals in one insect body and be adept at using them.
As far as many people know, bees like bumblebees are stingers. They’re known for stinging multiple times if they’re really threatened. But what if we tell you that like ants, they’re capable of both stinging and biting?
Do bumblebees sting or bite? The answer is not what you’d expect.
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Bumblebees can sting. But do they bite too? CC Image courtesy of Sffubs on Wikipedia
How Bumblebees Usually Defend Themselves
The only ‘stingers’ among the bumblebees are the queen and her workers. However, they aren’t known to be aggressive. In fact, they’re more likely to be defensive. Meaning, they’ll only attack people when they’ve done something nasty like disturbing a nest.
If, by chance, you’ve really angered this fuzzy bee, stinging is its ultimate payback. It will try to inject you with an acidic toxin that triggers different reactions, depending on your bodily makeup. Generally, pain, swelling and discomfort will be felt on the area that was stung. But some people may experience more extreme reactions because of underlying health issues like allergies.
Unlike honey bees, bumblebees don’t have tiny barbs on their stingers, so they can easily pierce the skin without latching on to it. With this, they don’t die after stinging, and as we mentioned earlier, they’re capable of doing it multiple times.
It might come as a surprise, but stinging isn’t the only defensive measure that bumblebees have. They can also bite their way out of tricky situations.
According to The Telegraph, biting is a second line of defense for honey bees. A study from the University of Thessaloniki in Greece observed that just like snakes, honey bees use their mandibles to bite enemies and secrete compounds to induce unconsciousness. However, they don’t do this for eating. The compounds they’ve laced their bites with give them enough time to throw out insect intruders out of their hive.
Although bumblebees are not honey bees, they do belong to the same family, and they have many similarities anatomically. Bumblebees also live within a social group. It’s much simpler and smaller than a beehive, but it still does have its own queen and a group of workers. So it makes sense to think that they could possibly employ the same defensive biting method to get rid of trespassers and intruders.
But if you need more evidence of bee biting from this fuzzy bee, take a look at the aggressive Bombus hypnorum or the New Garden Bumblebee. This insect is known for being a bit more hostile compared to its cousins. Its workers have even been recorded to bite each other to exhibit dominance over one another.
So do bumblebees sting or bite? We think it’s fair to assume that they can do both. They do have the mouthparts after all. And even though it isn’t an exact science, the general rule for these bugs might be to sting larger enemies and bite the little ones. Obviously, they’d use their best weapon for bigger ‘badder’ enemies.