Guide to Insects That Sting Humans
Some types of insects may sting humans if they feel threatened or attacked. Learn more about stinging insects and how to avoid painful stings with help from Orkin.
How Many Stinging Insects Are There?
About 700 species of ants, about 35 species of bees, and about 30 species of wasps occur in the United States. Each year, wounds delivered by stinging insects account for more than ½ million visits to emergency rooms.
Solitary Wasps That Can, but Usually Don't Sting
Cicada killers, potter wasps, sand wasps and mud daubers are solitary wasps that mostly nest in the ground. Their behavior is usually non-aggressive, but they will sting if provoked or trapped against bare skin. These wasps use their sting to paralyze prey to use as a food source for the wasp larvae. Since insects and spiders frequently become food sources, solitary wasps can be valuable pest insect predators.
Social Insects That Sting in Groups
Honey bees, bumble bees, wasps, hornets, and ants live in colonies where there may be as few as a dozen to thousands of individuals. Social stinging insects include three castes - a queen, male drones, and numerous workers, which all work together to create a beneficial social structure. The queen and male drones are the colony’s reproductive members. Workers are protectors of the colony and will aggressively sting and attack to protect their colony.
Almost all species of ants can sting, but relatively few are a medical risk to people and pets. Fire ants and red harvester ants account for the majority of ant stings in the US. Disturbing their colonies, which can readily be found in yards and gardens, will usually result in ant workers delivering a sting that produces an intense burning sensation.
Social Honey Bees
In terms of bee attacks, honey bees are responsible for the greatest medical risk since their colonies are very common in urban areas where people can easily encounter them. Workers will readily sting if their colony is disturbed.
The Africanized honey bee, often called “killer bee”, is found in parts of the southern, southwestern, and western US and closely resemble the average honey bee. Africanized honey bees will very aggressively defend their colony against disturbances.
Social Bumble Bees
Bumble bees also live socially in hives which provide shelter and a place to raise their young. Their colonies are usually located underground, particularly in abandoned holes made by rodents, and typically contain fewer than a hundred workers. Bumble bee workers are much less prone to sting than the more aggressive domestic or Africanized honey bee workers.
Social wasps, which include yellow jackets, hornets and paper wasps are medical risks to sting victims throughout the US. Both groups live in colonies that consist of hundreds to several thousand workers in nests made of papery material.
Yellow jackets live in nests or colonies that may contain up to 4,000 workers. They are most active during late summer and early autumn when a colony is at its peak. Yellow jackets feed on sweets and proteins, which explains why these pests commonly invade outdoor events. Yellow jackets are very aggressive when their nest is disturbed and sting repeatedly.
Hornet nests are usually located above ground in hollow trees or hanging from tree branches. Hornets are very aggressive when needing to defend their nest and will inflict very painful stings.
Paper wasp nests are typically found under sheltered overhangs, or on the side of structures where they are protected from wind and rain. Paper wasps are less aggressive that hornets and yellow jackets but are likely to sting if their nest is disturbed.
The emergence of a European species of paper wasp over parts of the US may lead to an increase of paper wasp stings as this species is increasingly common in urban areas and more prone than native paper wasp species to sting in defense of their colony.
How to Avoid Being Stung by Insects
Be especially careful in the late summer and early fall when colony workers are extra busy foraging for food needed to sustain the colony during the upcoming winter months.
Inspect your home and other buildings for cracks and crevices that stinging insects may use as entry points to get inside or to build a nest in.
Don’t swat at stinging insects! Instead remain calm, slowly move away, and give the insect a chance to fly away. If you have disturbed a nearby colony, the insects from that colony will usually become very aggressive— you must get away from the area as quickly as possible.
Carefully inspect your property for the presence of stinging insects. If you find problems, call Orkin for assistance. Orkin’s pest management professionals are trained and equipped to deal effectively and safely with