bumblebee on flower

Photo: Alekcey/Shutterstock

It is no secret that the author of this article is a big fan of honeybees and bumblebees, and an unabashed promoter of bee-friendly landscaping. That is why I choose to begin this article with a factoid: Honeybees and bumblebees are totally different from wasps, yellow jackets and hornets. While honeybees and bumblebees (with the exception of the Africanized honeybee) are not usually aggressive, wasps, yellow jackets and hornets are. Wasps, yellow jackets and hornets do play an important role in the ecosystem, which is eating other insect pests. However, they are aggressive enough that most university extension services recommend having their nests removed by a qualified pest control expert.

Honeybees and bumblebees, on the other hand, are extremely valuable as pollinators, and should not be killed. If you notice swarms of honeybees on your property, ask a beekeeper to relocate them. Because honeybee populations are dwindling, it is absolutely preferable not to kill them.

Although honeybees and bumblebees are animals that you want in your garden, they do sting. As I said, most types of honeybees are not aggressive toward humans, but if provoked they will sting. You can avoid being stung by doing a few small and easy things, as recommended by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Cover as much of your body as you can with light-colored, smooth-finished clothing (this also prevents sunburn when working in the garden). Keep your yard free of sugary garbage, like remnants of soda from a barbecue. If you see a bee, don't swat at it. Remain still, and the honeybee or bumblebee will probably fly away. Swatting at the bee will increase the likelihood of it stinging you. From personal experience: Since every bee sting I have received has happened by stepping on a bee while walking barefoot in the grass, wearing shoes or sandals while playing or working outside is a very simple way to avoid the painful bee sting on the bottom of the foot.

Should you get swarmed by bees, do not run, as running will attract more of them. Instead, seek shelter indoors. If you are outside, move to a shaded area to get away from the bees. Needless to say, if you are allergic to bees, always carry an allergy kit with you, and know how to use it.

If you do get stung by a honeybee, you'll need to remove the stinger. The pest control experts at Purdue University recommend that if you are stung by a honeybee, you should scrape the stinger off with a fingernail or other straight edge. Do not remove a honeybee stinger with tweezers or by squeezing it between two fingers, as it will squeeze the venom into the skin. Wash the affected area with soap and water. Ice can reduce the swelling of a bee sting. Resist the urge to scratch the bee sting, as it will irritate the skin and prolong your discomfort.

With the foregoing advice, you should be able to garden alongside honeybees and bumblebees without incident. Contact your local beekeeper or apiculture expert if you are experiencing an unpleasant or disruptive number of honeybees or bumblebees in your yard.

Chaya Kurtz originally wrote this story for Networx.com. It is reprinted with permission here.

Related bee stories on MNN:

How not to get stung by bees
These pollinators really aren't out to get you, after all.