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A Guide To Bees, Wasps, Hornets, and More

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Each type of stinging insect poses a different risk to you and your family, so it is helpful to be able to distinguish which stinging insect pest problem you have. Use this comprehensive guide to stinging insects to familiarize yourself with each type of stinging insect, how to avoid getting stung and how to deal with the pain if you get stung.

Types of Bees

Bees are the stinging insects most people are often familiar with. While bees tend to cause panic in most people, they are less likely to sting than wasps and hornets, and their stings are not as painful. However, bees can build hives near your home and may sting when provoked. There are a few different common types of bees that pose various threats to you and your home.

Bumblebees

Bumblebees are backyard insects you can typically find around flower gardens spreading pollen. Bumblebees have alternating black and yellow bands around their body and are larger than most stinging insects. A defining feature of bumblebees is that their bodies are round and very fuzzy. Bumblebees typically build their nests in the grass, but can sometimes make nests near porches or decks. Bumblebees are generally harmless and not aggressive but will sting when provoked.

Honeybees

Honeybees are smaller than bumblebees and have yellow and brown or black stripes. Honeybees live in large colonies that typically nest in hollow trees or walls. Honeybees are essential pollinators for crops and other plants and are often domesticated in commercial hives to produce honey for human consumption. Like bumblebees, honeybees will not typically sting unless they feel their hive is in danger.

Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees resemble bumblebees but have smooth, rather than fuzzy, abdomens. Carpenter bees have a bad reputation for building their homes inside wooden structures, which is why they pose a threat to your property. They prefer old or decaying wood rather than newly painted wood because it is softer and easier to bore into to lay eggs. If your home has any older wooden structures such as porches or wooden playhouses, these are at risk of becoming a home for carpenter bees. While carpenter bees rarely sting humans, their presence in wooden structures can cause them to lose stability and collapse or can speed up the natural rate of wood decay.

How Do I Avoid Getting Stung by a Bee?

Why do bees sting? The first thing to understand is that most bees will not sting unless something frightens or threatens them. That includes agitating their hive or disturbing them in some other way. Sometimes, even if you avoid interfering with bees, they will still be attracted to you due to other factors. Here are some great precautions to take in the summertime to avoid attracting or disturbing bees.

  • Avoid sweet fragrances – Bees are instinctively attracted to sweet scents because they resemble the flowers bees pollinate. Once your perfume attracts a bee, it is likely to buzz around you or land on you.
  • Avoid floral patterns or bright clothing – Bees are attracted to bright colors, particularly those that resemble flowers. Bees can also see ultraviolet, which helps them identify the nectar in flowers. For you, that means patterned clothing — anything that would light up under a black light — will be most attractive to bees. The colors that are more likely to attract bees are blue, purple, and violet.
  • Keep food covered – Sweet foods, such as ripe fruits, jellies, juices, and sodas, are the most attractive to bees. When eating outside, keep food covered at all times, and avoid eating sugary foods if possible. If you have food trash, such as fruit pits or empty soda cans, dispose of them inside or in covered trash cans. 
  • Wear shoes in the grass – Some types of bees nest in the grass, and others fly through the grass to pollinate clovers. If you step too close to a bee or its nest, it may be startled into stinging you. 
  • Wear long pants and long sleeves – If you know you will be walking in a flower garden, field, or another area where there will be a high concentration of bees, consider wearing long pants and sleeves.
  • Avoid loose-fitting clothing – Loose-hanging clothes allow bees to fly inside and get trapped. When bees get caught under your clothes, both you and the bee are likely to panic, which may lead to you getting stung.

Why Do Bee Stings Hurt?

When an aggravated bee lands on your skin, it plunges a barbed stinger into your skin. The bee’s venom sacs then pump venom into your blood while the bee pushes and pulls the stinger in your skin. This action releases the venom more quickly and causes maximum pain damage to you. Bee venom contains a mixture of chemicals that are toxic to humans and other animals. The main component of bee venom is melittin, which causes blood vessels to expand and disrupts the normal function of the cell membranes, causing pain and inflammation at the site of the sting. 

Most bees’ stingers contain tiny barbs that still allow them to sting quickly and then pull their stinger out of your skin when they fly away. Honeybees are the only stinging insect whose stinger remains in your skin after they sting you. When the honeybee flies away after stinging you, it tears away part of its abdomen, which kills the bee. If you get stung by a honeybee and you leave the stinger in your skin, it can continue to release venom for up to a minute after the bee has flown away — and more venom means more pain.

Why Do Bee Stings Itch?

While the pain from a bee sting may only last a few minutes, bee stings can be itchy for hours after the sting. That is due to another component in bee venom called histamine. Histamine causes blood cells in the skin to leak fluid, which leads to itchy red patches and swelling. Some itchiness is normal, but if you are experiencing more severe symptoms, you may be having an allergic reaction. About 5 percent of the population is allergic to bees and will experience anaphylaxis if stung. If you have an allergic reaction to a bee sting, difficulty breathing may occur in a few seconds or minutes. Other signs of an allergic reaction are dizziness, severe swelling and throat constriction. If your response to a bee sting seems abnormal, call 911 immediately.

How Do I Get Rid of Bee Sting Pain?

After you get stung by a bee, the first thing you want to do is assess the sting. If a honeybee stung you and the stinger is still attached, remove the stinger from your skin. The best way to remove a bee stinger is to scrape it out with a flat object like a credit card or pinch it out with tweezers. However, the most important thing is to pull the stinger out as quickly as possible! Leaving the stinger in for only eight seconds can increase the swelling around the sting by 30 percent. Everyone will react differently to a bee sting, and some people will experience more redness or swelling. Here are some other home remedies for how to get rid of bee sting pain.

  • Hydrocortisone cream: Apply an over-the-counter anti-itch cream to ease irritation around the sting.
  • Baking soda: Apply a paste of baking soda and water to the sting and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes.
  • Apple cider vinegar: Wet a cloth with apple cider vinegar and apply it to the sting for 15 minutes.
  • Honey: Apply honey to the sting and cover it with a bandage for up to an hour.
  • Aloe vera: Break off a piece of an aloe vera plant and squeeze some aloe gel onto the sting.
  • Toothpaste: Spread a small amount of toothpaste onto the sting to help remove the acid from the sting.

Types of Wasps

Due to their similarities in appearance, wasps often get mistaken for bees. But when it comes to their stinging capabilities, wasp stings pack much more punch. Wasps and hornets are also more aggressive than bees, more likely to sting, and can sting more than once without dying. Knowing the difference between varieties of wasps will help you know what you are up against when confronted with a stinging insect. Despite common misconceptions, a “wasp” includes varieties of hornets and yellow jackets in addition to what people typically refer to as “wasps.” Below is a list of common wasps and hornets you may encounter on your property.

Paper Wasp

Paper wasps are very slender compared to bees and have smooth bodies. They typically have yellow and black stripes but are sometimes brown. When they fly, their long legs hang down. Paper wasps are not aggressive unless provoked, but can be a pest problem when they build nests near or on homes. Paper wasp nests are umbrella-shaped and often under overhangs, porch roofs, or door frames that shield them from rain and wind.

Mud Dauber Wasp

Mud daubers resemble paper wasps, but have even thinner abdomens and are typically black or shiny blue. They make their nests by building small tubes of mud, typically one inch in length. Porch eaves, sheds, attics, and other protected structures are prime locations for mud dauber nests. Like paper wasps, mud daubers will not attack unless threatened, but have a very painful sting.

Bald-Faced Hornet

Bald-faced hornets are an aggressive species of wasp, recognizable by their black-and-white markings. Bald-faced hornets have entirely smooth bodies that are rounder and larger than other wasp species. They build large, circular, covered nests that can grow up to 24 inches in length high in trees or under porch roofs. Bald-faced hornets are very quick to attack when you are near their nest and have been known to swarm because of loud noises, vibrations or changes in their environment.

European Hornet

European hornets resemble honeybees in coloring, but are larger and have smooth bodies. Like bald-faced hornets, European hornets build round paper nests in high places. European hornets are less aggressive than bald-faced hornets but are active during the day and at night, which makes their nests more difficult to remove safely.

Yellowjacket

Contrary to popular belief, there is no difference between a wasp and a yellow jacket. Yellow jackets are by far the most aggressive species of wasp and the biggest stinging insect threat. Yellow jackets have a distinct yellow-and-black striped pattern and are about the same size as honeybees. Yellow jackets build nests underground in old rodent burrows, empty spaces in walls or bushes, and low-hanging shrubs. Yellow jackets are also known to hover around trash cans in the summer and are common attackers of picnics. Because yellow jackets are extremely aggressive, take extra caution around their nests.

Why Does a Wasp Sting Hurt More Than a Bee Sting?

Wasp stings have a similar effect as bee stings, as wasp venom similarly breaks down cell membranes at the site of the sting. Wasp venom contains different toxic chemicals than bee venom, however, some of these can produce more painful results. One of these chemicals is norepinephrine, which stops blood from flowing naturally around the sting site. Therefore, it can take several minutes for the bloodstream to carry away the toxic chemicals in your skin. Wasps can sting more than once, which can also lead to more pain. A wasp that has stung you once is likely to sting again if agitated. When you get stung by a wasp or hornet, it is important to stay calm and not swing at the stinging insect, or you risk more stings.

How Do I Get Rid of the Pain From a Wasp Sting?

Many of the same steps to reduce the pain of bee stings can apply to wasp stings as well. One major difference is that you will most likely not need to remove a stinger. Instead, first, wash the area surrounding the sting to avoid infection. You may then apply ice or one of the home remedies explained above to reduce the swelling and pain.

Stinging Insect Nest Removal

If attempting to remove stinging insect nests on your own, you must do so with extreme caution to avoid agitating the nest and getting stung. Incorrect nest removal can have painful consequences. While it is best to contact a professional for stinging insect nest removal, here are a few tips for how to get rid of a wasp nest or a beehive if you decide to attempt to remove a nest on your own.

  • Identify the stinging insect – Observe the location and size of the nest, as well as which type of stinging insect you see entering and exiting the nest. You will need to select the correct insect-killing spray and be prepared for any stings that may occur if the nest removal fails.
  • Wear protective clothing – Wear long sleeves, pants, and a protective mask to cover all skin surfaces. Protective goggles are also essential. You will want to take extra precaution and tape closed any openings between clothing the stinging insects could potentially enter through.
  • Approach the nest at night – All stinging insects, except European hornets, are only active during the day. It will be to your advantage to approach while the foe is sleeping.
  • Apply the correct insecticide spray – Follow the instructions on the insect-killing spray and spray the nest entirely to ensure you have eradicated the colony.
  • Be prepared to flee – If the nest gets agitated and the wasps swarm, you will not want to be trapped in the vicinity of the nest, or you will inevitably end up with dozens of painful stings. Be ready to run as far as necessary so the stinging insect gives up pursuit, or get indoors before the wasps can follow you inside.
  • Be prepared to get stung – Even if you take the necessary measures to avoid getting stung, it is likely you will end up with at least one wasp sting. Be sure to have the necessary medical supplies on hand to treat any stings properly.

Call a Professional for Stinging Insect Nest Removal

Bee and wasp stings can be extremely painful and even lead to fatal results. The warm summer weather will inevitably bring with it bees and other stinging insects that may build nests on your property. If you want to eliminate the risks of a do-it-yourself stinging insect nest removal, give us a call. Spectrum’s professional stinging insect pest removal can expertly remove any beehive or wasp nest no matter the location, with a money-back guarantee. Even more importantly, we work to make sure the stinging insect colony will not build another nest in the future, so you can enjoy your summer afternoons without worry.