These tiny little bees may look friendly, but they pack quite a punch.

If you've ever experienced a sharp pain on your neck, arm or back and had no idea what happened, you may have been stung by one of the sneakiest insects in the animal kingdom.

This summer I've been stung four times by these tiny little bees that will sneak up on you with absolutely no warning. Usually, when a wasp, hornet or bee is buzzing around your head you know that you're in danger of getting stung. But when it comes to sweat bees, there's no such warning. One moment you're enjoying the outdoors and the next you're doubled over in pain.

What are Sweat Bees?

The Hudson Valley is home to over 400 varieties of bees. Among them are the Halictidae, more commonly referred to as "sweat bees." These painful little stingers get their name because they are attracted to human sweat. Although they get their nourishment from flowers, they supplement it with salt from your perspiration. On hot days they will land on your skin and feast, most of the time without you even noticing.

While sweat bees aren't necessarily aggressive, they will sting if they feel like they are under attack. Unfortunately, because these bees usually go undetected, simply moving your arm or scratching your neck may be misunderstood as an aggressive act, causing the sweat bee to go into self-defense mode.

A young woman examines her insect sting on her arm
Jens Rother

What does the sting feel like?

I've been living in the Hudson Valley for over 30 years and the first time I was even made aware of sweat bees was last year when I was stung by one. We had just installed a saltwater pool in our yard and I yelped in pain after being stung. The contact with a sweat bee was either due to spending more time outdoors or because the bees were attracted to the salt in the pool water. Either way, the sting was a sharp pain that left a huge welt on my arm.

This summer I was stung multiple times, most likely because the weather has been so warm and humid that I begin sweating the moment I step outside. Each time I've been stung I have been completely caught by surprise. I'd be in a conversation and then just scream out in pain mid-sentence after being stung.

Are they dangerous?

Unless you're allergic, sweat bees are more of an inconvenience than anything else. Their stings, although painful, aren't as bad as larger bees. They can be treated the same way as any other insect sting and symptoms usually go away after a couple of days.

Do you have sweat bees in your yard? If so, have you noticed them growing in numbers this year? Drop us a message on our app and let us know how you deal with these painful little bees.

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