Avoiding Insect Stings

If you know you have an insect sting allergy, there are several actions you should take when outdoors to help prevent stings:

Don’t:

  • wear perfume, cosmetics, soap, or hair sprays
  • wear colorful outfits that might be seen to insects as a flower bed
  • walk outside barefoot
  • provoke a known nest or hive for stinging insects

Do:

  • wear shoes when walking around outside
  • always look carefully before sitting down or leaning back outdoors
  • cover food, drinks and garbage when outdoors
  • stay calm if you see bees flying around—they will only sting if provoked
  • shake out clothing that gets left on the ground

Identifying Stinging Insects

It’s useful to be able to identify stinging insects and their homes, so that you can avoid them.

Honeybees and bumble bees

These two types of bees live in “honeycomb” structures in places like hollow trees or cavities of buildings. They are gentle, and will only sting if provoked. Honeybees are amber with black stripes and have short, fuzzy hair; bumblebees are yellow with black stripes and look furry.

Yellow jackets

Yellow jackets are small (short and blocky), and are usually bright yellow and black with no hair. They’re predators, and can be very aggressive. Yellow jacket nests are usually underground, but are also sometimes found in woodpiles, under porches, in wall hollows, and in cracks in masonry. Their nests look like they are made of papier-mâché. 

Hornets 

Hornets are the largest type of wasp. Most of the time, they have dark and black bodies with some yellow and some hair. Hornets' nests are usually found high above ground on branches of trees, in shrubbery, or in the hollow of tree trunks. From the outside, the nests are football shaped, and brown or gray in color. Like yellow jackets, hornets can be aggressive.

Paper Wasps

This is a common type of wasp that is long and slender. Body color varies with species: they can be brown with yellow markings, dusty yellow, or reddish brown throughout. Their nests are made from paper, and look like small, umbrella-shaped papery combs that hang horizontally from spaces like porch eaves, hollows in trees, and attics.

Fire ants 

Unfortunately, it is hard to distinguish fire ants from other ant species. Fire ants build nests underground, and can create mounds (or “ant hills”) that can grow up to 18 inches tall. The height depends on the soil.