Beware of the Most Aggressive Stinging Insects!Dr. Jim Fredericks
Monday, August 26, 2013
Yellowjackets, killer bees and wasps
fear of a bee, yellowjacket or wasp sting drives many people to run
away screaming, arms flailing about (a motion that is likely to
further incite the insect rather than shoo them away) at the first
sight of one of these insects. That fear is not without merit as
these insects, while ecologically important, typically send more
than half-a-million people to emergency rooms each year. However,
understanding what makes these more aggressive insects tick and how
best to deal with the threat when it occurs can go a long way in
ensuring people and pets stay safe while enjoying the outdoors.
Earlier this summer, several reports of thousand-bee swarms
attacking people and animals made national news, often sounding
more like scripts for horror films rather than real life.
Unfortunately, while rare, attacks by aggressive species of
stinging insects happen and when they do they can easily have
deadly results. Take the case of a 62-year-old Texas man who died
after being attacked by 40,000 Africanized honeybees when he
accidentally disturbed their hive with his tractor.
This bee species, which resembles its European honeybee cousin,
has a much more aggressive nature. Although their venom is no
stronger than that of the regular honeybee, the danger comes from
the fact that “killer” bees attack in much larger numbers, usually
the entire colony. In addition, “killer” bees will pursue their
victim for up to 328 feet compared to only 33 feet for honeybees.
Because their colonies are smaller, Africanized honey bees will
nest in more unusual places than their European counterpart, such
as water meter boxes, tree limbs, utility poles, junk piles, holes
in the ground, even mail boxes, old tires, overturned flower pots –
all spots susceptible for an accidental encounter with a human or
an animal. Africanized honeybees can be found in southern
California, southern Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma,
western Louisiana, southern Arkansas, and central and southern
Because of the aggressive nature of these pests, only a pest
control professional or beekeeper should address an Africanized
killer bee infestation. Anyone attacked by Africanized honeybees
should run quickly in a zig zag pattern and seek shelter in a
nearby house or car. Jumping in a body of water is not advisable,
as the bees will wait above water for the person to emerge.
Yellowjackets are social insects and live in nests or colonies
containing anywhere from 300 to 120,000 cells, each containing
1,000 to 4,000 workers at the peak of the reproductive season.
These insects tend to build nests on trees and buildings, as well
as in the ground. Unlike Africanized honeybees, yellowjackets are
slow to sting unless their nest is threatened, in which case they
become very aggressive. Unlike bees, yellowjackets are capable of
stinging several times, inflicting severe pain. In some cases,
people who have been bitten by yellowjackets can become
hypersensitive to such stings, which means that any future
encounters can be life threatening.
There are about 16 species of yellowjackets in the United
States, of which the most common one, the Vespula vulgaris
(Linnaeus), is found in nearly every state. Because these insects
are attracted to sweets and proteins, it is important to take steps
to cover food during an outdoor event and to clean up and properly
dispose of food and garbage after a BBQ. Just as with other
stinging insects, removal of nests should be left up to
professionals who have proper equipment and experience to safely
dispose of a nest.
Paper wasps get their common name from the paper-like material
that they use to make their nests, and are sometimes called
umbrella wasps because of the shape of their distinctive nests.
These insects build their nests on twigs and branches of trees and
shrubs as well as porch ceilings, soffits, eaves, attic rafters and
similar covered places – all of which can put humans at risk of
accidentally contacting the nest and inciting a wasp attack. Like
yellowjackets, wasps can and do sting more than once. It’s also
important to note that these insects often call for back up using
alarm pheromones to help them defend the nest.
Before trimming shrubs or hedges, or picking fruit, check the
plant for paper wasp nests. Treat wood fences and deck railings
with a repellent oil to deter paper wasps from gathering cellulose
from the wood. If you suspect you have a paper wasp infestation or
find a nest on your home or property, contact a licensed pest
management professional to find out about wasp treatment. Do not
attempt to remove a nest on your own, as there is a high
probability you will get stung.