The Real Truth About Wasp Stings

Wasp Sting
Nearly everyone has been stung by a wasp in their lifetime. This experience confirms just how painful a sting can be. You would be wrong in thinking that they sting because they are pure evil and super aggressive and it is the only purpose of wasps. 

Why Do Wasps Sting? 

The main reason wasps sting humans is that they feel threatened. A wasp sting is merely a defense mechanism in terms of people, although it is used in the wild to catch their prey. 

There are two main reasons you might get stung by a wasp.

  • Protection –  Like most animals, if a wasp female feels her home is under attack or threatened she will protect the wasp nest with the only defense mechanism she has – her stinger!
  • Agitated – Wasps are a lot like humans in some ways, they do get annoyed. However, this is normally linked to them feeling threatened as well. The constant waving of arms and newspapers while trying to get rid of a wasp can make it very annoyed and feel threatened. 

Do Wasps Die After they Sting? 

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee… Don’t you mean Float like a butterfly, sting like a wasp? 

Float like a butterfly, sting like a wasp.  

Although Muhammad Ali’s famous saying is correct, as bees can pack a nasty sting, wouldn’t it make more sense for it to be sting like a wasp? 

Wonder why? Well unlike bees, wasps do not die after they sting someone. In fact, they can sting multiple people, multiple times during their lifetime. This is one reason why wasps can be so deadly, especially if you are allergic. 

But why don’t wasps die after they sting? 

The reason behind this widely discussed question is down to the anatomy of a wasp compared to a bee, and in particular their stingers. 

A bee’s stinger is barbed, which causes it to get lodged in the skin of its victim. When trying to break free a side effect is the stinger tearing loose from its abdomen, leading to its death. 

However this is not the case for wasps. Her stinger is barbless, allowing her to sting multiple times without the risk of it getting stuck in their victim. 

Using the sting of a bee as a metaphor is not the best choice when you think about it. The connotations is that you’re only good for one punch. However, using the phrase “Float like a butterfly, sting like a wasp” provides much stronger connotations, implying that one can constantly provide a mean punch. 

Male wasps don’t sting!  

You may have noticed that whenever we talk about wasps stings we use female pronouns. That’s because it is only the female that stings. And that’s not because the men don’t like to, they physically can’t. Male wasps do not possess a stinger as part of their anatomy. 

Male vs Female - Sting 

Much like other males within the insect world, the sole purpose of male wasps is to pretty much breed, although they do pollinate in some cases. 

The Schmidt Pain Index  

When discussing wasp stings we have to mention the Schmidt Pain Index. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Schmidt Pain Index is a pain scale reflecting the stings caused by different insects, including wasps. 

The Schmidt pain index was created by Justin .O. Schmidt after subjecting himself to a range of different stings from different insects. It consists of his experience when suffering these painful stings giving them a rating of pain, as well as a description and the duration. To sum up Schmidt’s pain index, “Level four you don’t want to know”.  

Yellow Jacket

  • Schmidt Index: 2.0
  • Pain Duration: 10 mintues
  • Description: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine Mike Ditka extinguishing a cigar on your tongue. 

Paper Wasp

  • Schmidt Index: 3.0
  • Pain Duration: 5-10 minutes
  • Description: Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut. 

Tarantula Hawk Wasp

  • Schmidt Index: 4.0
  • Pain Duration: 5 minutes
  • Description: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath (if you get stung by one you might as well lie down and scream).

Why Do Wasp Stings Hurt?

Wasp stings are packed full of venom, which is why they are so painful. Different people have different reactions to wasp stings. Having one type of reaction doesn’t mean you’ll always have the same reaction every time you’re stung. 

A wasp’s venom serves two purposes:

  • An Offensive Weapon: Wasp venom is powerful enough to paralyze their prey making for easier transport back to the nest.
  • A Defensive Weapon:  Wasp venom delivers enough pain to convince large animals, and humans, to leave them alone. 

Allergic Reactions 

When people say they are allergic to bees, wasps and/or hornets it is not the insect they are allergic to, but rather the venom in their sting. 

Contrary to popular belief, deaths from wasp stings due to an allergic reaction are extremely rare (around 2-5 cases a year) and mainly affect older people. The majority of the time, people survive allergic reaction to wasp stings, and often this is the case without any effective medical treatment. 

Wasp Sting Treatment 

Mild and moderate reactions to wasp stings can be treated at home with a few simple remedies. We recommend consulting a medical professional for advice along with these tips and always follow the instructions on the label of any medication. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Clean the area: Wash the area with soap and water to remove as much as the venom as possible. Applying a medical disinfectant can also help.
  • Ice the area: To help reduce the swelling place an ice pack on the area. Depending on the reaction to the sting, place an ice pack on the sting every hour for 10 minutes.
  • Call an Ambulance: If having a severe allergic reaction to the wasp sting call an ambulance and visit your local emergency room. 

For more information on wasps this summer, follow the #StingerSquad on their latest adventures.

If you are having a problem with wasps around your home or business then don’t try dealing with it on your own. Instead, call your local Ehrlich Technician for reliable wasp removal and prevention service.


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