Whether or not we like it, some insects sting and we will often find ourselves in their company. Knowing that they sting, fear is a natural reaction to a loud buzzing wasp or bee. It is easy to say that it's all about staying calm, but it really is the best way to avoid being stung! Learn to recognize wasps and bees and how to protect yourself without having to kill them.
Which Insects Sting?
Females insects are the only ones that can sting. This is because the stinger is actually a modified egg ovipositor (an egg laying structure) and males obviously do not have them. Males exist to mate and after that will be found foraging among flowers after food for themselves.
Why do Wasps and Bees Sting?
They don't want to take a bite out of you! In general, these insects will only sting to defend themselves or their nests. They like to have their own space!
DO NOT THREATEN or DISTURB wasps or bees! Let them go about their business without making a lot of fuss. They will be out foraging for flower nectar and pollen, or searching for a nesting spot. Many species of honey bees, wasps, and bumble bees are social insects. They live in colonies with egg-laying queens, female workers, and male drones. The workers continually come out to search for food for the developing larvae. If you get too close or make loud noises or movements, they might see this as a threat and become defensive. Be careful! Some wasps, like yellow jackets, are also often out in search of human food and can be seen around summer picnics and garbage cans.
Stings to Remember
Bees and wasps are attracted to odours, and bright colours. Avoid wearing perfume or cologne, and bright clothing when out in nature.
Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants if out on a walk or picnic, this minimizes the amount of exposed skin.
Also, don't walk in bare feet because some species nest in the ground or in low vegetation.
Don't attract stinging insects with food! Don't leave open containers of food outdoors. Keep an active eye out for wasps on food at picnics. Wasps can still sting when inside your mouth and throat if you happen to take a bite with a wasp in it.
LOOK OUT for nests! If you see one don't touch it or bother its residences. If the nest is in a place close to your house, like a patio, it is probably better to call a professional exterminator than try removing it yourself!
What if somebody gets stung? Stay calm! A sting can be painful. The venom from bees and wasps can cause pain and swelling. If you are attacked by a swarm of wasps it could be life-threatening. Sometimes, for people with a severe allergy, even one sting can be fatal. If this happens seek immediate medical attention.
Don't be scared every time you go outdoors. Just remember to be watchful and careful when around wasps and bees, and to respect their space! These insects are very useful and do us a great service by pollinating many plants so that fruit and seed are produced. Without them the world would look a lot different.
Bee On Guard
Honey bees and bumble bees are both social bees. Honey bees live in hives and bumble bees live in nests made in cavities, often underground. Honey bees can be recognized by their round, hairy bodies, and pollen baskets on their back legs. Bumble bees are larger, with very furry bodies.
These two species will rarely sting. They are not attracted to human food and are mainly concerned with collecting nectar and pollen. Honey bees can only sting once and then they die. Their stinger is barbed, and can not be pulled out again. Bumble bees have a smooth stinger and can therefore sting many times.
Wasps to Watch
Yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets, and paper wasps are the most common wasps seen in Canada. They all have smooth stingers and can sting multiple times, and tend to be more aggressive then bees in general. Being social wasps, their colonies get larger during the summer, so you will probably notice more of them in late summer and fall. They make "paper" nests out of wood fibres, chewed and mixed with saliva. These nests can be located in trees, cavities, underground, under eaves, etcetera.
Keep an eye out for the smooth, black and white bald-faced hornets, and paper wasps, that are usually black with a few stripes. These two species of wasps are not usually interested in human food.
They drink flower nectar for quick energy while they hunt, and they use flowers as a hunting ground for smaller insects. The slender yellow and black yellow jackets like a diet rich in protein and are very attracted to human food like sweet carbonated beverages, juices, candy, and meat, etcetera.
Solitary Wasps and Bees
In North America, approximately three quarters of bees are solitary. They have no colonies and each female builds its own nest. Many solitary bees and wasps are only active for a short time each year and spend this time foraging for food in the flowers. They have little interest in human food and are less likely to sting, but will do so if defense is needed. Some solitary species include leafcutting bees, sweat bees, and plasterer bees.