Stings and bites are a common experience during encounters between humans and insects. A sting differs from a bite mainly in the insect's intent. Flying insects such as wasps and bees use stings for defence, while mosquitoes and horseflies bite in order to feed. Local irritation and other mild allergic reactions to insect stings are not uncommon. However, around 3 per cent of adults and 0.5 per cent of children experience full-blown allergies leading to anaphylaxis.
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Social wasps show swarming tendencies when their habitats are threatened. Examples include paper wasps, yellow jackets and hornets. The aggressive yellow jackets resemble honeybees with their yellow and black markings, although they have much narrower abdomens. They build nests on tree stumps, fallen logs and earth mounds, and have painful stings that can cause bacterial infections as well as allergies. Paper wasps have reddish-brown, red, orange or yellow stripes and live in nests with paper-like cells. Though protective of these nests, they are slow and comparatively docile. Hornets, the most aggressive among social wasps, build large, football-shaped nests. These nocturnal yellow-and-chestnut-coloured insects reportedly attack even upon the slightest provocation.
Solitary wasps, such as the cicada killer and mud dauber, do not constitute as grave a threat as their more social relatives do. They rarely nest in or around buildings, preferring soil above all other habitats. Moreover, they only sting when physically threatened and do not attack when their nests are disturbed. Male cicada killers display highly territorial behaviour and chase away people or animals coming near their mates' holes. However, only female cicada killers actually sting and only when they are under threat of bodily harm. Mud daubers vary in colour from blacks and yellows to metallic blues. They plaster their mud nests in protected places, where they store paralysed spiders for their young to feed on upon hatching.
Bees are, as a rule, more mild-mannered than social wasps and do not attack unless severely provoked. Honeybees, for instance, do not display aggressive tendencies except when the colony or an individual is threatened. Honeybee stingers get ripped off their bodies when they sting, along with their venom sacs, which continue to pump venom into the wound. Honeybees die soon after delivering their stings. Like honeybees, bumblebees only attack when disturbed. However, these large, hairy bees move rather slowly and are therefore easy to escape. Carpenter bees resemble bumblebees closely, save for the hair on their tail ends. Behaviour-wise, however, they are most similar to mud daubers, with very territorial albeit completely harmless males.
Avoiding stinging flying insects
The best way of avoiding stings from wasps and bees is simply steering clear of their habitats. Social wasps are especially antsy for up to two weeks following a nest disturbance. Attracting these insects with food or uncovered rubbish bins must be avoided. Experts advise against traps and spray pesticides, as these require regular maintenance and show no significant effect in reducing the risk posed by stinging insects.
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