Bug Blog

The Buzz About Bees & Wasps in Arizona

Ninety-degree temps in November in Tucson means bees are as confused as we are about what to do. Fall is typically when bees to prepare their queen and hive for winter, and when they may even be more aggressive. Called overwintering, this is the time when worker bees labor long hours collecting enough nectar to feed and maintain the colony through the winter season.

The most commonly seen bees in Tucson are the honey bee, carpenter bee and bumble bee. Hives and nests that were increasing in numbers all summer long and have reached their max capacity at the beginning of fall, will send out more foragers to find food to sustain the fall and winter months. As natural food supplies run low (flowers, smaller insects, etc.), bees and wasps will change their diet to food high in sugar and carbohydrates to better sustain themselves for winter. This is when you find them on your soda can, plastic cups, hummingbird feeders or in garbage cans.

While bees are busy getting ready for the season ahead, wasps are taking advantage of a brief, well-deserved retirement.  In late summer and fall, when the queen wasp stops laying eggs, the worker wasps change their food-gathering strategy. Adult wasps have just a few weeks to binge on carbohydrates before they die off at the first hard frost.

Aside from being annoying, bee stings can be serious if you are allergic or get stung numerous times. Here’s how each bee type send its message and the reaction it can cause:

  • Bumble Bee – not exceptionally aggressive, bumble bees rarely sting. Reduce your chances by avoiding provoking them. Only bumble bee workers and queens have a stinger. As part of their aggressive defense of their nests, bumble bees will chase nest invaders for a considerable distance. The bumble bee sting is one of the most painful. Unlike honey bees, bumble bees can sting more than once.
  • Carpenter Bee – are usually solitary and rarely damaging to structures. Male carpenter bees do not sting; the female is capable of stinging when provoked or handled.
  • Honey Bee – less aggressive and highly beneficial bees. The worker bee and the queen bee in a hive are able to sting. Regular honey bees usually aren’t much of a threat; however, Africanized honey bees can be highly aggressive and attack in large swarms. They are among the most dangerous stinging insects in the area.
  • Wasps – similar to bees but more aggressive. Easily agitated, wasps retain their stingers and can inject it many times.

Wasps and bees also both signal others of their kind after they sting, so it’s a good idea to get far away after the first sting! A single bee sting can be a painful inconvenience to some, but to others who are more sensitive to its venom, it can be a life-threatening event.

Since the venoms are injected, applying anything that either cools or numbs the area will soothe it and take the person’s mind off the pain. If a stinger remains in the skin, remove it, since the venom sac remains attached when the bee flies off and can continue injecting venom for some time.

If you do get stung, home treatment is usually all that is necessary to ease the pain.

You can reduce your risk of attracting bees in Tucson by avoiding wearing scented products and bright clothes when it’s warm out, and stay away from any hives or nests you discover.

If you find that bees are not buzzing off your property and causing a nuisance, you should exercise caution and seek a pest control professional for effective, environmentally friendly methods of hive removal.