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  • Parry Sound Nature Club

Things That Sting

Bees, wasps and hornets are just protecting themselves

Before getting into the stinging details on bugs, beekeeper Mark Speller, co-owner of Rousseau’s Muskoka Craft Honey, recently reminded the Parry Sound Nature Club three important facts to keep in mind:


  1. Bees and wasps are important pollinators, essential to the planet’s biodiversity. Honeybees alone provide one-third of all pollination in the world.

  2. Bees provide humanity with honey, royal jelly, and pollen as well as products such as beeswax, propolis, and honeybee venom.

  3. Bees are less aggressive than wasps or hornets, but all of them only sting if they sense you are getting close enough to harm their hives or nests. So stay as far away as possible!


Mark went on to share stinging insect intel:

Honeybees arrived in North America from Europe in the 1600s, and build their hives above ground. Every honeybee hive includes a queen, whose job is to lay eggs. Fewer than 50 male drones, whose job is to fertilize the queen, and thousands of female worker bees, whose job is all the rest of the hive’s work, make up the hive. Their work includes raising the eggs from larvae to pupae to adult bees. It includes collecting pollen, building the hive’s honeycombs, making royal jelly and honey. And, yes, it includes stinging you and other potential predators.


Eastern bumblebees, the most common bees in the Parry Sound area, build teacup-sized underground colonies for 30-50 bees. Each colony makes enough honey to nourish its members—no more. This species deploys “buzz” pollination: their thoraxes create a vibration so fast that it blows the pollen out of flowers. Buzz pollination is essential for pollinating plants such as peppers and tomatoes.

Honey and bumblebees literally give up their lives when they sting, because their stingers are barbed. This means that when these bees sting, their stingers are torn away from their bodies, and they die. Wasps or hornets, on the other hand, can live to sting multiple times. They tend to be aggressively protective of their nests.

Paper wasps and yellow jackets can build nests that hold up to 10,000 wasps, in trees or underground. They do eat nectar, but are also scavengers (i.e., meat eaters) who need the protein in meat to feed their larvae. If you see these wasps circling your barbecue, consider moving the meat indoors. Their stings are painful.

Bald faced hornets are large hard-shelled black insects with white markings—belong to the wasp family. They live in colonies of 500-700 individuals. On top of stinging large predators like us, they can spray venom into the eyes of nest invaders.

European hornets are the largest hornet in Europe and North America, they are NOT the so-called and rightfully feared murder hornets. While their stings do pack a wallop, you’ll likely hear them before you see them—their wings are so large that they make an audible sound when flying.

Asian, northern giant or “murder” hornets, the largest hornet in the world at 4 cm, have not been sighted in North America since 2022. Their relatively small stingers deliver excruciating pain, but their mandibles are lethal to insects. These giants can demolish a honeybee hive in an hour! Murder hornets are such a significant threat to honeybees worldwide that they warrant international attention.

Thanks to Mark for his presentation! Mark Speller and Joanne Kempton are beekeepers at Muskoka Craft Honey in Rousseau. They manage 100-plus colonies in Parry Sound and Muskoka apiaries.





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