Health Threats

Some species of pollinators pose potential health threats to humans. In fact, having a stinger is a built-in defense mechanism designed so each stinging insect can help protect the nest, the colony or itself when threatened.

People with known allergies to insect stings or with asthma should be particularly careful. Stings or the venom injected by a stinger could trigger a potentially life-threatening reaction, although such reactions are rare.

A common myth is that a bee or wasp can only sting once and then it dies. This is only true for some species of stinging insects, not all, so extreme caution should be taken around any nest of insects. If you come into close contact with stinging insects, do not swat or swing at the insect. Most species only sting and become aggressive when provoked. Instead, remain calm and slowly walk in one direction until the insect loses interest.

Each type of insect is different in how it defends itself:


  • Will sting to defend the nest or when provoked
  • Have smooth stingers and can sting multiple times

HonyBenFlrsdorsU-1fHoney bees

  • Will sting to defend their hives or if provoked and will pursue a target for about 100 meters
  • Only sting once. Worker bees have barbed stingers that grab flesh. When used, the stinger, poison sac and abdominal tissue is ripped from the bee’s body. This gives more time for toxins to be injected into the victim. This abdominal rupture also results in the bee’s death.
  • Stingers also give off a pheromone that alarms other bees and induces attack behavior

Photo courtesy of Johnny N. Dell,

Photo courtesy of Johnny N. Dell,

Carpenter bees

  • Males are very territorial but do not have stingers, they may hover around a person’s head to protect their nest
  • Females have a potent sting but rarely use it


  • Many species of wasps are solitary, so they do not have a nest to defend
  • Will sting if handled or provoked and many have a very potent sting


  • Will sting if provoked
  • Smooth stinger, and can sting multiple times


  • Entrance guards protect the nest from threats
  • Slow to sting unless the nest is approached, but nest disturbance can result in multiple stings
  • Smooth stingers and can sting multiple times