In the summer months, backyard barbeques are often visited by uninvited stinging insects. Stinging insects send more than half a million people to emergency rooms each year and reactions to stings can range from painful to life threatening.
Most of these stings are caused by wasps and hornets and most people would agree that wasps and hornets are pests — end of story. But what about bees? Although capable of stinging, bees play a beneficial role in the backyard. Most stings that occur in North America are inflicted by social wasps or hornets. They live communally in nests constructed underground, inside voids, under eaves or in shrubs or trees. When threatened or disturbed, these pests will respond aggressively to defend the nest with repeated stings to the offending party. On the other hand, some wasps, like the ominous sounding (and looking) cicada killer, are not social and are not aggressive and rarely sting even when disturbed.
Social bees, with the exception of Africanized honey bees, are rarely aggressive and almost always considered beneficial. Bumble bees and honey bees are often seen buzzing from one flower to the next in backyard gardens. Each plays an important role transferring pollen from one flower to the next. Without this important service, most of the fruit and vegetables that we rely on for food would be nonexistent. On a commercial scale, honey bees also provide products like honey and beeswax.