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Home Blog Wasp 101: Paper Wasps, Yellow Jackets & Stings

Texans are no strangers to creepy crawlies. And if you live in Texas, you’ll know that wasps are par for the course, especially during the warmer months.

We know how stressful it can be to have wasps in your yard and the threat that they pose to you and your family. Just like all pests, the more you understand about them, the more equipped you are to deal with them.

Below, we’re going to outline some of the most common wasps that Texans experience and let you know how to tell them apart, what to expect from them, and – most importantly! – how to avoid/treat a wasp sting.

Paper Wasps

Paper wasps are usually calm in temperament and aren’t likely to sting you unless you disturb them. Three common types of paper wasps are: 

Red wasp

Red wasps are red/brown in color, with yellow markings and black wings, and are roughly 1 inch long. They’re attracted to areas with lots of foliage, and it’s common for them to build their nests in trees and hollow places. 

They build nests that look a lot like honeycombs. These nests hang from their supporting structure (e.g. a branch or a doorway) by a thread. A red wasp nest is built from plants and wood that they’ve chewed.

European Paper Wasp

European paper wasps can be found throughout the majority of the US and they’re around ¾ of an inch long. These small insects are svelte, with black bodies, yellow markings and a thread waist (where the part of the body between the thorax and the abdomen narrows). 

European paper wasps look a lot like yellow jackets, so you would be forgiven for confusing the two! You’ll likely find a European paper wasps’ nest in dark and sheltered areas.

Northern Paper Wasp

Northern paper wasps build their nests out of wood, so you’ll often find them near sources of wood, such as firewood, sheds, and fences. These pests can be ½ an inch to an inch in length and are dark red/brown with yellow markings. Their heads are notably pointed. 

A northern paper wasp nest is open-celled and will hang from the structure on which it’s built. These nests can grow really quickly and you can expect them to be 6-8 inches in width.

Yellow Jacket

‘Yellowjacket’ is the common name for the Vespula and Dolichovespula types of wasp. Often confused with paper wasps, yellow jackets have distinctive black and yellow markings all over their bodies, 4 wings, and are around ½ inch in length.

These pests are really common across the whole of the USA, especially during the summer and the fall. They like to build their nests in dark, covered areas, often near a source of sugar (e.g. trash cans and recycling bins). 

Wasp Stings

Avoiding Wasp Stings

Different types of wasps will vary in their aggression towards people, but there is a very real chance that you can get stung by any type of (female) wasp you come across. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to avoid getting stung by a wasp:

  • Avoid wearing bright clothing and patterns: It might come as a surprise, but insects can be attracted to brightly colored clothes or clothes with floral patterns, so try to wear light colors such as white, beige or khaki.
  • Keep your car windows up: If you keep your car windows up, it’s much less likely that wasps will find their way into your car. If a wasp does get trapped inside your car, remain calm, open a window and pull over until it finds its way out.
  • Be mindful when you eat & drink outdoors: Sugary food and drink attracts wasps. Take care to not leave any food lying around outside and make sure you dispose of any food waste.
  • Be hygienic: Wasps can be provoked by body odor (some of their natural predators have a strong smell of sweat). So, keep yourself as clean as possible when you’re outdoors.
  • Relax: In the event of a wasp landing on you or coming near you, keep as calm as possible. Give it space and time to realise that you’re not a source of food. If you make sudden movements or try to swat it, it’s likely to feel threatened and that could cause it to sting you.
  • Keep your shoes on: Going outdoors barefoot is always a risk, and wasps pose a very real threat if you step on them. You need to be especially careful in the fall when wasps could be underground or under foliage.
  • Don’t wear sweet fragrances: Sweet fragrances such as perfume and scented soaps, hair sprays, lotions and oils can attract wasps who are looking for nectar.
  • Avoid wasp nests: Give any wasp nest a wide berth. Wasps are territorial, so if you disturb their nest, you could get stung or cause a swarm. 
  • Seal your garbage: Keep your garbage and recycling cans sealed and clean to stop wasps being attracted to them.
  • Limit disruptive yard work: Vibrations from machines like lawn mowers and trimmers can disturb wasps, so keep it to a minimum, especially if there is a wasp nest nearby.

Source: Farm and Dairy

Next, it’s important to understand a wasp’s behavior. Most wasps are (usually) docile unless they’re disturbed. So, don’t try to swat them or make sudden, threatening movements around them – it could spur them on to sting you. 

Only female wasps can sting, but some wasps have the ability to release pheromones to warn other wasps of danger. This warning can quickly instigate a swarm. Keep in mind that the same wasp can sting you multiple times, so move away from the area as quickly as you can if you do get stung.

Treating Wasp Stings

Wasp stings are no joke – at best they’re painful and at worst they can cause really nasty allergies. If you get stung, you may see a raised lump on your skin and a small white mark where the stinger entered your skin. Other common effects of a wasp sting are sharp and burning pain, swelling, and redness on the skin. This is completely normal and will likely reduce in a few hours.

Some people will get what’s called a ‘large local reaction’ to a wasp sting. This is where extreme swelling and redness develops at the site of the sting for around 3 days. You might experience nausea and vomiting, too. This type of reaction will usually remedy itself, but a pharmacist may recommend an over the counter antihistamine.

In rare cases, people can have a large allergic reaction to a wasp sting and this is known as anaphylaxis, also known as anaphylactic shock. If someone is showing signs of anaphylaxis (e.g. dizziness, nausea, or swelling of the face, lips or throat), it needs to be treated immediately by a medical professional or an EpiPen when appropriate.

How to handle your child being stung by a wasp

Wasp stings in children are more common than you might think. Due to the energetic nature of little ones and the fact that wasp nests can often be found on children’s playscapes and sandboxes, getting stung is often simply a by-product of playing outside.

If your child is stung by a wasp, there are a few things you can do. Firstly, it’s most likely that they’re going to be extremely upset. The shock and pain of being stung often triggers emotional reactions in kids, so crying (and screaming!) is likely. Reassure them that they’re going to be OK, the pain will subside, and that they don’t need to be scared.

You can soothe the sting with cool running water or by applying a thick paste of baking soda and water. Keep the area elevated if you can. If your child is still in pain, you can consider giving them children’s medicine such as Children’s Advil.

Managing Wasps Around the Home

The very best way to prevent wasps stings is to mitigate unintended encounters with wasps. But to do that effectively, wasps nests around the home need to be knocked down and eliminated. Luckily, we’re up to the task!

Give us a call, and we’ll come out to your property as soon as we can. We’re so delighted to offer green pest control to homes and businesses in Houston and Austin, Texas. To find out more about the services we offer, take a look around our website.

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