guide to bees and wasps


As we head into summer, you and your family are undoubtedly excited to get outside and spend time soaking up the sun. But the warm weather you enjoy also brings out bees, wasps and other stinging insects. Suddenly, yellow jackets swarm your backyard picnic, or your porch is the home of a wasp nest. In the summer months, it is essential to check your property routinely for stinging insect nests and hives to keep your family safe. If you accidentally disturb a nest, you are at risk of painful stings.

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.

bee stings

Bumblebees

Bumblebees are a backyard insect 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 a smooth, rather than fuzzy, abdomen. 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.

why do bees sting

  • Avoid sweet fragrances – When you are outside in the summer, avoid wearing scented lotion, hairspray or cologne. 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 in 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. It is also a good idea to keep any outside trash cans cleaned of sticky or sugary residue, which will also attract bees.

keep food covered

  • 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. Even worse, if you are not wearing shoes when you step on a bee, you may end up with a painful sting on your foot.
  • 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. The more skin you have covered, the more protection you have from a bee reaching your skin to sting you.
  • 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.

bees get trapped in clothing

  • Keep your windows closed or use window screens – No one wants to confront a bee that has invaded the comfort of their home. Perhaps even worse is going face-to-face with a bee inside your car while driving. Avoid these scenarios by keeping your car windows rolled up and placing screens in your house’s windows.

These precautions will reduce your risk of attracting bees while spending time outside. Unfortunately, you can still provoke or attract bees accidentally, even if you’re careful. Here are some steps to take to avoid getting stung if a bee is flying around you or has landed on you.

  • Hold still: The last thing you want to do when a bee has landed on you is to startle it. Remain calm and stand still like a statue. Remind children that the bee will not sting unless something surprises it.
  • Do not swat it: If you swing at a bee in an attempt to get it to fly away, it is more likely to attack instead in self-defense. Bees can also perceive moving objects better than humans due to the flicker speed in their eyes. That means a flying bee will likely be able to sting you faster than you can swat it.
  • Blow on the bee: If a bee has landed on you and is not moving, try blowing on the bee lightly to encourage movement. Your breath will feel like a breeze to a bee, so blowing on a bee is not likely to frighten it and may cause it to fly away.

get rid of bee by blowing

Sometimes even your best efforts fail, and you get stung by a bee. Read on to learn more about why bee stings hurt and what you can do to alleviate pain after a bee sting.

Why Do Bee Stings Hurt?

To understand why bee stings hurt, it is helpful to understand what is really happening when a bee stings you. 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 — a chemical that causes red blood cells at the site of the sting to burst. Melittin causes blood vessels to expand and disrupts the normal function of the cell membranes, causing pain and inflammation at the site of the sting. Other chemicals and proteins in the bee venom only make the pain of the sting worse by helping break down the cell membranes more quickly.

bee stings hurt because of venom

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.

remove bee stinger

Once you have removed the stinger, you may want to apply ice to the sting to reduce the swelling. Taking an antihistamine can also reduce swelling and ease pain, as can traditional over-the-counter painkillers. 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 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.

It is important to never scratch your bee sting, no matter how itchy it becomes. While it is tempting to scratch your sting, this will only increase the swelling and irritate your skin further. Scratching the opening of the sting may also lead to infection.

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. The difference between a wasp and a bee is that wasps are not pollinators, but instead eat other insects. Meanwhile, the difference between a wasp and a hornet is less clear-cut because all hornets are part of the wasp family. However, not all wasps are hornets.

difference between bee vs wasp

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 in 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 which 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.

wasp stings

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 – Use this guide to identify which specific stinging insect nest you are up against. 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. If you approach a nest in a difficult-to-reach location, have an escape route planned. 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 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. Each year, thousands of people get stung by bees and wasps, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 100 people die annually due to allergic reactions to bees. 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 a worry.