The other day, from the top of a tall ladder, I reached my hand up into the front porch light fixture and, without looking in, unscrewed a burnt-out light bulb to replace it. When I actually did peer inside the boxy fixture to inspect it – thinking to clean it out – I was shocked (so to speak) to see a multi-celled wasp’s nest right next to the socket. !!!
Fortunately, the wasps were long gone. Just to be sure, I sprayed the nest before returning a few days later to scrape it out and install the new bulb. Problem solved.
But what if it hadn’t been a chilly autumn day with a vacant stinging insect abode? What if even one wasp had flown out to attack my bare hand? Would I have panicked and fallen from 5 feet off the ground?
Let’s not even go there. But why not think instead about how to deal effectively with bees, wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets when they attack?
First, remember that all stinging insects serve some purpose in the divine creation, even if we do not necessarily understand it or agree with it. Perhaps most importantly, bees and wasps are the major pollinators that keep gardens and crops flowering and fruiting. Without them, we’d quickly run out of major fruit and vegetable food sources.
Almost all types of bees will sting, but normally only when they feel threatened. It’s important to understand a little bit about bee psychology. The vast majority of bees do not want to sting anybody, ever.
But sting they will, and for these two main reasons:
Protection. Female wasps will defend her nest if she believes it is under attack with her only weapon: the stinger.
Agitation. Once alerted to danger, wasps and bees get irritated by swatting human hands holding newspapers or flailing arms waving them away.
Did you know that all stinging bees are females? This is because the stinger is a modified ovipositor (egg-laying organ).
Honey bees normally are not very aggressive toward humans. They seem to understand that once their barbed stinger becomes embedded in a victim and pulls out of their own body, their life as a bee will end. The stinger, however, lives on in the sense that it continues to pump venom into the stingee after the bee has flown off the die from the disemboweling experience.
The exception to this rule is the Africanized bee – also called the Killer Bee. This hybrid of the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) is a cross between European honey bees such as the Italian bee (A. m. ligustica) or Iberian bee (A. m. iberiensis) and the African honey bee (A. m. scutellata).
Killer Bees rile much easier and react very quickly by stinging first and asking questions later. “They can chase a person a quarter of a mile (400 m); they have killed some 1,000 humans, with victims receiving ten times more stings than from European honey bees. They have also killed horses and other animals.”
Unlike honey bees, bumble bees and carpenter bees have smooth stingers that are able to sting repeatedly without killing the bee. Lucky for us these kinds of bees are fairly peaceful. They mind their own “bee-zness” ha ha.
Yellow jackets are a downright aggressive type of predatory wasp. They will hunt you down and kill that sugary Slurpee you are holding in your hand. And if your hand gets in the way, well, they’ll try to kill it, too – especially if it starts waving around and swatting at them.
Now that we know more than we did about bee-havior (ouch), let us suppose that a stinging insect attack is on the way or underway. Here’s how to cope:
- Evade and Retreat
Where bee and wasp stings are concerned, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure. If you see a swarm of insects coming your way, avoid it.
These creatures may just be going somewhere, not gunning for you. Beat a tactical retreat quietly.
Stifle your screams of terror and for pete’s sake, don’t make any jerky movements to further upset the aerial critters.
- Seek Cover Fast
When any bee or wasp starts to menace you, get away from it quickly but calmly. Go indoors or get into a car – with windows shut, of course.
Even a tent wall offers shelter from stingers. Outdoors, cover as much of your body as possible with clothing or a blanket.
Protecting your face and eyes is the top priority.
- DO NOT HIT THE BEES!
If a swarm of bees envelopes you, or if one curious wasp starts to check you out, stay calm. Stand still and keep your arms down with your hands by your sides. When one bee stings, chemicals are released that cause the others to follow suit. The hive mentality literally puts the welfare of the group ahead of individual safety and a sting-fest ensues.
Some people think these bugs can smell fear. Breathe normally and think good thoughts about cross-pollinators. Bees seem to respond favorably to good intentions and poorly to panic.
- Treat Stings
If you were stung and the attack is over, scrape away the stingers with a flat edge like a credit card or butter knife. Time is of the essence so use your bare fingers if no tools are handy.
Seek professional medical attention for multiple stings. Even without an allergy, breathing may become labored and potentially lethal anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock can set in.
Self-treatment for one or a few stings is simple: wash the inflamed area thoroughly with soapy water. This helps remove injected venom from the sting area. Plunging the stinger site into very cold water slows down the spread of venom through the bloodstream.
Apply drops of lavender oil to the sting site or smear on a homemade rub of beeswax (ironic, eh?), coconut oil, and honey. Cover the wound with a bandage to prevent additional discomfort and possible infection.
Observant readers will have noticed that the list above begins with the number 2. That’s because the #1 way to deal with a possible assault by stingers is:
- Bee on guard and Bee-have
If you spot a hive or nest where bees live, keep your distance. Resist the temptation to poke it with a stick or throw rocks at it, kids. If you find a large hive on your property, call in an expert relocator or exterminator to handle the situation safely.
Cold weather months are the best for finding bee and wasp nests under the eaves of houses and garages, in trees, or under the porch. These insects slow down during the winter. In fact, like bears, most bees and wasps hibernate.
If you have a reasonable fear or unreasonable phobia about bees and stings, consider arming yourself with knowledge about them. Some people set up backyard beehives for therapy. The honied rewards can be quite sweet.
Then, when bees attack, you’ll know just what to do.