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Insects and other arthropods

Wasp and bee stings

Photo: Insectarium de Montréal (André Payette)
Apis mellifera, Québec, Canada.
  • Apis mellifera, Québec, Canada.
  • Dolichovespula maculata
  • Bombus impatiens

Protecting yourself

These insects sting to defend themselves, so if a wasp is bothering you, don’t make any sudden moves. If it does land on you, wait for it to leave by itself or gently shoo it away. If you disturb a nest, get away as quickly as possible.  

In the great outdoors

  • Keep any sweet food and meat in closed containers. Adult wasps look for sugar to feed on, and for proteins to take back to the colony for the larvae, which are carnivorous.
  • Keep a close eye on your food, and especially on children’s food. Before swallowing a mouthful of food or taking a gulp of juice or pop, make sure there isn’t a wasp in it. A wasp can still sting if it’s in your mouth or throat.
  • Long-sleeved tops and long pants are best. Tie back your hair. Wear a hat with mosquito netting if necessary.
  • Don’t walk around in bare feet. Some species make their nests underground.
  • If a wasp flies into your car, open the windows. It will find its own way out.

In and around your home

  • Make sure your garbage cans have lids.
  • Don’t leave food scraps lying around.
  • Install screens on all your windows.

If you find a wasp or bumble bee nest 

Stay away from it. Don’t bother the occupants. Just keep a close eye on it to see what’s going on.

Early in the spring, the young queen leaves her winter shelter and goes looking for an appropriate location to start a colony. Once she finds a site, she builds a nest and starts laying eggs. At this point the nest is still quite small and easy to dispose of.

Over the summer, the population grows and there are more comings and goings all the time. As the larvae grow into workers, they leave the nest to look for food for the new larvae. Now it is harder and riskier to get rid of the nest.

If you spot a wasp or bumble bee nest in the fall, however, you can relax. This season marks the end of the colony’s life cycle. Only the young queens survive, to keep the species going. But they have most likely already left to overwinter somewhere else. 


Destroying a nest by yourself, plugging it up or using the wasp traps sold in stores is always risky.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter. Better yet, call in professional exterminators. If the nest is on public property or in someone else’s yard, report it to the municipality or the owner. 

What to do if you get stung

Examine the area around the sting

In most cases, there will be redness, pain, heat and swelling around the site of the sting. This is a normal reaction. Even if it looks very worrying, it will disappear within a few hours or days.

Apply cold compresses and use medication (acetaminophen) to control the pain. If the local reaction should spread or be accompanied by fever or local infection, see a doctor. 

When should you be worried?

The reaction is abnormal and worrisome if it occurs anywhere other than the site of the sting. A swollen face, a rash all over the body, a changed voice, difficulty swallowing or breathing, an asthma attack, weakness, persistent vomiting, loss of consciousness or shock are all signs of a serious reaction. This may occur within just a few minutes of the sting and can put the victim’s life in danger. If the victim shows one or more of these symptoms, act quickly. Administer an EpiPen® (available at a pharmacy without a prescription) and an antihistamine (Benadryl®) and get to the closest emergency clinic. If necessary, call 911.

People who have had an allergic reaction following a wasp or bee sting have a 60% chance of a similar or worse reaction if they are stung again by the same kind of insect. If you have ever noticed any signs of an allergic reaction after an insect sting, talk it over with your doctor.

There is actually a treatment available to desensitize you to bee or wasp venom, and it’s 97% effective. If you have ever had a strong reaction following an insect sting, consult an allergist. 

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