There’s nothing worse than heading out into the woods to enjoy a hike or a camping trip, only to end up stung by bees or wasps — especially if you’re allergic to the stings. How can you stay safe from stinging insects when you’re out in the woods?
Look for Signs
While bee and wasp nests might not be as obvious as other insect nests, you can look for some signs to indicate that there might be a nest in the area. Look for:
- Large numbers of buzzing insects: Bees and wasps will frequently congregate around their nests, so if you see large numbers of either insect, avoiding the area is your best bet. You can often find the nest by watching the return flight of the insects.
- Visible hives or nests: Some species of bees and wasps will build nests out in the open that you can easily spot. Look for piled mud with holes in it or papery constructions that could indicate the presence of stinging insects.
- Wax or honey: Beehives often have a waxy appearance, and you may see honey as well.
It can take a keen eye to spot some of these signs — some bees and wasps make their nests in tree hollows, under the ground or in other less obvious spots, so if you’re not careful, you can stumble into one of their nests.
Listen for Buzzing
Take out the headphones and listen to the world around you when you’re out in the woods. When you’re getting too close to a nest, regardless of the type of stinging insect that calls it home, you’ll likely hear an increased buzzing sound. This noise is the insects’ way of warning you away before they come out in force to chase you away from their home — but it can only work if you’re able to hear the buzzing before it’s too late.
Identify the Insects
Some stinging insects are more aggressive and dangerous than others, so your next step is to identify the insect that you’re dealing with. Here are some of the possibilities:
- Honey bees: Honey bees are small, often fuzzy, and may look yellowish from the pollen that they carry on their body. They aren’t very aggressive unless you’re dealing with Africanized honey bees, and they won’t sting unless threatened. Honey bees will actually die after they sting you, so they don’t like to sting unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- Bumblebees: These bees are bigger than honey bees but just as furry. They may bump into you when you’re walking, especially if you’re wearing bright colors or perfumes that make them think you’re a flower. They’re not aggressive and won’t bother you unless you bother them.
- Wasps: These insects are larger than bees and tend to have much slimmer bodies. They can be aggressive if they feel that their nest is threatened and can sting multiple times without stopping.
- Yellowjackets: Yellowjackets are small — about half an inch long — and won’t become aggressive unless they feel like you’re threatening their nest. They tend to build their nests underground, though, and it can be easy to stumble into one if you’re not careful.
- Hornets: Hornets are much more aggressive than yellowjackets, and they’re also very territorial — if they feel like you’re invading their territory, they will attack.
If you’re dealing with bees or bumblebees — or even some wasps and yellowjackets — all you need to do is avoid the nest. If you encounter hornets, your only option is to get out of their territory.
If you inadvertently disturb a nest of stinging insects, you’ve only got one option — run! If they sting you, the stinging insect will release an alarm pheromone that will entice other bees or wasps to sting you as well.
Run, but don’t flail, and don’t swat at the bees, even if they’re stinging you. Dead bees release more pheromones that will call more insects to you. Instead, pull up your shirt to protect your face, then run and seek shelter. If you’re out in the woods, just keep moving until the bees stop stinging — this distance can be as little as a quarter mile or as much as multiple miles, depending on the species.
Whatever you do, don’t jump in the water — the bees or wasps will simply wait for you to come up for air, then continue stinging you.
If you’re allergic to bee or wasp stings, even if you’re careful to avoid any nests, it’s always important to be prepared. Carry an EpiPen with you to counteract the allergic reaction to the stings, and call emergency services for advice as soon as you’re safe.
Being prepared can quite literally mean the difference between life and death. You may still require medical attention after using the EpiPen, so make sure you’ve got emergency services on speed dial.
When you’re out in the woods, you’re entering the territory of bees, wasps and other stinging insects. Keep that in mind, and make sure that you’re aware of your surroundings. Avoiding nests and hives is the best way to avoid stinging insects on your next hike or camping trip.