Don’t sweat it when sweat bees land on you


OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer and volunteer pollinator specialist


It’s the kind of day gardeners long for in summer.

You are so happy to be in the garden, even working up a little sweat. Then – OUCH!

You instinctively swat at your arm and you see a little metallic greenish-looking insect on your arm. What is that thing? It is small, about an Ω-inch. Welcome the sweat bee.

They are not aggressive. Try to remember, the bee is feeling threatened and defensive when it attacks. Only the female can sting. Male sweat bees look like the female, but do not have hairs on the legs where pollen is stored.

Like many other types of male bees, they sometimes have a yellow spot between the antennae.

Bet you already figured this out – sweat bees are attracted to human perspiration. Once the stinger pierces the skin, she can continue to pump venom until the stinger is released.

Here’s a clue: Don’t just watch what’s going on. Get the stinger out as soon as possible and apply ice to reduce pain and swelling. A paste of baking soda, meat tenderizer and water will help.

As mentioned, sweat bees are not classified as aggressive, but there are some things that just might give them reason to go on defense. Vibrations in the ground close to a nest, dark shadows may make them think that danger is near. Word to the wise: Try to never get between any bee and its nest.

This is a pollinator with panache. The majority of sweat bees are metallic black. The rest in North America have a metallic green or blue sheen. They are solitary bees, meaning they don’t live in a hive like honey bees. Most live alone underground in nests, with sandy soil preferred.

Sweat bees can also be group nesters, each with its own nest, but close together. They build the nests on bare, dry dirt, then go underground. The nest is usually a small pile of soil with a hole in the middle. Some nest in rotted wood.

Sweat bees are important pollinators. Females are often seen with a heavy load of pollen on their back legs. They are also nectar seekers. Favorites are berries, apples and cherries.

Sweat bees should not be considered as pests. As with other native bees, they provide important ecological services. Do not resort to using pesticides. If control is really needed, a strong spray of water may encourage them to move their nesting area.

To learn more about these and other pollinators, consider attending our pollinator workshops Tuesday through Thursday. Details are at

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