After years of watching and researching hummingbirds, I found out something when it comes to the birds and the bees (not those birds and bees / Stay focused people). Hummingbirds eat insects, and hummingbirds are bigger than bees or wasps. So, hummingbirds can just eat them, right? Wrong! Hummingbirds are actually frightened away by bees and wasps. Wonder why? Keep reading.
Do Hummingbirds Eat Bees and Wasps?
Hummingbirds do not eat bees or wasps. Even though hummingbirds eat insects as part of their diet, hummingbirds do not consider bees or wasps to be a food source. One reason is being stung can be fatal.
The venom from the sting or stings of either bees or wasps can overwhelm the small body system of the hummingbird resulting in death. For example, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird weighs approximately 3 grams (about 1 American penny) and only measures 3 – 3.5 inches (half of a dollar bill). Too small to fight off the venom injected by the stinger.
Let’s delve a little deeper into hummingbirds and bees/wasps.
Nectar, Loved by All
Hummingbirds, bees, and wasps are all attracted to one of the same food sources, nectar. As a result, they often can be seen at the same source of nectar, leading to some interaction or confrontation.
On a summer day, you can watch the bees and wasps buzzing and dancing around, attempting to locate nectar. Nectar can be found in various natural flowering plants or from homemade nectar in our hummingbird feeders. Feeders are the best way to watch this interaction. Bees and wasps are attracted to the sweet energy-suppling liquid for different uses but, they both need nectar to survive.
As you watch the hummingbirds eat, you will eventually notice the presence of bees/wasps visiting the feeder. Since they both need the nectar to survive, a confrontation can ensue.
Most of the time, you will see bees eating along with hummingbirds with no problems, but bees will chase off the hummingbirds if they feel threatened. As for wasps, they are more aggressive, and hummingbirds will most always yield to wasps at food sources. However, if the bees or wasps become too much of a nuisance, the hummingbirds will leave and search for another source of nectar.
Just a Little Buzz About a Bee
Honeybees are the ones that most people think of when hearing the term bee. So that is what I will briefly describe. First, of course, they have a head (with two antennae), a body section, two wings, and six (6) legs. Bees need nectar to survive. They take the nectar back to the hive, where the water is extracted and eventually is turned into honey. Bees will sting when they are startled (threatened) by fast movements toward them. Hummingbirds are very fast and quick movers. Due to the design of the stinger, the honeybee can only sting once, and then it will die.
They also have a head (with two antennae), a more slender body section, two wings, and six (6) legs. For adult wasps, nectar is the only food source they need to survive. But they eat a lot of spiders and other insects to feed their larvae.
A wasp can sting several times and survive to sting again. Wasps do not lose their stinger when stinging. Wasps are much more aggressive and territorial, making wasps a more consequential problem to hummingbirds.
Bee and Wasp Venom
Okay, break out your chemistry knowledge and we will break down the chemicals in the venom (NO, we won’t). During researching the breakdown of bee and wasp venom, I had flashbacks of college chemistry (YIKES). So let’s just make it very simple, Venom is bad.
Although a bee’s venom is different from that of a wasp, they both contain several chemical toxins that overload the hummingbird’s system.
Unfortunately, hummingbirds that get stung can die from the venom that is induced into their bodies. It is all in the name of survival. Bees and wasps will defend themselves when they feel threatened by stinging the perceived threat. You got it. Hummingbirds will often be those perceived threats while feeding on nectar.
Think About It
Let’s stop a moment and make this personal. Have you ever been stung? You may experience pain and have some redness and swelling at the site of the sting. If you receive several stings, your body will not be able to handle all the toxins, which can lead to life-threatening problems. Luckily we can seek treatment and survive the unfortunate encounter.
Now consider the small body mass of the hummingbird (weight of an American penny) trying to tolerate the venom. But, unfortunately, the hummingbird’s body just can’t cope with the toxin, and the results are fatal.
The After knowledge
I find that watching hummingbirds feast at my feeders to be extremely enjoyable. I smile a lot while watching them interact with each other, and interesting to watch their interaction with the bees/wasps. Hummingbirds will eat alongside the bees/wasps if possible, but if it becomes a real nuisance or danger, they will seek a new source of nectar. Who can blame them?
Given that bee and wasp venom is a deadly chemical toxin for hummingbirds, you now understand why hummingbirds do not eat bees or wasps but instead surrender the food source of nectar.
Although for us, the experience of being stung by a bee or wasp is very unpleasant or life-threatening for some, we can seek treatment to eliminate the adverse symptoms of the attack. What if a bee or wasp sting was always fatal? How would you perceive the presence of bees and wasps?