The Buzz on Bees
European honeybees are so familiar that most people don’t realize they are an introduced species, or that there are thousands of bee species (4,000 recorded in North America alone, of which 1,600 are native to California). Very few species make honey, and only two are considered domesticated, but people have been keeping these since ancient times and naturalized them all over the world. Most other bees are solitary (nesting alone or in small groups in logs, other plant matter, or underground) and many cannot sting. All bees (and most wasps) are important pollinators. Many are in decline due to pesticide use, habitat loss, and invasive species.
Summer is peak season for bees and wasps. Bees and most wasps are nectar feeders (thus their attraction to sugary beverages) and are not interested in meat or other solid foods. Yellowjackets are an exception. These tiny, persistent omnivores can be aggressive, and are able to sting repeatedly. (When honeybees sting, the barb that keeps the stinger lodged in the victim also fatally tears the venom gland and other organs from the bee’s abdomen.)
The More You Know…
To avoid stings, take care when outdoors. Look before you sit, swat, or reach for a weed. If a bee or wasp lands on you, try to calmly wait for it to leave. Stings are often precipitated when a person frantically swipes at an inquisitive insect. In the event of a sting, sting swabs can be obtained from Zoo Security. In the event of anaphylaxis (a rare, extreme, and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction) while visiting the Zoo, call Security immediately. UC Riverside maintains two websites that are full of useful information about wasps and honeybees.
Originally published in the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanic Gardens company newsletter, The Gnus, August 22, 2012.