By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Most of us can probably remember the last time we were stung by what we thought was a bee. We’re coming into the part of summer where those little buzzers really ramp up.

So, that had Greg from Minnetonka wanting to know: Why do bees sting? Good Question.

“It’s rare to be stung by a honeybee,” said Brandon Krosch, a third-generation beekeeper who manages the beehives at United Theological Seminary. “It’s just that they’re defending the hive. It’s a defense mechanism.”

He said honeybees are aware when people are close to their hives, but generally leave humans alone. Exceptions might include someone sticking a hand into the hive or stepping on one of the honeybees.

“Then, technically, they’re not stinging you, you’re stinging you,” he said. “You’re just pushing their stinger into your body.”

Jeff Hahn, an entomologist with the University of Minnesota, said the vast majority of “bee” stings actually come from wasps, specifically yellowjackets. They could also be paper wasps, which have long, dangling legs and flat nests or bald-faced hornets, which are darker in color and have gray paper ball nests in trees.

“A lot of what people call bees are wasps,” Hahn said.

Wasps are generally more aggressive than bees because their food source is different. While bees feed on nectar and pollen from flowers, wasps eat insects and human food. Many wasps also live underground, making it harder to determine exactly where their hives are located.

“Usually if you get stung by a wasp or hornet, you’re within 15 feet of their nest and you might not even know it,” said Krosch.

Only female bees and wasps have stingers, so male bees and wasps are never the culprit. And, while wasps can sting people several times, honeybees can only sting a person once before dying. That’s because their stingers are barbed, so when the honeybee tries to pull out, it leaves part of its abdomen, digestive tract and muscles in the human skin.

Heather Brown

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