Can You REALLY Pet A Bumblebee?


Child Pointing at Bumblebee

Bumblebees are a very interesting kind of bee; they stay in hibernation all through winter only to come out during spring looking for locations abundant with flowers.

They are excellent pollinators and are able to pollinate most crops, including an array of fruits and vegetables. Because they appear to have small hairs around their body to help spread pollen and pick up nectar, many people assume that when you pet them, they will feel fuzzy and soft. 

But, can you pet a bumblebee? Yes, there have been plenty of cases in which people have been able to pet a bumblebee without facing harm from a sting. However, you should also consider the bee’s comfort level and their territory before doing so; depending on the situation, some bees may not feel safe if you try to pet them. 

You would be surprised to know that bumblebees can be very social among their species especially within colonies however their interaction with human beings is a totally different matter.

The remainder of this article will discuss how social bumblebees can get and how they respond to being around people both at a distance and when they are petted. We will also discuss when it is safe to pet them and how to go about doing so. 

How social are bumblebees? 

Most bumblebees live and operate in a group called a colony. These colonies could be as small as 50 bees or as large as 500 bees and are led by a dominant queen bee. Because they are used to cooperating with other bees within the colony, they can be quite social with one another. 

Bumblebee Nest
Bumblebee Nest

When it comes to human interaction, bumblebees have no problem flying near or around humans, so long as they do not feel threatened or provoked. However, generally, they will not approach people unless they smell something sugary that they could potentially bring back to the colony for food. 

Are bumblebees friendly?

Bumblebees are considered the most gentle of all species of bees. They may even come and sit on your hand if you cover it with sugar water. 

It is very important that if you are near a bumblebee that you do not startle it or be rough if you decide to pet it. If you notice a bumblebee lying on its back, do not approach it, it is considered a defensive position, and they will feel threatened if you try to get near them. 

We actually have a whole article on this topic if you would like to know more about the temperament of bumblebees. The article we have written is called, Are Bumblebees Aggressive?

When do bumblebees sting?

Although bumblebees are not as defensive as honeybees, they can still sting when threatened. Often, these bees will feel the most threatened if you are too close to their colony; this because they think their queen is in danger. As a result, they may try to attack and eventually sting you as a way of protecting the hive. 

Another reason why a bumblebee would sting is if they are feeling provoked. This will only happen if you try to wave them away aggressively when they are near you. 

Bumblebee stingers are different from those of the honey bee workers. Worker honey bees have barbs on their stingers whereas bumblebee stingers do not have barbs.  For bumblebees, this means that they can repeatedly sting without pulling the stinger from their body and ultimately dying like honey bees. So, as long as they feel threatened, they will continue to sting. 

Do bumblebees like being stroked?

Bumblebees are a safe species; this means that they will not attack anyone unless they are threatened, and will sting if they feel the need to defend their queen or their colony. 

It is usually safe to stroke bumblebees, as long as they are not disturbed; most bumbles can be so preoccupied with collecting nectar that they may not even notice if you touch them.

Honeybees however, although less aggressive when out foraging for nectar and pollen, are typically less tolerant of being touched and will see you as a threat.  This means you are much more likely to be stung trying to pet a honey bee than a bumblebee. 

Petting a Bumblebee

If you are ready to try petting your own bumblebee, you will first need to go to an area where they usually visit. From there, you will need to attract them so that they fly to your hand.  

Where do you find bumblebees to pet?

If you are a beekeeper or bee enthusiast and want to try petting a bumblebee, you will first need to locate one. So, where do you start? 

Bumblebees are most active during the daylight hours. Having said that, at certain times of the year you can find bumblebees hiding in flowers at night. For more information on the check out this article we have written, Where Do Bumblebees Go At Night?

For the most part, bumblebees live in small nests that are found closer to the ground instead of at a high height like the honeybees. These could be on the ground, underground, in the holes found in walls, or the hollows of the trees. In fact, abandoned mouse holes are a favorite spot since these holes are already built to be warm for the bee colonies to settle in.

We have a whole article on bumblebee colonies, they are pretty fascinating social characters. The article is called, Do Bumblebees Live Alone or in Colonies?

You will always find the bumblebees flying closer to home. Even when they are collecting nectar or pollen, they won’t fly too far from home. They make several trips to their colony and back to the flower while collecting the nectar, this also helps them keep an eye on their larvae and provide services to the queen.

After the rain is not a bad time to look for bumblebees that you might not only be able to pet but to help. If you want more information about how bumblebees go flying in the rain and why they might need help, check out this article we have written, Can Bumblebees Fly in the Rain?

How do you attract bumblebees to pet them?

Bumblebees collect nectar from flowers, but they don’t make honey out of it. They only use the nectar to feed their larvae and young. Bumblebees will be attracted to honey however you should not feed them, honey. As an alternative, you can use a few drops of sugar water on your hand to attract them.

Hand Feeding Bumblebees
Bumblebee feeding on sugar water

Make sure that you do not try to feed them too much sugar water as it’s not healthy for them.

If you are interested we have a whole article about, how you should feed bumblebees.

How to Pet a Bumblebee

When you are petting or stroking a bumblebee, make sure they are in a calm position. If you see them raising the rear of their body and pointing their stinger, it means that they are uncomfortable and feel threatened by your touch. As mentioned above, if the bumblebee is busy collecting nectar, it will not even notice being touched or stroked.

Example of petting a bumblebee

But you might want to be careful when you decide to stroke a bumblebee. Bumblebees are very active and do not stay still. They may keep moving or buzzing when you try to stroke them; this may lead you to touch them on their rear or stinger. This will alert them, and they might sting you.

As mentioned before, unlike honeybees, bumblebees don’t die after one sting. They can continue to sting, which can lead to a painful experience.

For a full comparison between honey bees, bumblebees, and carpenter bees we have written a comprehensive article called, Carpenter Bees Vs Bumblebees Vs Honey Bees

The Wrap Up

There have been many cases where people have successfully petted or stroked bumblebees without receiving harm to themselves from a sting or causing harm to the bumblebee.

To pet a bumble, all you need is a little bit of honey or sugar water on your hand to attract them to land there before petting them gently. As long as the bee does not feel like they’re in danger, they will be comfortable being stroked. In some instances, they may not even notice you’re doing it while they’re busy and buzzing. 

Overall, bumblebees are social creatures around their fellow bees but do not feel exactly the same about humans in certain circumstances. With that said, although it is possible to pet a bumble bee, it is usually not recommended, especially if you do not have prior experience interacting with them.

A bumblebee can easily feel threatened if you try to approach them while they are on their back or near their colony, where their job is to serve and protect the queen. 

References: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bumblebee

https://www.koppertus.com/treatment-of-bumblebee-stings-and-allergies/www.biobestgroup.com/en/biobest/pollination/things-to-know-about-bumblebees-7052/stings-6681/

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