Bee, Wasp, and Hornet Stings
Bees, wasps, and hornets have differing characteristics, but we will discuss them together as they all belong to the family Hymenoptera. There are over 150,000 species within this family, which includes bees, wasps, hornets, and ants. Hymenoptera are characterized by a narrow waist and many species have stingers. Bees are crucial to our survival as without their pollinating plants, food supply would be insufficient. Although most wasps are not considered pollinators, they are useful to humans as most species are parasitic. This means, that many species of wasps attack, paralyze, and kill insects that destroy crops. Most farmers and gardeners consider wasps a valuable biological control, and pest control efforts have progressed to protect both bees and wasps.
However, bees and wasps strike terror into many who have been on the receiving end of their stinger. Stings from these flying insects cause pain, redness, inflammation, and in many a severe allergic reaction. Almost all bees and wasps will react aggressively if their hives or nests are attacked or disturbed. However, a single honeybee in search of pollen will not usually sting without provocation. Of course, Africanized or killer bees do not behave like a typical honeybee. Yellowjackets, on the other hand, are notoriously aggressive. Yellowjackets are known to chase you down if you are even in the vicinity of their nest. The best course of action is to remain vigilant against stinging insects and protect your home and yard if there is a likelihood of a confrontation.
This article will help you identify common types of bees, wasps, and hornets that most commonly sting. You can learn their behavioral characteristics and a bit about their life cycles. By knowing how they behave and how the colonies develop and perish, you can protect yourself against the stings of these magnificent and vital insects. We invite you to view the photographs of bee, wasp, and hornet stings, and compare your symptoms to common sting symptoms.
Bee, Wasp, and Hornet Venom
When someone says they were “bit by a bee” that is technically incorrect. A bite is when an insect, or other animal, uses its mouth to pierce your skin. A sting is characterized by a sharp piercing injection of poison or venom that does not come from the animal’s mouth. Bees and wasps inject venom via their stinger which is located on their abdomen. In other words, snakes bite, and bees and wasps sting. When bees and wasps sting, they inject venom from their stinger into their target.
Chemically speaking bee and wasp venom are quite different from one another. Bee and wasp venom contains unique proteins, enzymes, amino acids, sugars, histamine, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. The main component of bee venom is melittin, which is comprised of 26 different amino acids. Melittin is primarily associated with the pain of a bee sting, but some people believe it possesses anti-inflammatory and medicinal properties. Since most wasps are parasitic wasps, their venom is usually applied against other insects rather than humans. Many of these wasps paralyze their prey before bringing the prey home to the wasp larvae as a live meal. Scientists have isolated several different neurotoxins in wasp venom.
If you are allergic to bee venom, that does not necessarily mean that you will be allergic to wasp or hornet venom. However, if you have a known allergy to either venom, always carry your EpiPen to quickly counteract the reaction from the sting.
The Human Body’s Physical Reaction to Bee and Wasp Venom
While excruciatingly painful and potentially dangerous, bee and wasp stings are usually a minor inconvenience and rarely deadly. Of the thousands of Americans who are stung by bees, wasps, and hornets every year, CDC statistics show that on average 90-100 people per year die of complications from an allergic reaction to the venom. When we humans are intrusively injected with these bee and wasp poisons our amazing bodies immediately set to work. Our immune systems fight a valiant battle against these stings, and usually end up victorious.
Upon the initial introduction of venom, white blood cells rush to the area to fight off the antigens in the venom. As the white blood cells combat the venom, pain receptors are stimulated. Redness, swelling, pain, and itch are common as this battle rages. Next, your body releases histamines. Histamines join the fight against the invading chemicals, but they also trigger swelling and redness. Some people may experience a drop in blood pressure as the immune system wages its war. Your heart rate may increase and the hormone cortisol released. Symptoms normally begin to subside as the kidney’s kick in to eliminate the toxin from your body.
In most cases, all of these bodily functions happen quickly and exactly as expected. However, in some people, the immune system may release too many histamines which causes the dangerous anaphylactic reaction associated with stinging insects. A flood of histamines may cause difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat and tongue, and itchy watery eyes.
Bee, Wasp, and Hornet Sting Symptoms
Every person reacts to a bee or wasp sting differently. The greatest variance lies in how many times you were stung. If you startled a solitary honeybee as it was collecting pollen, you probably sustained one minor sting. However, if you ran over a large yellowjacket nest with your lawn mower, you were likely chased down by a hoard of raging insects and possibly stung thousands of times. Unless allergic a single bee or wasp sting, while painful, does not usually have dire medical consequences. The most common reaction to a minor sting is immediate localized pain. Instant, sharp pain at the sting site alerts your entire body to engage the fight or flight series. Redness, swelling, and heat around the sting area is common. If a bee stung you, look for and carefully remove the stinger.
If it was a wasp, you will probably not find the stinger, but you more than likely sustained more than one single sting. Wasps can sting multiple times without losing their stinger. Therefore the symptoms of a wasp sting will likely be more severe than a single bee sting. The compounding effect of the venom coursing through your system may cause a broader physical reaction than a single sting.
Bee, Hornet, and Wasp Sting Swelling
Swelling is a hallmark characteristic of a bee, hornet, or wasp sting. Depending upon your biological makeup and the chemical structure of the venom, swelling may be constrained to the single spot where the venom was injected, or it may spread throughout your body. People stung by a bee on a sensitive place such as the eyelid or lip may experience swelling of the entire area. Stings to the face are frightening as they seem to swell excessively. This type of reaction to an eye, lip, or face sting should be carefully monitored, but recognize that it is within the range of a normal reaction. If you have trouble breathing or swelling or tightening of the throat, seek medical treatment immediately.
Bee and wasp stings may continue to swell for 48 hours after the sting, and the swelling may not fully subside for up to 1 week after the sting. In most people, the swelling from a minor bee or wasp sting subsides within a few hours.
Hornet, Wasp, and Bee Sting Itch
While the immediate sensation following a bee or wasp sting is intense pain, many people report feeling itchy after a bee encounter. For a minor bee or wasp sting, some amount of itching is to be expected and considered normal. A non-serious itch that is restricted to the bite site is to be expected and can be addressed with over the counter first aid cream. However, a severe itchy sensation over wide areas of your body may indicate a more severe reaction is happening. Generalized itch is often accompanied by hives or a large rash when the immune system is in over-drive. If the itchy feeling has widely spread across the body, contact medical professionals.
How Long Does a Bee or Wasp Sting Last?
The reaction to a wasp or bee sting can last from a few hours to a few weeks. Depending upon the number of stings you sustained, and your immune systems reaction to the venom, the pain, discomfort, redness, and swelling may stay with you longer than you would imagine. However, most minor bee and wasp stings last no more than 24 hours.
Initially, the pain of an insect sting will be intense and burning. For some people the swelling and pain may continue to worsen for as many as 48 hours after the sting, but it should level off after that. In severe instances, swelling and redness may continue to be obvious for as long as a week after the bee or wasp attack.
While exceedingly rare, there have been very few instances of a severe delayed reaction to bee and wasp stings. In these situations, people who are stung by bees or wasps experience minor localized reactions and often fully recover. Then, days or up to 2 weeks later, they experience severe symptoms such as generalized swelling and hives, a fever, partial paralysis, joint pain, kidney pain, and chest pain. Sometimes this phenomenon is called bee sting serum sickness. If you begin to experience severe reaction such as described above after recently being stung, seek medical treatment. Doctors can monitor your condition and prescribe medications to ease your symptoms. With medical treatment, these delayed symptoms usually last about 48 hours. Importantly, if you experience bee sting serum sickness, this diagnosis calls for the expertise of an immunologist. You may be at risk of severe anaphylactic reactions to future insect stings and should therefore be prepared with an EpiPen. After an episode of this magnitude, it is important to avoid the sting of the insect that triggered this reaction.
Bee, Wasp, and Hornet Sting Allergies
Severe allergic reaction to bee, wasp, yellowjacket, and hornet stings cause the death of approximately just under 100 deaths in the United States per year. The CDC estimates that this number may be under-reported as some insect sting bites may be reported as heart attacks or sun strokes. Not everyone who has a severe allergic reaction will experience the ultimate threat, anaphylactic reaction… that time. However, if you experience a severe allergic reaction, and are stung again your chance of anaphylaxis increases by 30-60% the next time you are stung. Therefore, if you have a severe reaction, talk to your doctor about what may happen upon your next exposure to bee or wasp venom.
Doctors divide symptoms and reactions to bee and wasp stings as either local or systemic/general. Local reactions are what we have described as minor or painful but medically insignificant stings. Redness, swelling, pain, and itch at the site of the sting are considered a local reaction. A general, or systemic reaction requires medical care.
Symptoms of severe allergic reactions to a bee or wasp sting may include the following:
- Skin reactions including hives and itchy feeling over a broad area of the body
- Skin may appear flushed or pale
- Tightening of the chest
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the throat and tongue
- Weak, yet rapid pulse
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Dizziness or fainting
- Loss of consciousness
Anaphylaxis is the worst-case result of a bee or wasp sting. It is believed that for about 5% of the population, bee stings are much more than just painful – they’re life threatening. That means 2 out of every thousand people are at risk for anaphylaxis from bee stings. Anaphylaxis is characterized by swelling of the throat so that the victim cannot breathe. The blood pressure plummets, and the person may lose consciousness and go into shock. If the person is not found and treated quickly, death can occur. Anaphylaxis often occurs between 5-30 minutes after the sting, so there is not usually time to seek emergency medical treatment. If you have ever experienced any of the severe reactions listed above, you are more likely to experience an anaphylactic reaction the next time your immune system meets that venom. The anaphylactic reaction can be halted with a timely injection of epinephrine via an EpiPen. This auto-injection method delivers life-saving epinephrine which reduces the swelling and opens up the airways. If you have a known allergy or previous severe reaction to bee or wasp venom, always have an EpiPen readily available and make sure you and your loved ones know how to use it.
Multiple Bee or Wasp Stings
When attacked by certain species of bees and wasps you are more likely to sustain multiple stings. Also, the activity that led to the initial attack is a factor in how many times you will be stung. For example, honeybees are reluctant to sting because when they sting, they lose their stinger and die. However, if you disturb or threaten their hive, swarms of honeybees will defend their nest with their life… by stinging you. Worse, when you swat at and kill a honeybee, distress pheromones are released to tell other bees to come and defend them. Yellowjackets are notoriously aggressive and angrily pour out of the nest to attack a perceived threat. Worse yet, yellowjackets, and all wasps, can sting multiple times without losing their stinger.
When a person sustains hundreds or thousands of stings, this should be taken very seriously. The amount of venom coursing through the body is extreme and can cause serious complications, even in the absence of an allergy. It is believed that most adults without known allergies can safely tolerate about 10 stings per pound of body weight. However, if you are sustain hundreds or thousands of bee stings, it is a good idea to seek medical treatment. Your kidneys will be working overtime and your doctor may wish to monitor your kidney function.
Cellulitis from Bee or Wasp Sting
Yet another side effect from a bee, wasp, or hornet sting is the possibility of cellulitis or a skin infection. While there is nothing inherent in the bee or wasp venom that causes cellulitis, anytime the skin in broken or punctured, infection is a possibility. Cellulitis occurs when bacteria enters the body through a hole in the skin. If you scratch or pick at the wounds inflicted by a bee or wasp sting, you enhance the skin breakage, therefore increasing your chance of infection.
The most common bacteria that enter the body through broken skin are Group A Streptococcus (strep) and Staphylococcus aureus (staph infection). Cellulitis or infection, after a bee or wasp sting is rare, but you should know the signs and symptoms to watch for.
- Fever and/or chills
- Increased redness surrounding the sting
- Swelling throughout the general area around the sting’
- Red streaks running through the sting
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Yellow discharge emanating from the sting
Unlike an allergic reaction, if infection is setting in, these symptoms may begin a few days after the bee or wasp sting. If you experience any changes to your sting marks such as described above, contact your doctor. Usually bacterial infections are successfully treated with antibiotics, but it is important to begin treatment early. Cellulitis can be dangerous if you are dealing with a bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics or if it has been permitted to fester without treatment.
Wasp, Hornet, and Bee Sting Pictures
What to do for a Wasp or Bee Sting?
As stated above, reactions to bee and wasp stings are divided into local symptoms and general or systemic. If the reaction stays at or near the site of the sting, it is considered a local reaction. Most local reactions to bee stings can be treated at home and resolve within 24-48 hours. General or systemic reactions to be stings are much more serious and may require medical attention. If you are experiencing symptoms other than where you were stung, you are in the systemic territory and medical intervention may be necessary.
When first attacked, get to a safe place. Yellowjackets are notoriously aggressive and will chase you down. Get to safety and remain calm as you assess stings and your reaction to the stings.
Treatment of Localized Stings:
- Only bees leave a stinger; if there is a stinger present, carefully remove it. There is some disagreement about the best way to remove a bee stinger. The most important factor in removing a bee stinger is speed. The longer the stinger remains in the body, the more venom it will deliver. Many sources say not to use tweezers to remove the stinger as this may release additional venom. However, a recent literature review found that there is no disadvantage of removing the stinger with tweezers or between your fingernails, as long as it is removed quickly. The alternate method of removing the stinger scraping it out by rubbing a credit card or other dull object against the skin. Regardless, get it out as quickly as possible.
- Wash the area with soap and water.
- Apply ice to reduce swelling and inflammation, pain, and redness.
- To reduce pain and discomfort, apply over-the-counter antihistamine cream to the sting site.
- If necessary, an oral antihistamine such as Benadryl can help to reduce swelling and inflammation but may cause drowsiness.
- Over the counter pain medication such as Tylenol may help to relieve the pain associated with the bee or wasp sting.
Treatment of Systemic Stings:
Systemic reactions can develop very quickly, within minutes of being stung. While initially treating with home based first aid procedures, if you being to experience any symptoms of a severe reaction as described above, seek medical treatment immediately. Anaphylaxis can develop quickly and rapidly progress. If you or your child are experiencing signs of an allergic reaction to a bee or wasp sting, call 911.
The humble bee has risen in esteem over the years as we learn and appreciate how reliant we humans are on bees. Bees are the primary pollinators of our crops, and their numbers are decreasing every year. Great efforts have been made both at the scientific level and through public awareness campaigns to help save the bees. The pest control industry has altered its practices to protect these pollinators, and the public has enthusiastically engaged on this issue.
Honeybee hives are threatened by many forces including, mites, pesticides, disease, and loss of food. Unlike most wasp colonies, honeybee colonies can survive the winter, but some commercial honeybee keepers actively take steps to help their hives survive. Traditionally, bees consume the honey they have stored and cluster close together for warmth during the winter. New research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests that by placing the beehives indoors during the winter, they may attain a greater winter survival rate. Scientists carefully monitor commercial beehive loss rates as the honeybee crisis rages and save the bees campaigns popularize.
Bees are a vital component of our ecosystem and should be protected, however, sometimes the interests of bees and humans collide. Occasionally, bees choose to make their hives in and around our homes. A beehive in or close to your home can be dangerous and messy. Children at play are at risk being stung, and honey in your walls ultimately causes a structural issue. Single bee stings are common and usually harmless. However, if their hives are disturbed or if the bees possess a certain genetic makeup, they will be more aggressive and likely to inflict serious pain, especially to children and the elderly.
Honeybees are responsible for pollinating much of the world’s commercial agriculture and are crucial for the survival of the human race. However, honeybees are extremely protective of their hive and their queen. Honeybees are social insects, where each insect performs a specific job within the colony. Every colony contains a queen, worker bees, and drones.
Depending on their genetic makeup and conditions, some beehives are docile and gentle, while others are unnecessarily aggressive. When dealing with honeybees you should never assume that the hive is docile. When their hive is threated, honeybees will swarm out of the nest to protect the stored food (honey), the queen, and the juvenile bees. When a honeybee stings, it is a sacrificial offering to its nest. Honeybees have a barbed stinger which become lodged in the person or animal stung. As the honeybee tries to pull away, its abdomen is torn, thus killing the honeybee.
When a bee stings, it releases an alarm pheromone. This acts as the hive’s security system and alerts other worker bees to seek out and sting the invader. This is why professional bee keepers, or apiarists, use smoke when they disturb a hive. The smoke blocks or masks the scent of this alert pheromone causing the bees to stay calm during a beehive inspection. It is also believed that the smoke makes the bees think their hive is going to catch on fire. This causes them to view the human invader as less of a threat than an impending fire.
If you inadvertently disturb a honeybee hive, you probably don’t have smoke readily available. Instead, get away from the hive as quickly as possible. Most honeybees will not pursue you for great distances, but as stated earlier, some hives are more aggressive than others. Unless a hive is disturbed, most honeybee stings occur when a bee is busy pollinating flowers and it is crushed or threatened by an unsuspecting person. Many honeybee stings are a single sting and are not a serious medical incident. Of course, anyone stung by even a single honeybee should be closely monitored for an allergic reaction.
Bumblebees are considered less aggressive than honeybees. This easy-going bee would prefer to peacefully pollinate flowers than sting. Bumblebees are more round and larger than honeybees and have a characteristic loud buzz associated with their flight. Unlike honeybees, bumblebees have a smooth stinger which allows them to sting multiple times like a wasp. Bumblebee stings are rare and are almost always associated with disturbing the bumblebee hive.
Despite their similarities, bumblebee behavior is quite different from honeybees. Many species of bumblebees create nests underground, usually taking over an abandoned burrow or under piles of leaves or compost. A large bumblebee hives around 400 bumblebees, whereas a large honeybee hive may contain up to 60,000 honeybees. Most bumblebees do not survive the winter, consequently, they do not store food for the winter.
However, do not underestimate bumblebees. Accidentally encountering bumblebee nests is rare, and if you should find one, there are fewer bumblebees to protect the nest. But even 400 angry bumblebees can inflict much pain as they aggressively fight for their survival. Pest Management Professionals have a very healthy respect for a bumblebee nest… and you should too. Bumblebee venom is distinct from honeybee venom and an allergic reaction to one does not guarantee an allergic reaction to the other. Persons stung by bumblebees should be treated with first aid and monitored for an allergic reaction.
Africanized or Killer Bees
Africanized or killer bees look almost identical to common European honeybee. DNA analysis is the only true way to positively identify Africanized Honey Bees. However, their behavior is much more aggressive and is a good indication of which type of honeybees you are dealing with. In 1956 bees were imported from Africa into Brazil with the hope that cross-breeding between the African bees and the local bees would increase honey production. Unfortunately, 26 African bee queens escaped from the apiary and formed colonies after mating with local European honeybees. These Africanized, or killer bees as they have come to be known, are moving north and are currently found from the southwest United States through Texas and into Florida The good news is that as they have pushed North, they have bred with more European honeybees and have become more docile. Most “aggressive” honeybees encountered are a hybrid between the Africanized and European bees. How high of a percentage of Africanized genes they have will affect how aggressive they are.
Africanized bees attack in greater numbers and with greater ferocity than our European honeybee. They react to a disturbance of their nest 10 times faster and will pursue invader for up to a quarter of a mile. If you jump in a pool or lake, Africanized bees will wait for you to surface and continue their attack.
Although killer bees are slightly smaller than honeybees and contain less venom, a killer bee attack will likely result in many stings. The killer bee’s venom is no more deadly than honeybee venom, but the sheer number of stings they will inflict can be deadly. When honeybees attack to defend their nest, they may send out 10% of the bees to protect their home. When a killer bee nest is threatened, they call out all the bees. Killer bee swarms have been known to contain between 30,000 – 100,000 bees. Humans attacked by killer bees sustain on average 10 times more stings than those attacked by European honeybees.
It is estimated the human body can only sustain 1,000 bee stings. If you are attacked by a swarm of killer bees run away as fast as you can. Seek shelter in a house or car to prevent additional stings. You may sustain thousands of stings when killer bees are enraged, if so, seek medical attention immediately. Especially if a young child or elderly person is the victim of a killer bee swarm, seek medical treatment immediately.
If you live in an area where Africanized bees have colonized, you cannot assume the beehive on your property is docile and tame. Bees living close to your home or outdoor play area can cause a threat to your children and any visitors to your property. As important as it is to save the bees, protecting your family from thousands of unnecessary stings is a priority. If you have a beehive on your property, sometimes a local beekeeper may be willing to remove the hive for you. If the hive is aggressive or uncooperative, Nextgen Pest Solutions can safely remove the hive to protect your family from bee stings.
Wasp is a general term encompassing many species known to cause excruciatingly painful stings. Many species of wasps are harmless, but some, such as yellowjackets and hornets are known to be extremely aggressive. Wasps have smooth stingers which means each wasp can sting multiple times.
There is a certain seasonality to the level of aggression amongst bees, wasps, and hornets. It has to do with their life cycles and preparation for winter. Most social wasps begin their colony in the spring when the queen, who survived the winter by hibernating, creates a small nest and lays eggs. As spring turns to summer the colony grows and strengthens. In the late summer, the social wasp colony will be buzzing with activity and the population will reach its peak.
However, as summer turns to fall, food supplies begin to decrease. This causes wasps to become more aggressive towards human food. As with humans, hunger and desperation causes wasps to be exceptionally cranky. As weather turns cooler, yellowjackets will undoubtedly join your football tailgate party or picnic. Wasps will swarm sandwiches and especially drinks during this time of year. Rest easy, the end of the colony is near. As cold weather takes hold, the colony will most likely die out. In the meantime, though, you must protect yourself and your family from an angry wasp sting.
As noted above, a single wasp sting will cause swelling, pain, and redness, but unless you experience an allergic reaction it is not medically serious. If this is the case, follow the recommended first aid protocol. However, some wasp attacks result in hundreds of stings. In these situations, carefully monitor your symptoms and seek medical attention if signs of serious reaction occurs.
Yellow Jacket Stings
Yellowjackets have a notoriously painful sting and a reputation for aggressive behavior. They are aptly named with bright yellow and black bands on their abdomen. Yellowjacket colonies may contain up to 4,000 workers and they eat other insects and spiders. Yellowjackets are particularly fond of human picnic food, such as meats, sweets, and drinks, especially in the late summer and fall. Yellowjackets do not make and store honey and usually all but the queen die off in the winter.
Yellowjackets typically nest underground and are often encountered when playing or working in the yard. Yellowjackets have the unique ability to both sting and bite. Once it has determined that you are the enemy, the yellowjacket grabs ahold of your skin with its mouth and stings with the stinger on its backside. Because it is firmly grasping you with its mouth, the yellowjacket can pull the stinger out and sting again and again. This multi-mode attack means that yellow jackets can inflict a lot of pain and damage very quickly.
Yellowjackets fiercely defend their nest. Yellowjackets will chase you and alert others in their nest to come after you as well. If you commonly see yellowjackets in your yard, you may have a growing nest nearby. Because they are usually underground, it can be difficult to locate a yellowjacket nest. Yellowjackets are most active between 10:00am – 4:00pm. By carefully watching yellowjackets in your yard you may observe them making a “bee line” or heading straight for a given area. Then, they seem to disappear. Upon closer inspection, several yellowjackets may be guarding the entrance to a nest. The entry hole to an underground nest is small, sometimes the size of a nickel. Do not disturb the yellowjacket nest in an effort to locate it. You will pay dearly for this mistake.
If you suspect you have a yellowjacket nest on your property, call in the professionals for removal. Removal of a yellowjacket nest requires specialized equipment, knowledge, and protective equipment. Most yellowjacket colonies die off in the winter, but sometimes safety dictates removing the nest prior to its natural demise.
Notice, I specified MOST yellowjacket colonies die off in the winter. In warm climates such as Florida, yellowjacket colonies have been found that have obviously survived the winter and continued to grow and thrive. These colonies are usually located in a protected environment such as an abandoned vehicle, a seldom used shed, or a neglected house. These multi-year yellowjacket colonies should only be approached by professional pest control operators as the chance of multiple stings is very great.
Paper Wasp or Red Wasp Sting
Paper wasps get their name because their nests are made with a papery-looking substance. These are the small umbrella shaped wasp nests with hexagon shaped cells. These papery nests hang from the underside of the eaves on houses and branches. The queen paper wasp, who hibernated over the winter emerges in the spring to begin her colony. She chews wood and mixes it with saliva to create the paper with which to start her nest. As the colony grows, the workers add on to the nest enlarging it. Most paper wasp nests contain less than 100 adult paper wasps.
Sometimes the paper wasp is called the red wasp. As expected, the red wasp body is reddish or rust in color with black wings. Some red wasps have some small black markings. Red paper wasps are usually about 1” in length with slender non-hairy bodies and legs. Their waists are thin and exaggerated and their long slim legs appear to hang below their body as they buzz around.
While paper wasps are certainly a threat if their nests are located on playground equipment or sports gear, most people view them as simply an annoyance. Paper wasps pollinate some flowers and eat some insects that cause crop damage. This species is not particularly aggressive; they rarely sting unless directly threatened or their nest is under attack. Like other wasp species, paper wasps usually die out in the winter, so their nests rarely have the chance to become overwhelmingly large. The sting of a paper wasp will most certainly be painful, with redness and swelling, but is rarely a medical emergency unless an allergy exists.
Great Black Wasp Sting
The great black wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus, is found throughout much of the United States, but rarely poses a stinging threat to people. This imposing looking wasp is all black with bluish-black iridescent wings. Female great black wasps are sometimes up to 1.5” in length and are solitary, they do not establish large colonies.
Often called a digger wasp, the great black wasp builds a nest underground. The nest is about a foot below ground and consists of tunnels and chambers. They are not often observed, but their nesting habits are fascinating none-the-less. The great black wasp stings its prey, usually a katydid or grasshopper, to paralyze the prey insect. She then flies it back to her underground lair and pulls the paralyzed prey below ground. The great black wasp then lays eggs directly on the paralyzed, but still alive, prey. As soon as the eggs hatch, the great black wasp larvae will have a nutritious meal to feast upon. These wasps overwinter and go through their entire life cycle underground in the tunnel prepared by their mother. In the summer, they emerge as adults and continue the cycle.
Great black wasps rarely sting people. They do look intimidating, but this wasp, who operates alone, is single-mindedly focused on preparing her egg chambers, stocking it with paralyzed insects, and laying eggs. If threatened, the female will sting, but these wasps are not generally considered dangerous.
Many people use the terms hornets and wasps interchangeably. Typically people think of hornets as making aerial nests, and wasps, ie yellowjackets, as making underground nests. But, as nature always seems to do, sometimes yellowjackets make aerial nests as well. Most scientists agree, all hornets are wasps, but not all wasps are hornets. Just as there are solitary wasps, social wasps, and digger wasps, think of hornets as simply another kind of wasp. Hornets are typically larger than other wasps and hornets are almost always social insects where many wasps are solitary.
There are no native species of hornets in the United States, however, the European hornet is now widely distributed across much of the eastern United States including north Georgia. Hornets are feared because of their aggressive nature, large bodies which carry plenty of venom, and their large colony size. If you have a hornet’s nest in your yard, take every precaution and contact Nextgen Pest Solutions to safely remove the nest and give you back your yard.
European Hornet Stings
European hornets are native to Europe and Asia. They were first detected in North America in 1840 and are now common in the eastern part of the United States from Georgia and occasionally in north Florida, to Maine. European hornets are large; most workers are about one inch in length. To an individual being attacked, it is very difficult to differentiate between yellowjackets, honeybees, and European hornets. Of course, close observation without the threat of danger, reveals distinct markings on each of these stinging insects, but in the moment, they all appear to have yellow and black bands or stripes. In truth though, the European hornet has a reddish-brown and yellow head, a red and black middle, and black teardrop shaped markings flowing down his yellow abdomen.
Hornet nests are almost always aerial nests, or above the ground. Hornets may construct their nest in an attic, hanging from tree branches, inside a hollowed-out tree, on decks, and under the eaves of a roofline. A hornet’s nest is made from chewed up wood fibers mixed with saliva called wasp spit. Hornets have combs or cells inside the nest for rearing the young, and the nest is covered with protective layers. The result is a nest that is essentially waterproof and can survive extreme rain and wind. Hornet’s nests often have an oblong shape while allows rainwater to drip off without damaging the nest. Like most wasps, hornet’s nests only last one season. At their peak in the late summer, there may be up to 400 hornets in the nest.
Despite their reputation, European hornets are not typically aggressive when they are out foraging for prey. Of course, if their hive is threatened, they will sting. If a hornet’s nest is found in an area where it is likely to be disturbed, it should be removed by a professional. Hornets can sting more than once, and if you have disturbed a nest, you will have multiple hornets after you. If you get stung by a hornet, run indoors and assess your symptoms. Multiple stings may require medical attention, but a few hornet stings can usually be managed with first aid procedures.
Bald-faced Hornet Stings
To make matters more confusing, bald-faced hornets are not actually hornets. They acquired this name because of their propensity for building aerial nests like European hornets and because of their large size. Bald-faced hornets are distinctive in appearance, all black with white markings on its face. The bald-faced hornet looks like it is wearing a white mask.
Like European hornets, bald-faced hornets suspend their nests usually more than 3 feet off the ground. These nests may be found hanging from trees, utility poles, sheds, and other structures. Bald-faced hornet nests may be more than 24 inches in length and 14 inches in diameter.
Bald-faced hornets are considered to be a highly aggressive species. While many other stinging insects will not attack unless directly threatened, bald-faced hornets will sting if you are simply walking through their general vicinity. Bald-faced hornets seem to be particularly irritated by loud sounds and vibrations, therefore anyone using a lawn mower or leaf blower near a bald-faced hornet’s nest is prone to be stung.
The sting of a bald-faced hornet is particularly painful as like others they can sting multiple times. Because of their aggressive nature, if you locate a bald-faced hornet nest on your property, it should be removed as soon as possible. In early spring, the nest may be small and appear non-threatening. However, as summer progresses, the nest will grow with around 400 adult bald-faced hornets inside.
Asian Giant Hornet, Murder Hornet Sting
The most recent addition to the stinging insect American landscape is the Asian giant hornet, also called the murder hornet. Recently, this hornet has been rebranded to give it a kinder gentler common name, the northern giant hornet. These hornets are currently limited to Washington state and great efforts are being made to contain and possibly eliminate them. Asian giant hornets kill around 50 people in Japan every year. These giant hornets are between 1.5” – 2” in length, the stinger alone is approximately ¼” in length. Because of their enormous size the murder hornet injects considerably more venom than a small honeybee.
The Asian or northern giant hornet sting is excruciatingly painful and more long-lasting than the sting of many other species of stinging insects. Since they are new to American soil and limited in range, there are not many firsthand English accounts of the sting of a murder hornet. Of course, a Youtube personality, Nathaniel “Coyote” Peterson of Brave Wilderness Youtube channel, willingly subjected himself to the sting of this giant hornet. “It feels like someone has shoved a red-hot poker into your arm and does not remove it for close to six hours,” he said. Still, most human deaths are attributed to an allergic reaction to the venom.
The primary risk of this species becoming more widespread has less to do with human risk and pain than it does protecting bees. They are sometimes called murder hornets because of their murderous actions towards the necessary honeybee. Murder hornets decapitate honeybees and fly away with their body. They feed their young the honeybee thorax. Like a scene from a medieval battle tale, murder hornets rush in and within hours kill every honeybee in the hive. Allowing this species to become well established in the Pacific Northwest, would devastate the honeybees and in turn crop production. Entomologists are optimistic that the murder hornet introduction can be eradicated, and peace restored to the honeybee populations of the Pacific Northwest.
How to Prevent Bee, Wasp, and Hornet Stings
Bees and wasps have a knack for coming around our most celebrated outdoor occasions. Whether it’s an outdoor wedding with exquisite flower arrangements to a fall football tailgate party, wasps and bees are drawn to human activity. While we should not live in fear of these stinging insects, unless you are allergic, we can take some simple precautions to avoid being stung by wasps and bees.
- Do not walk barefoot outside
- Avoid flowering plants or gardens
- Do not squish or swat at a bee or wasp, simply back away or stay still
- Check soda, juice, or beer cups before taking a sip
- Keep outdoor trash cans clean and covered
- During an outdoor event, place trash cans away from where people will be congregating
- Cover all food during a picnic or party
- Avoid flowery smelling perfumes
- Avoid wearing flower prints or bright colors which attract bees
- If you have a known allergy, carry your EpiPen at all times
- Inspect your yard for signs of beehives or wasp nests
- Frequently empty or keep covered all trash and recycling bins to not attract more bees/wasps to the area.
- Clean spilled food items off of ground and pick up trash to eliminate other food sources.
Bee, Hornet, and Wasp Pest Control
Perhaps the most effective bee and wasp sting prevention tip is to know who is nesting on your property and where. While not every beehive or wasp nest in your yard should be eradicated, assessing your family’s bee sting risk is an important factor. Consider if anyone in your family has a known bee or wasp allergy. Consider the location of the hive or nest. Sometimes, honeybees build hives in wall voids and other areas where honey will damage a structure. In these situations, the bees should be removed. If a paper wasp nest is on children’s play equipment, the wasp nest should be treated, and if a hornet’s nest is hanging in close vicinity to human activity, you will probably want to remove it as well. However, consider also the seasonality of the wasp life cycle. If you find the threat in late fall, chances are, the colony is already in decline and thus a diminishing threat.
Commercial properties should consider bee and wasp nests as potential liability as well. For example, if you operate a restaurant with an outdoor patio or bar, it is reasonable to expect a patron will have an allergy. If you know about a bee hive or hornet nest on your property and choose to ignore it, you may be held liable should anyone be harmed on your premises.
Bee, wasp, yellowjacket, and hornet’s nests are not to be trifled with. Specialized equipment, knowledge, and experience must be used to safely remove the threat of a beehive or wasp nest. Many factors go into safely removing these nests so that the risk of stings is reduced. Nextgen Pest Solutions has the experience and knowledge safely remove beehives and yellowjacket and hornet nests. Call today and get our bee and wasp experts on the job!