One of the most embarrassing (and painful) events of my professional life occurred when I went to eradicate a bumblebee nest and ended up being chased around the yard by a swarm of angry bumblebees. The neighbors appreciated the act. I went to the job unprepared and I ended up getting stung three times. I learned several important lessons: 1) you’dbetter know what you’re doing when you take on a colony of stinging insects and, more importantly,2) you need to take the proper precautions if you want to come out unharmed. I can count the number of times I’ve been stung on two hands and I can remember them all vividly, starting at about age 9.
Fortunately, I don’t have a severe reaction to bee and wasp stings. Lord knows that I’ve been stung multiple times during my childhood years while doing goofy boy stuff. I’ve also been stung while on the job as an exterminator. I’ve been stung in the swimming pool while trying to drown a wasp twice. I’ve been stung near the eye by a survivor wasp while destroying its nest. If their stings were lethal to me, I’d be six feet under. Luckily, I’ve emerged from the wasp skirmishes with little more than a large welt and a throb that feels like I’ve been hit with a red hot poker. Some people aren’t as fortunate when it comes to wasp and bee stings.
Insect stings can be fatal to some people. I learned that at a young age when I nearly lost a friend who was stung by wasps. His eyes swelled shut and his throat started closing down. He had to be taken to the hospital. He survived and we got a stern warning to leave the wasps alone. He had only 45 minutes to make it to a hospital before he had serious health problems and as we were told,“messin’ with wasps wasn’t worth the risk.”
This time of the year, wasps, bees and other stinging insects reach a point where they have mature colonies or nests. They’ll defend them fiercely. This year we’ve received numerous calls from people getting stung by bumblebees and wasps while working in their yards. People need to exercise caution when mowing, trimming and working around landscaping. Bumblebees build nests on or in the ground. A mower or weed eater can trigger a reaction in a colony. You could become the target of an angry cloud of bumblebees. I’ve found their nests under piles of grass and in compost piles. Sometimes they’ll find a hole in the soil. You may have just mowed the area last week, but this week something triggers an attack. Usually, the nest is under an object lying on the ground.
Wasps can also build nests in low-lying shrubs or bushes. Last week I received the call from a homeowner who had the landscapers attacked by stinging insects. “Bees,” she thought and she was severely allergic to the stings. When I investigated the scene, I found a mature paper wasp nest about face level in a small evergreen tree. The landscaper must have bumped the nest or tree, unknowingly, and excited the wasps. Regardless, the landscaper got to do the wasps-are-stinging-me dance-and-run which really isn’t that much fun.
The point of this article is that we all can encounter wasps or bumblebees this time of year when we’re working or playing outdoors. We need to be cautious when we see flying insects that look like these guys. If you notice wasps or large bees in or around your flower beds and landscaping, you should take time to try and locate the nesting site. If it’s low and in an area where people might work or play, it should be removed. If you’re allergic to wasp or bee stings, you should have someone else look or have a pest management professional inspect your property and eliminate the colony. Eliminating a wasp orbumblebee nest takes a proper amount of care and attention. You want to surprise them, not have them surprise you.
If you happen to see an exterminator running around, flailing his hat at wasps or bees, take a seat and enjoy the show. Don’t feel like you need to join in the fun. Leave it to the professionals. And the guy with the hat…it might just be me. I’ve been known to do this occasionally.