Sweat-Eating Bees Are Invading Our Cities

Illustration for article titled Sweat-Eating Bees Are Invading Our Cities

While most bees get by just fine supping on nectar from flowers, there's a different kind of bee out in the wild that feeds on sweat—and now, they're moving into cities to make the most of all that humans can offer.

The Wall Street Journal reports that researchers at Cornell University have spotted a huge increase in the number of sweat-eating bees buzzing around New York—to the extent that a new species of the salt-loving creatures, known as Lasioglossum gotham, was identified in Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

While not many people talk about sweat bees outside of universities, they soon might do. At last count, New York was home to 250 species of bees—and 49 of those were sweat bees.


Sweat bees have their name because they use the bodily secretion to keep themselves topped up with salt. They'll land on any sweating creature—but seem to prefer humans to any other animal—and lap up beads of the stuff to make sure they have enough salt inside them.

Fortunately, the presence of sweat bees shouldn't worry you too much. They rarely sting and, when they do, it's not too painful—in fact, their sting rates a one on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, the lowest on the four-point scale. [Wall Street Journal]

Image by Jason Gibbs/Cornell University

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What the heck, this is the weirdest pain scale ever. I don't know if I'm being stung or tasting wines.

1.0 Sweat bee Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.

1.2 Fire ant Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.

1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.

2.0 Bald-faced hornet Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.

2.0 Yellowjacket Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.

2.0 Honey bee and European hornet Like a matchhead that flips off and burns on your skin.

3.0 Red harvester ant Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.

3.0 Paper wasp Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.

4.0 Tarantula hawk Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.

4.0+ Bullet ant Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail grinding into your heel