By Ann Barnes, EMGV
The past week has been a tough one for this gardener. First, I disturbed a hidden fire ant mound and received multiple stings on both ankles. Two days later, while weeding near my mailbox I came too close to a new wasp nest and was stung through my garden glove. Fortunately, I have a well-stocked first aid kit handy and was able to treat the stings and return to the garden. Are you prepared for bites and stings that may happen when you’re outside?
Mosquitoes, ticks and chiggers bite in order to feed. While their bites can cause itching and may carry disease causing organisms, these insects are not venomous. To avoid bites from these insects, use repellent and wear clothing that covers the skin. Remove ticks promptly. Itchy bites can be treated with an anti-itch cream. Seek medical attention if you have symptoms of a mosquito or tick borne illness (such as headaches, fever, nausea, and muscle aches).
Bees, wasps, and fire ants sting as a defense, injecting venom with each sting. While bees can only sting once, wasps, yellow jacket, hornets, and fire ants are capable of multiple stings. Stingers are modified egg-laying structures, so only females are capable of stinging.
Fire ants swarm when their mound is disturbed. Many ants may climb onto a person, attach to the skin with their mandibles, and will begin stinging within 10 seconds. Fire ant venom causes a burning sensation. After several hours, white pustules develop at the site of the stings. If you are stung, quickly move away from the area and brush all ants from your body. Carefully wash the area and apply cold compresses. To reduce the chance of infection, avoid breaking the pustules open. Pain can be treated with over the counter analgesics, and itching with an anti itch cream.
The best defense for fire ant stings is avoidance. Wear protective clothing and avoid visible mounds. Be alert for foraging ants when weeding gardens or walking in tall grass.
Bees, wasps, and other related insects are not deterred by insect repellents, so avoidance is the best protection from stings. Protective, light colored clothing is also recommended. Avoid wearing perfumes or using highly scented soaps when working outside. Do not swat at bees or wasps. Picnic areas and garbage cans can attract some kinds of stinging insects, while others are fond of flowering plants. Be cautious and observant when near areas that wasps and bees may find attractive. Wasps, in particular, can be aggressive in guarding their nests, particularly in late summer and fall.
Bee and wasp stings can be very painful. Other symptoms include redness, swelling, and itching. If you are stung, try to remove the stinger by scraping, NOT squeezing, the area. Squeezing or using tweezers could cause more venom to be released. Ice the area or use cold compresses to reduce swelling. A topical analgesic or anti itch cream can be used if necessary. Oral analgesics or antihistamines can be taken if necessary.
Be prepared, be observant, but don’t let the fear of insect bites keep you from enjoying the outdoors!
Warning: if you or another person is stung by an insect and has any of the following symptoms:
difficulty breathing (wheezing or shortness of breath)
loss of consciousness
SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY!
The Buzz About Insect Bites and Stings
Using Insect and Tick Repellents Safely
Fire Ant Stings
Bees and Wasps
Non-Honey Bee Stinging Insects in North Carolina
Other things that might bite if you encounter them in your yard:
Caterpillars and Wheel Bugs