Bees & Wasps Situations & Solutions
It’s important for people to coexist with bees and wasps, which provide invaluable services to ecosystems and sustain our food production systems. Learn what to do in case of a sting, and how to minimize your risk, as well as what to do if you discover a colony in an undesirable spot.
While most bees and wasps can sting you without harm to themselves, honeybees can only sting once, after which they perish. Regardless of which species stings, the worst symptom for most people is temporary pain, redness, and swelling around the area. Some people experience a severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening. People with this condition should always carry an emergency kit prescribed by a physician. Seek immediate medical attention if the following symptoms occur:
- Swelling or itching beyond the immediate area of the sting
- Feeling faint or trouble breathing
- A sudden drop in blood pressure
For those who aren’t allergic, the best treatment is to stay calm, remove the stinger by scraping it off from the side (rather than pulling it out straight, which may release more venom), and apply ice. To ease the pain, you can apply a paste of baking soda and water, meat tenderizer, or an over-the-counter pain reliever for bee stings.
To reduce the risk of being stung:
- Avoid the use of scented cosmetics such as perfume, hair spray, or lotions when outdoors
- Always wear footwear when outside
- Avoid bright-colored or patterned clothing
- Eliminate or cover attractants such as food, beverages, and trash
- Carefully check for bee or wasp nests before starting yard work
- Learn more about the habits and habitats of these insects
Sometimes a new queen installs herself in a honeybee colony, and the old queen leaves to begin a new colony. She typically brings hundreds of workers with her, forming a swarm. You may see one on a tree trunk or an exterior wall of a building. There’s no reason for alarm—the swarm will move on until it finds a new nesting spot. Stay indoors and watch this fascinating behavior from a window.
Honeybees are protected by law. Be aware that if a swarm enters a building or nests in a location that conflicts with people, pest-control companies will not remove it. However, local beekeepers will usually be happy to collect it. For a list of beekeepers, contact your local pest-control company. Learn more about honeybees
Nests in Undesirable Places
You may come across a bee or wasp nest in a building or on the ground. Paper wasps usually build their nests high enough on buildings that they’re not problematic; yellow jackets, on the other hand, may enter buildings through openings under shingles or siding to construct their nest in the wall cavity. These nests will be gone by winter. With most species (though not honeybees), only the queen lives through the winter, and she leaves the nest to wait out the cold in a sheltered place.
If you find a ground nest that might pose a threat, the first step is to observe it. Solitary species may be seen excavating tunnels in the ground for several days, but then usually leave the area. Though they can sting, they are usually non-aggressive. On the other hand, social species—especially yellow jackets—will aggressively defend their nest.
If a nest absolutely must be removed, you should not try to do it yourself. You may be attacked by the colony’s guard bees, you may discover that you have an allergy, or you may find that your store-bought spray can’t reach inside the nest. Contact a professional pest-control company. Be sure to ask:
- Does the company offer a successful non- or less-toxic method for controlling bees or wasps?
- If an insecticide is used, what will it be and how is it applied?
- What measures will be taken to ensure that the insecticide does not enter the living space?
- What does the warning label say about the toxicity of the product and its effect on humans, animals, and the environment? How long will the substance remain toxic?
Carpenter Bees and Wood Siding
Carpenter bees rarely chew holes in recently painted or stained wood. Your best option is to repaint or stain the structure or replace decaying wood. If that’s not possible, cover the area with a sheet of lightweight plastic or a screen. Learn more about carpenter bees
Types of Bees & Wasps in Massachusetts
There are many species of bees and wasps in Massachusetts, and they come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. Some are social, and others are solitary. Learn More