(WGHP) — With the weather warming up in North Carolina, more insects and critters will be out and about for the next few months, and it’s important to remember we share our state with all kinds of tiny pollinators who help our ecosystem thrive.
While bees and especially wasps can be a nuisance, some are more of a threat than others, and you can avoid the troublemakers with proper precaution and understanding, according to NC State University.
Here are the bees and wasps to look out for in North Carolina. They are ranked by how likely they are to sting and how painful their sting is, starting with the docile bumblebee.
Anyone who is allergic to any of the insects listed below could have a severe reaction and may need immediate medical attention.
You’ve probably seen these striped insects going from flower to flower, collecting pollen on their hind legs.
Bumblebees can sting multiple times but are often more reluctant than other bees and wasps to do so. Only the queen and workers will sting.
They pose little risk to people since they are not fast fliers and can be fairly clumsy.
However, if you do get stung, expect the stung area to swell up and become red and itchy. Pain can last for a few hours or days, depending on the severity of the sting.
Carpenter bees are a familiar sight to anyone in N.C. and are sometimes mistaken for bumblebees. The main difference between the two is carpenter bees have shiny and hairless abdomens instead of fuzzy abdomens.
They get their name from their ability to create tunnels in wood by using their strong jaws.
Only female carpenter bees are capable of stinging, and their stings are not severe, so they pose more danger to wooden structures than people. They are also fairly docile unless you go out of your way to bother them.
If a large number of carpenter bees drill tunnels over multiple years, they can cause significant structural damage.
Stopping them from drilling can be very difficult since covering the entire outside of a wooden structure with pesticides is not only impractical but dangerous. You can spray pesticides inside each carpenter bee hole, seal them up with small balls of aluminum foil then caulk the hole about a day later. To avoid inhaling any insecticides when you’re treating a surface, always stand upwind.
A list of chemicals to use against these bees can be found in the North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual.
Honeybees may sting us sometimes, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t our friends.
These fuzzy pollinators bring in billions of dollars for agricultural services, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Every year, honeybees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops and produce amounts of honey worth millions of dollars.
They produce beeswax, honey, pollen, propolis (bee glue), royal jelly and venom in their hives which are then collected and used for medical and nutritional purposes, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
“Honeybees are like flying dollar bills buzzing over U.S. crops,” an FDA statement reads.
Like bumblebee and carpenter bee stings, honeybee stings are often minor. If you get stung, you’ll notice a red welt, a bout of sharp pain and slight swelling.
Cicada Killer Wasp
Cicada killers are certainly eye-catching due to their large size and distinct markings.
The good news is they don’t often sting people. You have to go out of your way to aggravate one to get stung since they don’t have nest-guarding instincts.
Female cicada killers are typically larger than males and are also armed with a venomous stinger used for catching cicadas. Males might hover around to intimidate you, but they can’t actually do anything to hurt you.
They have their memorable name for a reason: female cicada killers grab cicadas, paralyze them and drag them back to their nest where they lay an egg on the second leg of the paralyzed cicada.
If that isn’t bad enough for the cicada, it doesn’t die immediately. The growing wasp larva eats it alive. Once the winter has passed, the larva emerges over the summer. They normally hatch in June and July in North Carolina.
Lawn care is crucial if you want to get rid of these wasps. They return year after year to lawns with well-drained soil and hills facing south, so if you see them around your home, you’re likely to see them every year.
But don’t fear. Watering consistently, liming the soil and using adequate fertilizer will help make your lawn uninhabitable for these pesky insects.
If you’re stung by one, the venom will cause a burning sensation, and the site of the sting may also itch and swell up.
Reactions to wasp stings are usually mild and don’t require medical attention unless an allergic reaction occurs.
Getting stung by a wasp hurts much worse than a bee because its venom is more potent. Wasps and hornets can also sting more times than most bees since they don’t die after stinging.
Hornets are in the same family as wasps with a couple of key differences: their large size and social behavior.
A hornet sting also usually hurts more than a wasp sting due to the chemicals in their venom.
However, finding a place for the European hornet on this list is tricky because, despite how frightening they appear, their sting isn’t much worse than a honeybee. Unlike honeybees, however, they can sting you more than once.
A sting from a European hornet should heal on its own in a few hours. If you get stung multiple times or are allergic, the reaction will be more severe, and you should seek medical care.
They eat many different types of insects including yellow jackets, so they are beneficial, despite what their intimidating appearance suggests.
European hornets prefer to hunt and fly at night, which makes them different from other stinging insects. You could potentially attract one or more of them if you have a light on outside in the evening.
Their attraction to light often causes European hornets to bang up against windows at night which can lead people to think the insects are trying to break the glass and get inside.
Paper wasps are reddish-brown and are sometimes confused with mud daubers since they look similar, but mud daubers are metallic, dark blue or black. Paper wasps will sting to defend their nests, whereas mud daubers are not prone to sting you.
Paper wasps are beneficial because they eat many common garden pests like caterpillars.
If a paper wasp is away from its nest and gets into your home, you will not be in much danger even if the feeling of having an invasive insect so close to you is uncomfortable. Because the wasp has no nest or young to protect in your home, the only real danger of being stung by one comes from accidentally stepping on it or rubbing up against it.
To get rid of a wasp nest, use an aerosol insecticide specifically labeled for wasps and hornets around dusk.
Do not use a flashlight. The light will attract enraged wasps that will sting anyone near them, and do not pour gas into a nest since it can cause immense damage to the surrounding area.
Hiring a pest control professional may be a faster, safer and more efficient way to deal with invasive wasps.
Paper wasp stings carry a risk for allergic reactions just like cicada killer wasps, and the effects of their sting are also similar.
Like paper wasps, bald-faced hornets sting when their nest is threatened. Even if you only walk near their nest accidentally, they will swarm and attack. And if that isn’t bad enough, they will chase anyone who runs away while they’re attacking.
They are capable of stinging multiple times and are also unique among hornets since they can squirt venom from their stinger into the eyes of their victims.
The spray will cause eyes to sting and water. Temporary blindness is also possible.
Just like the wasps mentioned above, a bald-faced hornet sting will cause itching, swelling and a burning sensation for about 24 hours.
However, bald-faced hornets aren’t simply large, angry insects ready to attack you at any time. They are helpful because they eat flies, spiders, caterpillars and other insects that prey on plants.
While they’re known for ruining picnics and other outdoor activities, yellow jackets benefit us by preying on pests like flies and bees.
It is still important to avoid them if possible since they can sting multiple times and are responsible for around half of all human insect stings in the U.S. every year.
A single yellow jacket sting usually causes severe pain and a burning sensation for an hour or two. Swelling caused by venom at the site of the sting can increase for two days, and redness can last for up to three days. The area can be swollen for up to a week as well.
Yellow jackets are most likely to bother you around uncovered food, trash cans and hummingbird feeders while they’re foraging.
Unfortunately, the only way to stop yellow jackets from flying around you is to find and destroy their nest. Fortunately, the likelihood of getting stung is greatly reduced if you’re not close to the nest since they get highly aggressive when the nest is threatened.
Yellow jacket colonies die out every year in late fall and early winter, so destroying their nest might not be necessary.
However, if you are particularly sensitive to their stings or allergic, getting rid of a nest near your home is a good idea.
You can get rid of yellow jacket nests by spraying pesticide inside them in the evening or hiring a pest control worker. Remember to never shine a flashlight around a nest or set one on fire.
You may have to spray the nest multiple evenings in a row to fully kill all the yellow jackets.
What to do if you get stung
Pain, swelling and itching are normal reactions to insect stings and require minimal treatment to reduce discomfort.
You should consider calling 911 or EMS for immediate help if you get stung in the mouth, nose or throat, especially if you begin experiencing severe symptoms or know you are allergic to certain insects.
- wheezing or other breathing problems
- tightness in the throat or chest
- flushed or pale skin
- nausea and vomiting
If any of those symptoms occur, you will need medical attention. If your reaction to the sting is milder, you need to:
- Remove the stinger by scraping across the area you got stung with a blunt-edged object like a fingernail or credit card.
- Never pull the stinger out because it could release more venom.
- Wash over the sting site with soap and water.
- Apply a cold compress for ten minutes then take it off for ten minutes over a period of 30 minutes to an hour.
- If stung in the arm or leg, hold the limb up to reduce swelling.
Once you’ve done the points mentioned above, you can take secondary actions to ease any pain and swelling such as:
- Create a paste with baking soda and water then leave it on the stung area for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Create a paste with unseasoned meat tenderizer and water and leave it on the stung area for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Put a wet tea bag on the stung area for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Use antihistamine cream, corticosteroid cream, calamine lotion or other approved over-the-counter products created for insect stings.
Always make sure to watch someone who got stung by a bee, wasp or hornet for an hour after to make sure they don’t develop any serious symptoms.