North American Stinging Insects

Image of flying bumble bee searching for pollen

What Is A stinging Insect?

Stinging insects are complex creatures that can inflict pain or cause allergic reactions in humans. Insects typically sting in self-defense or if they sense danger. Understanding the ins and outs of stinging insects can aid in insect removal or treating a sting.

Stinging insects belong to insects’ Hymenoptera order, a group consisting of ants, wasps, and bees. They can cause fear and disrupt outdoor activities by their presence around humans, but only a few species are a medical risk. The social species in colonies, including ants, social wasps, and social bees, are the most problematic. 1Go To Source -“Insects and Ticks > Stinging Insects”

Learn More: Destructive Animal Species 

Are Stinging Insects Dangerous?

When stinging insects bite, they often inject saliva to digest your tissue. Your body’s reaction to the components of saliva triggers the itching, redness, and swelling associated with these bites. In addition to the saliva, stinging insects often inject venom to subdue prey or protect themselves. In people, this venom usually produces a painful reaction. Bees and wasps that live in colonies, potentially exposing victims to dangerous amounts of poison, can attack large numbers. Typically, these insects cause the most problems when they perceive that their nest is under threat (during bee removal).

A single sting will cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in most people. Discomfort may only last a few minutes or for a few days. Some people can develop more severe reactions. Swelling may overtake an entire arm or leg, may last for several days, or even require treatment in the hospital.

The third type of reaction is called “anaphylactic shock.” The immune system goes “wrong” in a few people, and these symptoms may develop within minutes after receiving a sting:

  • Nausea and constriction in the chest
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Blue skin color (due to lack of oxygen)
  • Unconsciousness or death in extreme cases 2Go To Source -“Stinging and Biting Pests”


Common Stinging Insects:

Honey Bee

Picture of honey bee extracting nectar from flower

When it senses a threat to its hive, a honey bee will sting. Something to keep in mind is a honey bee will rarely sting when it’s away from the hive unless the bee has been stepped on or handled roughly. The honey bee is reluctant to sting because it will die afterward.

The stinger of a honeybee is made from two barbed lancets. It can not pull the stinger back out when the bee stings. When the bee stings, it leaves behind the stinger, part of its digestive tract, muscles, and nerves. What kills the bee is this massive abdominal rupture.

Bee stings are a common nuisance in the outdoors. Bee stings are just annoying in most instances, and home treatment is necessary to ease the pain. People that are allergic to bees must take a sting more seriously. An allergic person will enter anaphylaxis if stung by a swarm of bees. 3Go To Source -“Bee Sting”

Bumble Bees

Bumble bees are peaceful insects that will only sting when they feel cornered or if their hive has been disturbed. Venom is injected into its victim when a bumblebee stings. There is a sting only for female bumblebees (queens and workers); male bumblebees (drones) do not sting at all.

The bumblebee sting has no barbs, unlike a honeybee sting, which means that a bumblebee can pull its stinger back without the sting detaching from its abdomen, so a bumblebee can sting several times.

A bumblebee sting will only cause local swelling in most people, but it can cause an allergic reaction in some cases.

Carpenter Bees

Photo of carpenter bee flying

Bumblebees resemble carpenter bees but this species typically have a shiny, hairless abdomen. (Bumblebees usually have a black and yellow striped hairy abdomen.) The bees also have distinct nesting habits; bumblebees often nest underground in an existing cavity, while carpenter bees will tunnel into wood and lay their eggs (often in human-made structures).

Carpenter bees, though rarely as destructive as termites, can cause cosmetic and structural damage to homes. For egg-laying, female carpenter bees excavate new tunnels in wood or enlarge and reuse old ones. Significant damage occurs when the same pieces of wood are infested year after year. Holes in the wood structure also facilitate moisture intrusion, rot, and decay. 4Go To Source -“Carpenter Bees”



Baldfaced Hornet

Bald-faced hornets are social, stinging insects that house their colonies in large, enclosed carton nests, related to yellow jackets. These arthropods play an important role as predators of flies, caterpillars, and other soft-bodied insects during the summer months to keep their numbers in balance. However, when they live near humans, bald-faced hornets represent a public health concern because of their ability to sting and a propensity to defend the nest.

Unlike other stinging insects that rarely sting when they feel incredibly threatened, Bald-faced hornets are an aggressive species and will attack living thing that invades their space. This makes it somewhat difficult to remove the bald-faced hornet, which should be left to professional wildlife removal experts. 5Go To Source -“How to Prevent the Buzz – Sting – Ouch! of Bald-Faced Hornets”

European Hornet

Photograph of European hornet resting on plant

In North America, the European hornet is the only true hornet. The European hornet has spread throughout most of the eastern United States since its introduction. By feeding on fruits like apples, European hornets can damage crops. European hornets are of most significant concern when they nest near areas of human activity.

Insects are not particularly hostile towards humans, but if threatened, they will strike multiple times. Despite the large size of a European hornet, the pest’s sting feels similar to a common honey bee or wasp sting. Hornet venom in some individuals can cause allergic reactions. 6Go To Source -“European Hornet”

Mud Daubers

Mud daubers are a solitary wasp species that builds small mud nests in or around human homes. With a narrow, thread-like waist, these wasps are long and slender. Some are blue or black solid steel, but others have additional yellow markings.

Mud daubers (Sphecidae) and Eumeninae (potter or mason wasps) are solitary wasps and capable of stinging. Their nests are known to be a nuisance in buildings, under eaves, and in garages. 7Go To Source -“Mud Daubers”

Velvent Ant

Image of velvet ant climbing a leaf

The velvent ant (also known as the “cow killer”) is actually a wasp species. They get the name “cow killer” from their extremely painful sting and often cause problems when found near human structures.

Though grounded, the female cow killer has many defenses. They are fast movers, have a powerful exoskeleton, and can release smelly odors. Furthermore, the females can deliver an excruciating sting. Females have a large stinger called the ovipositor, which is a modified egg-laying organ. If handled or stepped on, they can inflict a severe sting, which is why they are called cow killers. 8Go To Source -“Velvet Ant (Cow Killer Ant)”


Paper Wasp

Paper wasps are 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch long. With orange or yellow markings, they are brown wasps with long legs that hang down as they fly. They have a narrow, pinched waist and a spindle-shaped abdomen with a stinger, just like most wasps.

Although paper wasps are usually not as aggressive as yellowjackets, sometimes their habit of nesting close to where people live causes concern. Their familiar open paper nests are usually found under roof eaves and window ledges, giving them the name “umbrella wasps” in the shape of their nest. 9Go To Source -“Paper Wasp


Picture of yellow jacket wasp building a nest

A North American predatory insect that builds a large nest to house the colony is the Yellowjacket wasp. With yellow markings on the front of the head and yellow banding around the abdomen, these bee-sized social wasps are black. With dark eyes, the face is primarily yellow. These wasps are sometimes mistaken for bees due to their size, shape, and coloration. The Yellow Jackets’ closest relatives, the hornets, closely resemble them but have a much bigger head.

Yellowjacket stings pose a more serious threat to humans than bee stings. As the stinger of a yellow jacket is not barbed like a honey bee stinger, it can repeatedly sting its victim, whereas a bee can only sting once. Some individuals are more sensitive to stings due to allergic reactions. People who experience large numbers of stings at once can experience severe reactions to the inflammatory substances in the insect’s venom. 10Go To Source -“Avoid Painful, Often Dangerous, Encounters with Yellow Jackets”




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