What Happens When Wasps Sting?
Natural predators, wasps possess a highly evolved stinging mechanism which the insects use to paralyze prey and defend against intruders. In prehistoric times, the stinging mechanism of wasps functioned as an ovipositor used to lay eggs before evolving into the defensive weapon it is today. As such, only female wasps boast the ability to sting.
Normally sheathed within the abdomen, the wasp stinger emerges from the body only when the insect needs to defend itself or its colony. Wasp stingers actually comprise a multifaceted apparatus consisting of lancets and a stylet. The entire mechanism is attached to an internal venom sac, which stores venom produced by a specialized gland.
When wasps sting, the lancets slide up and down along the stylet, causing the stinger to become fully embedded in the skin of the victim and release venom from the venom sac. Unlike honey bees, wasps retain the ability to fully remove the stinger from the victim and fly away unharmed.
Symptoms & Treatment
While most wasps sting only when threatened or to protect the nest from intruders, certain New England wasp species exhibit notable levels of aggression. Yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets, in particular, are notoriously aggressive when foraging for food and defending the nest.
The stings of some wasps produce chemical odors, or pheromones, that attract other members of the colony to launch an organized, collective attack. Other types of wasps regularly encountered in New England, like paper wasps and mud daubers, are less aggressive and usually only sting when disturbed or provoked.
Wasp stings, though painful, rarely require significant medical attention. Victims of wasp stings typically experience localized itching, swelling, and tenderness at the site of the sting. Applying ice, honey, vinegar, or topical (antibiotic/anti-inflammation) ointment to the sting site may alleviate some of the basic symptoms.
Oral antihistamines can provide relief from more severe reactions, such as hives or rashes and slight respiratory irritation. Seek professional medical attention immediately in cases of severe allergic reactions leading to anaphylactic shock, which results in symptoms like extreme swelling, labored breathing, dizziness, and fainting.