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Summertime & Stinging Pests

Chelsea Clarke

How do you handle stinging pests during the summer?


This post begins with another story, so strap in. When I was younger, my father ran a local soccer league through the Optimist Club. One summer we went out to check on the newly installed sprinkler system at our new complex. I should preface this with the fact that I’ve never really enjoyed getting wet while wearing regular clothing: water rides at amusement parks are the bane of my existence. Who wants to spend an entire afternoon walking around Silver Dollar City with soggy, water-logged shorts? Juvenile delinquents and weirdos who are fond of chafing, probably. But I digress – this particular day, a bumblebee happened to be going on a walkabout across the complex. I had learned at a young age to show the proper deference to stinging pests, and I had learned the hard way. This was because my natural reflex was to flail wildly and make loud noises – neither being very tactical responses in the grand scheme of stinging pest strategy.

This time was no different. The sprinklers were on all across the full-size field and for some reason I can’t recall, my dad sent me to the other end of the field to check on something. It was at the far end of the field where I crossed paths with this bumble bee. Bees may not understand human language, but they do have a very clear understanding of fear. Their fear. And if you startle them by acting aggressively (or acting aggressively terrified, as in my case) they can be provoked into defensive behavior.

I employed my tried and true method of bumble bee deterrence and promptly took off screaming. Unfortunately, it took off screaming after me. My father watched me sprint the full length of the field, running serpentine between the sprinklers in an effort to ditch my buzzing tail. I remember hoping that the water from the sprinklers would stop the bee. In retrospect, I think it probably stopped chasing me shortly after it started, but I could swear I heard that low droning buzz right behind me every time I thought I was safe. Unfortunately, I ended up soaking wet and gasping for air as I tried to explain what had just happened to my father. So there I was: soaking wet in regular clothes, but with a deeper understanding of my own mortality. My father later told me that he had initially thought I was being chased by an axe murderer or something from the way I was screaming. At the time, I thought to myself that I would have preferred the axe murderer. This is my PSA for properly handling stinging pests and their treatment.

You can find more information on the identification and behavior of stinging pests on their page in our Pest Library.

How to avoid being stung by stinging insects:

  • Don’t smell like something in need of pollination. Many perfumes or colognes smell floral or musky and bees can detect and follow strong scents. It’s best to go au natural and leave the Chanel No. 5 indoors.
  • Don’t look like a flower. See above – bees like flowers, like, a lot. Ever wonder why a beekeeper’s suit is all white? It’s because bright colors will draw bees in the area to you. It also helps not to walk around outside while barefoot, to avoid accidentally stepping on a bee or an underground yellow jacket nest, (if not just for all the sharp, rusted objects on the ground ripe with tetanus.)
  • Be careful where and how you picnic. Sugary beverages will attract the undivided attention of bees and wasps. Fruits, pastries, and other sugary or sweet food also attracts these pests. When drinking or eating outside, always make sure a stinging pest hasn’t landed on the rim of your soda can or on that last bite of fruit salad. Because, if not, you are in for a world of hurt.
  • STAY STILL. Learn from my mistakes. Let me be your stinging pest Wushu Master. I no longer flail wildly or swat at a wasp or bee. Now when I see a bee or wasp, I stay completely motionless and will it away with my nonexistent telepathic powers. Most stinging pests are just trying to go about their business of pollinating the world and clumsily bumbling around in public places – and who are we to judge? If the pest isn’t behaving aggressively, the best response is to remain still until it decides to fly away and it is likely to return the favor by leaving you alone. Swatting at a wasp or hornet is likely to initiate more defensive behavior that will lead to stinging.

However, if the hive or nest is near areas of high human activity and the pests become unavoidable, it is best to have it moved as soon as possible to prevent having to dodge uncoordinated bumblebees, or worse.

Wasps, Hornets & Yellow Jackets

We’ve all seen those honey comb-shaped wasp nests built in eaves and covered porches. Paper wasps, named for their paper-like nests made of fragments of wood, organic material, and saliva, are less aggressive than hornets and yellow jackets. Mud dauber wasps build their tube-like nests out of, you guessed it, mud. Wait to remove the nest until you are sure treatment has been effective in eliminating all wasps.

Hornets usually attach their tear-shaped nests to trees, bushes, or the side of buildings. These pests are much more difficult to remove than the relatively more docile wasp. Hornets can be very aggressive if their nest is disturbed. It is important to have a professional remove the fragile nest, because if it is accidentally broken open during removal, the disturbed wasps will scatter.

Yellow Jackets are a type of wasp that builds its nest underground in disused rodent burrows, beneath landscaping, or in the rock walls of a building. They are typically less active at night, which makes it easier to treat and remove their nest. These stinging pests are very similar to hornets in that they are very aggressive when irritated or disturbed and will attack people in the area.

Honey Bee Hives

This needs to be addressed as a matter of conservation, especially in the case of honey bees, which are becoming more and more endangered with each passing year. Before calling a pest control company to come out and deal with an active bee hive, call a local apiculture or beekeeping society. These beekeepers need to know that you definitely have honey bees and not another type of bee that may look similar before they make the trip out. Many times, apiarists will remove honey bee hives at no cost to you since honey bee conservation is becoming increasingly more important to those in the apiculture due to the many beneficial aspects of honey bees.

Africanized Honey Bees

Each year we see widespread news coverage of the impending doom that is the “Africanized killer honey bee” and how these bees are going to kill us all. This topic could benefit from some clarification that isn’t fear-based.

The African honey bee is a subspecies of honey bee indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa; however, it was recently introduced to the Americas and has slowly spread since. “Killer bees” are the result of hybridization between African and European honey bees. Statistics show that there are roughly 40 fatal bee attacks each year, but the difference between your typical honey bee and these “killer bees” is that the Africanized honey bee is far more aggressive. They are known to pursue sources of disturbance much more doggedly. When a European honey bee hive is disturbed, only roughly 10% of the colony attacks, but for the Africanized honey bee, when disturbed the entire colony will attack indiscriminately. These attacks become fatal when those being targeted are unable to escape and reach cover.

Africanized honey bees are typically found in the southwest where milder year-round temperatures allow them to survive through winter. The presence of Africanized honey bees has not been established in or around Missouri, so any honey bees you encounter this summer will probably be your typical European honey bees – which are still not to be trifled with. For treatment or removal, always call a professional.