Why Do Wasps Sting Us?

Many people are scared to death of wasps and this is a phobia called Spheksophobia. But why are so many people scared of these insects? The sting of a wasp is quite painful and can leave a lasting impression, but most fear is instilled in children starting at a very young age. Seeing an adult screaming or running at the sight of a wasp teaches children how they are supposed to respond. Wasps are actually quite gentle and want to be left alone, but when they feel threatened they will not hesitate to fight back. Wasp stings are simply a defense mechanism when it comes to people. In nature, they use their sting to catch and immobilize prey.

Wasps are valuable to the environment. They are carnivorous and kill a lot of pests that destroy crops such as weevils, caterpillars, and grubs. If there are wasps around, just leave them alone. If they don’t feel threatened they will go about their own business, pollinating and killing other pests. If you are a wine lover thank a wasp. Science has found that wasps will eat grapes at the end of the season and will carry the yeast in their guts. This yeast will live in the wasp during hibernation and is then transferred back to the grapes through a bite helping to start the fermentation process.

So, why do wasps sting innocent people? There are several reasons why a wasp will sting, but they always have a good reason to do so. For a wasp to sting a person they must fear that they are in imminent danger. A wasp can sense danger and they will attack without warning. But, wasps only sting people they believe are a present threat.

Jumping, waving your hands in the air, swinging your arms around, or trying to hit them with a newspaper will send them a message that they are in immediate danger and they need to defend themselves.

However, most people that are stung were just walking through a yard or mowing the grass. Taking a walk might seem like innocent behavior, but unbeknownst to the person they step on a nest and are attacked. The wasps believe that they are in danger and are defending their home and the colony.

Paper Wasp

McCarthy’s PhotoWorks/Shutterstock.com

Besides the unfortunate individuals that step on nests most wasp stings occur late in the summer. The colony is slowing down and the process of raising fertile queens has begun. Once the queen cells are laid the hormone that sustains the colonies structure is no longer being produced. This causes the workers to get disoriented and get a sweet tooth. Wasps can often be seen on old soda cans or hummingbird feeders. Since so many are out looking for this treat there are a lot more of them in our way.

There are several ways to help protect you from wasp stings:

  1. Always make sure you wear shoes outdoors
  2. Wear long-sleeved t-shirts and long pants that are not brightly colored. You don’t want the wasps to think you are a pretty flower
  3. Avoid scented lotions, perfumes, and hair products, if at all possible
  4. And, most importantly, always carry an epinephrine injection pen with you in case of emergencies.

If you do get stung leave the area immediately. Don’t yell or run and make yourself look like a threat. Stay calm and walk away slowly covering your face, if possible. Now, if you are being attacked by swarm things are different. You need to get out of the area as quick as possible. Pull your shirt up over your head to protect your face. Run and do not stop until you can get into a shelter where you can be safe. Jumping in water seems like a good idea, but the wasps will wait for you to take a breath and will attack again. 

Expert tips

Do not swat at the wasps because the movement makes them angrier and dead wasps will put off an odor attracting even more wasps.

Treating a sting will almost certainly be the first thing on your mind after being stung. The pain is unbearable and you need to find something that works. There are a lot of home remedies that you can find on the internet but the most important thing you need to do is clean the area thoroughly with soap and water. After the area has been cleaned apply a medical disinfectant. Keep the area clean and dry to help ward off infection. Icing the area can help reduce swelling and treat the pain.

Even though most reactions to wasp stings can be treated at home, it is possible to have a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) that can be life-threatening. If you or someone you know is having an allergic reaction to a wasp sting get medical attention immediately. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include the following:

  • A weak, rapid pulse
  • Flushed or pale skin
  • Hives
  • Light-headedness, dizziness or fainting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Swelling of the throat and/or tongue
  • Trouble breathing

In conclusion, wasps sting us because they are defending themselves and their colonies. If left alone, they would more than likely leave us alone. There are some cases where we are caught off guard such as stepping on a nest, but what would you do if someone were to destroy your home? You would protect it and that’s what they are doing. If you are just sitting outside enjoying the day and a wasp comes around you leave it alone. Don’t make any sudden moves or swing your arms in the air, if it feels threatened you are in trouble. If one lands on you it is probably just checking you out, don’t swat at it or there is a chance it will sting you. If you are stung leave the area immediately because additional members of the colony will come to help out.

Most people have an irrational fear of wasps, but a fear nonetheless. Please educate those around you so that we can live in peace with the wasps that are so beneficial to our ecological system.

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