But that reminded me that I wanted to do some research.
I finally got around to looking up carpenter bees and bumble bees, because of what they told us in Gatlinburg. They are different, but look very similar. If the bee has a shiny black abdomen with no fuzzy yellow markings, it's a carpenter bee.
Turns out that they were sort of right about carpenter bees not stinging. The males don't have stingers, but are quite aggressive. The females have a painful defensive sting. What surprised me was the likelihood that males would be the ones encountered, flying about. So many hive species have females out and about that I'm used to assuming bees that I actually *see* are female. So if the Gatlinburg people were right, the bees menacing us when we arrived were quite probably stinger-free.
Bumble bees on the other hand, are described as having the normal stinging properties.
I'm confident that I would be able to tell the difference between the two now. Especially since both tend to do a lot of hovering. One of the other differences is that bumble bees nest in the ground and carpenter bees nest in wood (which is where they get the name -- they don't eat the wood, just nest in it).
I've also realized that I seem to have lost my old fear of bees. I used to be very fearful of them, and it was very hard for me to follow the "just be still and they won't hurt you" advice thrown at me. I was once stung by multiple yellow jackets when I brushed against their hive, which really isn't conducive to building bee courage.
But when we were "up against" bees in Gatlinburg, they didn't bother me. Yay. I have enough other fears to can still paralyse me, thank you very much. ;)