Hymenoptera - Wasp and Bee stings
Lasius niger - Black Garden Ant
Apis mellifera - Honey Bee
Vespula vulgaris - Common Wasp
The name Hymenoptera means "membrane-winged" coming from the Greek hymen = membrane.
Members of this order include s mall to large insects with two pairs of membranous wings, the forewings and the hindwings. The forewings are much larger than the hindwings with both sets having very simple wing venation.
Members of this order are called the "social insects" because many species within the order live in large colonies, headed by a queen.
The Hymenoptera is a very large order containing over 120,000 species of known insects, over 6,500 of these occur in Britain , with 40,000 species occurring in Europe . Members of this order are extremely variable in their size, shape and habitat; however, they can be split into two well defined groups. The Apocrita which have small 'waists' and the Symphyta which have no waists. Ants, bees, wasps and ichneumons all belong in the Apocrita with primitive insects, such as the sawflies, belonging in the Symphyta.
Many members of the Hymenoptera are parasitic on other insects with most playing an essential role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem.
Wasps and bees, however, possess a sting, which allows them to inject venom into other creatures that may be attacking their nest: They can be quite aggressive which sometimes results in them stinging humans.
What is the effect of the venom on humans?
Wasp and bee stings affect different people in different ways depending on their age and physical condition:
For most people, one sting produces a small swelling, a little pain and some irritation of the skin, which may last for a few minutes or up to a few hours. Other people react more seriously with a greater swelling, more pain, and a general feeling of malaise lasting for several days. Although unpleasant, this type of reaction is not life-threatening unless the victim is stung on the mouth or throat. This situation can be dangerous because the tongue or throat may swell up to an extent that breathing becomes difficult or impossible.
If a person is stung many times, then a toxic reaction in the body may occur. This can cause a headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, diarrhoea, muscle spasm and, if the victim has been stung a very large number of times, death.
A number of people are hypersensitive to wasp and bee stings, and just one sting can cause a fatal allergic reaction known as anaphylactic shock . This causes vascular collapse - the throat swells, breathing becomes shallow, blood pressure drops to the extent that the pulse becomes undetectable, profuse sweating occurs, bladder and bowel control is lost and the victim rapidly loses consciousness. Death occurs within one hour in 66% of cases, and within five hours in 96% of cases.
How should stings be treated?
Non-allergic people should treat a single sting by washing the site with soap and water and applying an antihistamine to the area. This will ease the pain and irritation. Application of a cold compress will keep swelling to a minimum and reduce any irritation. Antiseptic cream will prevent a secondary infection occurring at the sting site.
If a moderate to severe reaction occurs, the patient should rest for a couple of hours after being stung, as their blood pressure will be lowered by the venom. Victims who have suffered a sting to the mouth or throat should seek medical aid immediately in case the tongue or throat swells up and restricts breathing, as mentioned above.
In cases of allergic reaction, treatment by a qualified practitioner should be obtained as soon as possible , ideally within a few minutes. For this reason, people who know they are allergic to wasp and/or bee stings should always carry an emergency kit and some form of identification of their condition.
Removal of nests
Removing a wasp or bee nest can be a very dangerous task, and the necessary insecticides and equipment are not usually available for purchase by the public. If removal is necessary, it is recommended that professional advice is sought - local councils will often have a pest control department that can carry out the job.