Wasps are a common problem for many people; nests built around houses and buildings increase the likelihood of interactions with wasps as well as the possibility of getting stung. It is important to understand what kinds of wasps present a health risk for people, and where wasps are found.
The most common types of wasps that people encounter are yellow jackets, bald faced hornets and paper wasps. Due to the venom in their stingers and their common presence in highly populated areas, these three types of wasps present a health risk for many people.
Other types of wasps include cuckoo wasps, which are small, stinging parasitic wasps. Gall wasps are wasps that act as parasites on certain types of plants. Potter wasps build small round mud structures and feed on caterpillars. Sphecid wasps, better known as cicada-killers, are a prevalent type of wasp that can inflict a painful sting if provoked, but are unlikely to attack humans. Spider wasps are predatory, and capture spiders in order to feed their young. Velvet ants are a distinctive type of wasp, noted for their colours and long, painful sting.
Yellow jackets, hornets and paper wasps present the greatest threat to people as a result of their prevalence; the three species look very similar and are easy to confuse. All wasps have slender bodies, narrow waists and most appear to be shiny. Yellow jackets, hornets and paper wasps are all striped black and yellow.
Cuckoo wasps are small and metallic blue, red or green in colour. Gall wasps are brownish red and generally found in oak trees, where they lay their eggs.
Potter, or mason, wasps are black and white, yellow, orange or red in colour and are found in ground nests made of mud.
Sphecid wasps range in size from half an inch to two inches long and are black and red, yellow or white and some may be tinged with metallic blue or green colours as well. They nest in the ground.
Spider wasps are black, blue or reddish and are generally seen walking along the ground in search of spiders; spider wasps nest in the ground as a result of their predatory nature --most spiders are too heavy for wasps to lift.
Velvet ants receive their name because they look like big, furry ants; the females of some species are wingless. Most are black and yellow, orange or red. Velvet ants parasitise the nests of other wasp species.
All wasp species are common around the world, with the exception of arctic and subarctic regions. There are thousands of different species of wasps that fall under the various types and thrive in different areas of the globe.
Some wasp species, like gall wasps and velvet ants, are found only in particular climates. Gall wasps live primarily in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere; velvet ants, on the other hand, live in semi-arid and desert regions.
Many people confuse wasps with bees; bees are similar to wasps in only a few ways --all bees are social insects that live in a hierarchical society, while only a few types of wasps do, including hornets and yellow jackets. Because hornets, yellow jackets and paper wasps are black and yellow, they are often confused with bees. However, bees are furry and have much more robust bodies than wasps. Wasps are also regarded as being more dangerous than bees and are often thought to sting humans without provocations. While wasps, in particular hornets and yellow jackets, are much more aggressive than bees, wasps will only sting in self-defence. This can happen if a wasp feels that an animal or human is too close to their nest, which can be hard or impossible to see, making the risk of provoking a wasp greater than that of provoking a bee.
Wasps inject venom with their sting, and unlike bees, are not limited to a single sting; wasps can sting multiple times because their stinger will not remain in the skin. The risk of allergic reaction to a wasp sting is increased, therefore, and medical attention should be sought if one is stung.
Some people will only experience mild, or local, reactions to stings, which can range from itching to burning and swelling and can be treated with ice and will recede in time. In some cases, however, the venom can cause anaphylactic shock and will require immediate medical attention.
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