Taking The Sting Out Of Bees and Wasps

In most places around the world, there are various types of insects. They  are very beneficial to our environment. But, many times, it’s nice to know that they are out there. But, it’s not always nice when we encounter them directly. Knowing how bees and wasps behave may reduce a painful encounter.

Some good examples of insects that benefit our world are bees and wasps. Bees are exceptional pollinators of both our natural and manicured plant life. They also produce honey, which feeds bears and forest animals as well as ourselves. Honey has germ-fighting characteristics, which enables it to be used for a variety of medicinal purposes.

Honey can be used to treat cough, asthma, and hay fever symptoms. It is also used for diarrhea and stomach ulcers caused by infection. Honey can be applied directly to the skin for wound healing, burns, cataracts, and diabetic foot ulcers. Topical use of honey has a long history. it is one of the oldest known wound dressings. Honey was used by the ancient Greek physician Dioscorides around 50 A.D. for sunburn and infected wounds. In addition to Egyptian and Greek medical texts, honey’s history of healing properties has been documented in many old historical texts including the Bible, Koran, and Torah. In foods, honey is used as a sweetening agent and as a source of carbohydrate during vigorous exercise. Honey can also be found in fragrances, cosmetics, moisturizers, and soap.

In the Pacific Northwest, our most common types of bees are honey bees and bumblebees.  Honey bees build perennial colonies in crevices of trees and rocks, in voids found in buildings, and other protected sites. Bumblebees choose a new colony site each spring in abandoned mice burrows, small cavities in building walls, or other similar spaces.

Both Honey Bees and Bumblebees are usually rather passive and rarely sting unless they are provoked. Honey Bees can only sting once. Their stingers have barbs on them that lodges in the skin and separates from the bee when it flies away killing the bee. Bumblebees do not have barbed stingers and will sting multiple times.

When you find bees around your home, try to capture a bee of take a really good picture. When honey bees are looking for a new home they tend to swarm around a particular area. Being able to identify which type of bees are present is important. If the bees are honey bees, it is particularly important to have the bees removed by a professional beekeeper or pest control technician and relocated to a more appropriate place. We still need those bees to pollinate our trees, flowers and plants, especially for our farming communities.

Wasps are a different insect all together. In the Pacific Northwest, Yellow Jackets (including hornets) and paper wasps are the most common types of wasps. Wasps have slender bodies with a narrow waist and appear smooth and shiny. Unlike bees, wasps prey on insects, including caterpillars, flies, crickets, and other pests. In addition to feeding on insects, Yellow Jackets will also scavenge human food and garbage. Yellow Jackets have aggressive feeding habits can make them a serious nuisance problem. Paper wasps do not scavenge and are rarely aggressive. However, their habit of nesting anywhere, frequently in heavily used areas, creates problems.

Wasps relocate and build new nests every spring. Paper wasps nests are constructed using chewed wood fiber mixed with saliva and resemble an umbrella consisting of a single comb with open cells. Paper wasps commonly build nests on tree limbs, building overhangs, beams and supports in attics of garages, barns, and sheds. They also build nests in small cavities of building walls, within metal gutters and poles, and under outdoor furniture. Some yellow jackets may conceal their nests below ground in old rodent burrows, behind exterior building walls, in hollows of children’s playground equipment, or other similar spaces. Others may build large, conspicuous hanging nests in shrubs, trees, or under eaves of buildings.

Like bees, wasps will sting in defense of its colony or itself. However, they tend to be much more aggressive and may sting repeatedly. Especially in late summer and fall, yellow jackets become aggressive scavengers.

So, what should you do to keep from encountering bees and wasps? First, don’t attract them. Avoid bright colored clothing, intense fragrances in lotions and perfumes. Keep food and drinks covered or indoors and keep the areas around the home free from decaying foliage and fruit and pick up after Fido.

If a bee or wasps does come around to investigate, stay calm and don’t provoke a sting. If there are more than one, leave the area quickly. Some bees and insects release chemicals when they sting to attract more bees to attack.

If you are stung by a bee or wasp, remove the stinger quickly with a gauze wiped over the area or by scraping a fingernail across the stinger. The bee or wasp stinger injects venom into the skin causing pain, swelling, itching, and redness.  Squeezing the area or using tweezers to remove the stinger injects more venom into the skin. Then wash the area with soap and water and apply an ice pack to reduce inflammation. If you have difficulty breathing, facial swelling, dizziness, or other symptoms of an allergic reaction, seek medical treatment.

Identify the insect and locate its nest. If it is necessary to control them, use the least toxic and most appropriate methods available. If insecticide sprays are used, always follow the label’s instructions carefully. Hire a pest control company or removal services if you are allergic to stings or if nests are in difficult-to-control areas.

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