Justin Schmidt, a researcher from the Southwestern Biological Institute, was in a tree in Costa Rica in 1987. He was trying to climb closer to a black wasp nest hanging in the limbs of the tree to gather a few specimens for research, and he was shimmying over a branch that hung perilously over a precipice.
He was being cautious and had brought a bee veil to keep the flying insects from harming him in the face. The wasps, on the other hand, were more determined than he had anticipated. They got as near as they could and then squirted poison directly into his eyes instead of stinging.
The agony and burning sensation came on quickly. Justin yelled for aid as he slid down the tree with two legs wrapped around the trunk and a sack of wasps in one hand, unable to see.
He now chuckles and says, “That was an adventure.”
The author of The Sting of the Wild, being stung by insects—often extremely painful insects—is an occupational hazard. From the reasonably bearable scorching agony of the paper wasp to the blinding electric shock of the tarantula hawk wasp, he’s seen it all.
All of this has taught him how painful stings may be and how to avoid them. Schmidt’s advice can come in helpful if you come across these insects in the outdoors, starting with never disrupting a wasp nest.
Oh, the bees, wasps, and hornets!
Every year, between 90 and 100 individuals die due to allergic responses to bee, hornet, and wasp stings. In addition, this is the most frequently potentially deadly animal encounter in the wild.
Stinging insects, on the other hand, are not all created equal. Hornets are a kind of wasp that stings more painfully than bees and is more aggressive than bees. Worse, wasps don’t lose their stingers after they sting you so that they can sting you several times. Bees, on the other hand, are a one-and-done kind of creature.
But, whether you’re attacked once or several times, what occurs in your body when one of these insects bites you is pretty much the same. Bees and wasps envenomate you by delivering specialized poisons and enzymes through their stings.
Your body registers the intrusion. White blood cells rush to the rescue and release histamines, which cause swelling at the injection site. The foreign material continues to spread and tear down cell walls along its route, prompting your immune system to produce antibodies to attack it.
Those who have severe allergic reactions to bee or wasp stings (around 5% of the population) should use an epinephrine autoinjector (such as an EpiPen) and seek quick medical help to avoid anaphylaxis. The rest will feel only throbbing pain, discomfort, swelling, and itching.
It’s not pleasant, but most individuals can endure up to 10 stings per pound of bodyweight without suffering severe effects if they don’t have a susceptible reaction. If you have more than that, the venom might cause your kidneys to strain and clog as they try to remove injured cell tissue from your body.
The amount of venom injected by an insect influences how painful a sting is, and this varies by species. Whether you’re stung by a bee or a wasp, you’re generally better off without one.
How to Stay Away From a Sting
Keeping your distance from nests, colonies, and swarms is the most accessible and most efficient approach to avoid stings. If you manage to come across one, move oppositely quickly and gently. This will keep the insects from becoming more agitated. According to Schmidt, you should also make your leave in a straight path, as zigzagging would just keep you in the danger zone for longer.
If a swarm assaults you, flee as quickly as possible, especially toward those who can assist you. By distancing yourself from the nearby area, you may show the insects that you are not a threat, and they will be more likely to leave you alone.
Don’t get too worked up if you have one or two stinging insects flying about your head. The bee, wasp, or hornet is most likely merely looking for a danger to analyze. If you swat at it or jerk aggressively from side to side, you may be signaling that you’re in trouble and inviting the bug to sting you.
It’s also a good idea to hide in plain sight. Schmidt suggests that you remain still and hold your breath for this.
He claims that “breath is what informs them you’re there.”
Because most insects are attracted to odors in the air, holding your breath for 10, 30, or even 50 seconds will lead them to lose track of your presence. Bees and wasps will most likely leave you alone as a result of this.
Next, when it comes to your outdoor apparel, stick to bright colors and avoid purple, violet, and blue, as bees are drawn to these colors. Floral designs are also acceptable, contrary to popular belief, because materials lack the UV hues that bees like.
Perfumes and scented sunscreens are said to attract bees, wasps, and hornets. This isn’t correct. Lemon, on the other hand, maybe an exception. If you wear it on a hike, the zesty scent is similar to bee pheromone, which may make you more appealing to bees.
What to do if you’re stung by a bee
A bee or wasp will almost certainly hurt you at some time in your life if they haven’t already. Don’t be alarmed if they do.
If there are other insects around, start by moving away from where it happened. If you’re dealing with a bee, scrape the stinger off with your fingernail to dislodge it. According to studies, leaving the stinger in for even eight seconds can cause edema to grow by 30%, so act promptly.
You may be suffering an acute allergic response if you notice unusual swelling or shortness of breath. In that circumstance, your first and most crucial objective should be to seek medical help as soon as possible.
If, on the other hand, everything appears to be in order, your next move will be to concentrate on recovery. To avoid infection, first, wash the sting with soap and water. Use a topical steroid or an antihistamine if it itches. Then, to minimize swelling and discomfort, apply a cool compress to the afflicted region.
Schmidt advises preparing a paste with a tiny amount of table salt and water (or another liquid) and applying it directly to the sting location to ease the pain if you don’t have access to any medicine.
Schmidt speculates, “We don’t know why, but it appears to work.” He also advises against using heat, ammonia, or vinegar on the wound since they are ineffective at best and might exacerbate discomfort.
Finally, if you have a history of severe allergic responses, have auto-injectable epinephrine with you at all times, whether you’re in a city or out in the wilderness. If you get stung by a bee or wasp and need to inject yourself, go to an emergency hospital immediately.