There are more insects than any other kind of animal in the forest. All have a place in nature. Some are quite interesting, like the long-lived cicadas. Others, like butterflies, dragonflies, and fireflies can be beautiful, beneficial, and even awe-inspiring. Wasps too, are part of the web of life.
Wasps are nature’s own pest control service, preying on many insects, including caterpillars, flies, crickets, and others in order to feed their babies. Late in the summer when queens stop laying eggs, wasps start collecting sweets. Their instinct for survival drives them to defend themselves, their nests, and food sources – and they do that with a stinger!
Yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets, and paper wasps (also known as red wasps) are the ones most likely to attack humans. To avoid a sting, be observant of your surroundings. When you spot a wasp, watch her. If she lingers in one small area, she may be guarding a nest or collecting food. Imagine there is a ten-foot-wide bubble surrounding that site, and walk around it. If she is traveling along your path, she has somewhere to be. Step to the side and let her pass.
If you do get stung, ouch! You will most likely have a local, non-allergic reaction ranging from burning, itching, redness, and tenderness to massive swelling and itching that may last up to a week. Treatments include ice, vinegar, honey, meat tenderizer, and commercial topical ointments. If you experience hives or rash, swelling away from the sting site, headache, minor respiratory symptoms, and stomach upset, you may want to get an over-the-counter antihistamine.
Very rarely, a person may suffer a life-threatening, systemic allergic reaction to a bee or wasp sting, which can cause anaphylactic shock (fainting, difficulty breathing, swelling, and blockage in the throat) within minutes of being stung. These systemic symptoms are cause for immediate medical attention. If you know you have systemic allergic reactions to bee or wasp stings, consult your doctor to get a prescription auto-injector of epinephrine to carry with you at all times.
Respect wasps by giving them some personal space, and you can avoid an unpleasant experience and enjoy the natural world. Come visit Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park and see for yourself how awesome nature is!