“Sweat bee” is a broad term that applies to thousands of subspecies of bees that are common around the world. Many of these different individual bee species have variations of yellow and black stripes, black and white stripes, or even metallic green bodies. Some of them have “fuzz” and bodies that resemble a small honeybee, while some more closely resemble wasps or flies. These bees also exhibit a range of nesting behaviors, but they all have one thing in common: they are attracted to human sweat, and can therefore be an annoying pest for people who want to relax and enjoy their gardens.
Although many bee species are included in the group of “sweat bees;” they all generally have a number of things in common:
They nest in the earth. They typically nest in underground tunnels in dry earth, although they will sometimes nest in soft wood, such as in old tree stumps or fallen trees
They mass-provision their young. Honeybees feed their young continually as they grow, but sweat bees lay their eggs inside a cell that contains a store of pollen and nectar, so the larva is given all its food at one time, and adults do not actively tend their young
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They can nest alone or in groups. Unlike honeybees that have established colonies, division of labor, and communication methods, sweat bees often nest alone. However, some species of sweat bee have adopted some aspects of social living, where a number of female bees will work together to maintain communal tunnels and shared entrances and exits
They are not aggressive. These bees will seldom sting a person unless threatened, and their stings are not as painful as the stings of other bees
They eat pollen and are important pollinators among plant species. Even though they seem to be irresistibly drawn to human sweat, they live on pollen and gather and store it for their young
Table of Contents
- Are Sweat Bees Dangerous?
- How to Treat a Sweat Bee Sting
- Sweat Bee Sting Allergy Risk
- Why are Sweat Bees so Annoying?
- 7 Methods Guiding You How to Get Rid of Sweat Bees
Are Sweat Bees Dangerous?
Generally speaking, sweat bees are not dangerous to people or pets. In fact, they pose less of a hazard than honeybees or other kinds of bees, for a couple reasons:
* They are seldom aggressive
As mentioned above, they tend to be calm and non-aggressive unless threatened.
* They are few in number
Unlike communally-living bees, where a threat may trigger the entire hive or colony to react to a threat, sweat bees are solitary, so a person generally only risks a single sting. Even when living communally, sweat bees seldom share guard duties, and, among the few species that do, the entire colony is usually fewer than 40 bees. Africanized honeybees are dangerous because of the hundreds and sometimes thousands of stings they can inflict when threatened, but sweat bees are the opposite.
However low the risk, however, sweat bees do sting. People are most often stung by these bees because the bee has landed on a person in order to drink their sweat, and the person has swatted or crushed the bee, getting stung in the process. Their habit of being near or on people leads to frequent encounters that give rise to stings.
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How to Treat a Sweat Bee Sting
While sweat bee stings are mild, the stinger will continue to inject venom for a long time. It’s important to remove the stinger as quickly as possible to reduce irritation and inflammation at the site of the sting. If you are stung by a sweat bee, follow these steps:
Remove the stinger by sweeping or scraping it out and away from the skin. Use the edge of a credit card or nail file or something similar to push the sting out of the skin and away. Do not pinch the sting with fingers or tweezers to remove it, because it will release more bee venom
- Wash the area with soap and water
- Use a cold compress to reduce swelling in the affected area
If the area is irritated, a topical hydrocortisone cream can help soothe the sting. A paste of baking soda and water can also help reduce inflammation and heal the area
Sweat Bee Sting Allergy Risk
Some people have severe allergic reactions to the sting of sweat bees, but bee sting allergic reactions are difficult to test scientifically and predict. Among all bees, not just sweat bees, allergy skin tests are not a reliable indicator of severe bee sting reactions.
Furthermore, the venom of sweat bees is specific to their species, and sensitivity to the stings of other insects, including honeybees, is not a predictor of an adverse reaction to the sting of a sweat bee. Finally, the term “sweat bee” is applied to thousands of bee subspecies, with different venoms. We simply don’t have the research or scientific knowledge at this time to accurately predict the presence or severity of any bee allergy, let alone a sweat bee allergy.
If you or a loved one have been stung by a sweat bee, remove the stinger and source of venom as quickly as possible, and wash the area. Then be especially observant for signs of any further reaction, and seek medical care if necessary.
Why are Sweat Bees so Annoying?
Sweat bees are not just harmless, but actually beneficial, guests in the garden for their role as pollinators. But their attraction to human sweat can be incredibly annoying, particularly for those who are doing work in the yard on a hot day and producing a lot of sweat.
Although these bees live and feed on pollen and nectar, sweat bees (like many insects and animals) require certain minerals for survival, and salt is one of them. Salt is uncommon in plants and flowers, so the bees seek it out in the sweat (and sometimes tears) of people and animals.
Left undisturbed, sweat bees will sit on sweaty skin and sip up the salty liquid. They can be quite determined to access the salt, and will return again and again, and crawl inside clothing. The persistence with which they fly at a person and will not be waved away can feel like an attack, which is why many people react so negatively to sweat bees.
7 Methods Guiding You How to Get Rid of Sweat Bees
Sweat bees can be a nuisance for people who are just trying to relax outside in the summer, but remember that they also play an important role in the ecosystem. There are several natural, effective ways to reduce the nuisance of these bees without hurting them or the environment, so it’s advisable to begin with the least invasive methods possible, and see if you can find a way to coexist with a reasonable population of sweat bees. Here are some ways to get rid of sweat bees in your outdoor environment:
1 Don’t attract sweat bees
Avoid perfumes. Bees can be attracted to flowery scents and perfumes, so avoid using them when you are outdoors
Reduce or dilute your sweat. Sweat bees (as the name implies) are attracted to sweat. Taking a shower or using outdoor cooling systems, like fans and misters, can reduce the amount of sweat on your skin, making you less attractive to these bees. Remaining well hydrated and reducing consumption of salty foods dilutes the concentration of salt in your sweat, further reducing your appeal to sweat bees
Wear a hat or otherwise contain long hair. Some species of bee are more aggressive when in the presence of hair or fur, possibly because they associate it with predators. But, in any case, all bees may be attracted to the scent of shampoos and hair products, and having a bee trapped in long hair creates an elevated risk of getting stung
Wear white. Did you ever wonder why beekeeper suits are always white? Bees can associate bright colors with attractive flowers, and dark colors with threatening predators like bears. But they generally don’t react either way to the color white
2 Divert sweat bees
Consider placing a shallow dish of salt water elsewhere on your property, to divert the attention of sweat bees away from people and pets.
3 Deter sweat bees
Cover exposed soil. Sweat bees generally nest in dry, exposed soil. If you have bare earth in your garden, even if it’s simply rows between planted vegetables, they may choose to build a home there. Covering bare earth with ground cover plants like creeping thyme, scotch moss, or kidney weed will not only deter sweat bees, but may make your garden look nicer. If you don’t want to plant ground cover plants, use a thick layer of mulch to prevent sweat bees. Mulch is also good for the soil and good for your plants.
Remove dead wood. Soft, dead wood can also be a habitat for sweat bees and other pests. Removing old tree stumps can help keep your garden free of unwanted guests, and prevent sweat bee nests on your property
Control water. Bees, like all other creatures, need water to survive. Removing sources of drinking water from your lawn or property can help deter bees. Empty buckets, wheelbarrows, pots, and other garden implements after rainfall, and store them on their sides so they don’t accumulate water. Keep gutters clear and seal rain barrels so that bees have less access to water. Keep pools and ponds clean and well-maintained. Don’t overwater plants, particularly if they are in containers. Reducing standing water on your property not only deters bees, but it also prevents mosquitoes.
4 Repel sweat bees
There are several commercial insect repellents, but you can naturally dissuade sweat bees with the use of essential oils. You can make your own natural sweat bee repellent with the following oils:
5 Tea tree oil
Lemongrass or citronella oil (will also deter mosquitoes)
6 Peppermint oil
Mixing a few drops of essential oils into a neutral carrier oil like jojoba or almond oil makes a safe and natural sweat bee repellent. On people, dab a small amount of the mixture on the neck, wrists, and ankles (if they are exposed). A small amount can also be applied to a pet collar if sweat bees are bothering your animals.
7 Kill sweat bees
Of course, there are times when you may just need to kill sweat bees, particularly if you have a sensitivity or allergy. Again, you can choose from a variety of commercial bug sprays, but they are generally not necessary. Here are two ways to kill sweat bees naturally:
Make a bee spray. Mix ¾ – 1 cup of dish soap with 1 gallon of water. Put the liquid into a spray bottle and keep it with you outdoors. You probably won’t be able to shoot bees out of the air with this method, but if they land on a surface and you can thoroughly wet them with the solution, it will drown them. Try adding a few drops of peppermint or citronella oil to the spray bottle, to further diffuse the scent and repel unwanted insects
Use a bee trap. If you have a large number of troubling bees, you can make or purchase a bee trap. There are a number of designs available, but they generally all work by attracting the bees with sweet liquids and then drowning them in the container
As you can see, it’s not that difficult once you know how to repel sweat bees. The biggest source of conflict between people and sweat bees is simply misunderstanding of the bee’s behavior. The fact that they pursue people, fly at them, land on them, and harass them can lead people to feel as though they are being attacked by the bees, and these contacts increase the likelihood of being stung. But they are ultimately harmless, and can be deterred with simple measures.
Of course, for severe cases, you may want to use commercial pesticides, or even call an exterminator. But sweat bees, however annoying, are generally harmless to people and pets. And they play an important role in the health of our environment, ecosystems, and food supply. With greater knowledge and understanding, hopefully we can find ways to peacefully live with bees in our natural environment, without resorting to killing them or using harmful chemicals to control them.