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Common Stinging Insects in Your Backyard

Written by Kristin

In warmer months of the year, you may encounter several types of common stinging insects, such as wasps and hornets, in your backyard. Over the years and all over the world, insects have developed effective (yet painful) methods of defending themselves and hunting their prey. Unfortunately for us, many of these insects can call your backyard home. Here are some insects whose painful stings you should do your best to avoid! If you experience any severe symptoms or reactions from a stinging insect, contact your doctor or local healthcare provider. 

Sweat Bee

Up first is the sweat bee. This bee can be found all over North America, but you might not even know they are in your yard—they are frequently mistaken for a common housefly due to their green color. The sweat bee’s name comes from their attraction to the smell of human sweat. If you are stung, do your best to remove the stinger as quickly as possible, because they continually release venom until the stinger is removed. The pain is instant and usually only lasts for a few seconds. However, sometimes the bites can cause swollen welts about 2 days after the sting and last for up to a week.



Honey Bee

Honey bee pollinating flower
July Honey Bee by MattX27 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Be aware of honey bees! Found all over the US, these fuzzy insects are more concerned with pollinating than stinging anyone. However, if you provoke their nest, the honey bee will sting. Their barbed stinger will stay in your skin and they can only sting once. Interestingly, though it is painful to be stung by a honey bee, there are molecules in bee venom being used to help treat pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis! If you find yourself stung by these, remove the stingers as quickly as possible. Be prepared for the sting to hurt for one to two hours. The venom can make swelling continue to increase for up to two days, and any redness should go away by the third day.

Cicada Killer Wasp

Next is the first of several wasps—the cicada killer wasp. These are found throughout the Midwest and reach as far north as Minnesota and as far south as Arizona. These wasps are not aggressive toward humans, unlike many other species of wasps. However, due to their large size, they are often mistaken as being very threatening. These wasps, however, are nothing to be afraid of unless you are a cicada! Your greatest danger is stepping on one, as they burrow in the ground. If stung, the pain will last 5-10 minutes and should go away after 3 days, though multiple stings can result in welts that last longer.

Paper Wasp

Another wasp, the paper wasp, is next on the list. These are found worldwide and you might see their papery-looking nests under peaks and eaves of your home, where they shelter from wind and rain. These wasps are not usually aggressive. However, if they or their nest are threatened, they release pheromones to attract other wasps to help defend themselves.  When they start stinging, they can do so repeatedly, so these nests are best avoided. If you are stung, the pain will be about the same as a cicada killer wasp. Since these wasps can swarm and some people have more severe reactions, these wasps are best avoided. 

Yellowjacket Wasp

Are you ready for another wasp? The yellowjacket is up next, ready or not! These wasps are all over North America. You have probably seen them scavenging for food around picnic tables or outside in your backyard. Yellowjackets are very aggressive—even walking by a nest that has been disturbed in the past can be enough to make them mad. And since their stingers are smooth like other wasps, they can sting multiple times. Though the sting is usually only painful for 10 minutes, some people can have much more severe reactions.

Velvet Ant 

Velvet ant in tupperware dish

Here comes our first insect that does not fly. But if you see a velvet ant, you should definitely step around it. Found all over North America, these brightly-colored fuzzy insects are actually not ants! If you guessed they are in the wasp family, you would be right. The stinging females do not have wings, but that doesn’t stop them from constantly marching toward burrows of other ground wasps and bees. These are also called cow-killer ants because their bite is said to be so painful it could kill a cow, though no reports of this have ever been verified. They should still be avoided, as they use their long stinger to inject venom that causes pain for about 30 minutes. These “ants” pack a punch, ranked 4th in the world for the most painful insect sting.

Bald-Faced Hornet

Larger than most wasps—and even more aggressive—are bald-faced hornets. They are found throughout North America and can be avoided from a distance if you see a nest that is shaped like a basketball. Don’t be fooled by their name—these are not true hornets and are actually in the wasp family. These wasps are distinguished by their coloration and nest shape, and should definitely be avoided! They chase people from their nests and continue to sting multiple times along the way. Unique to any insect on this list, bald-faced hornets also spray venom into the eyes of anything that disturbs them, so definitely steer clear of these if you can. If you do get stung, expect it to hurt for about one day.

Tarantula Hawk Wasp

Here is the first insect on our list, that luckily you won’t find it your backyard! The last wasp on our list is the most impressive and the most painful, and should never be engaged. The tarantula hawk wasp is named for the way it hunts tarantulas—like a hawk—sensing chemicals released in the air where tarantulas burrow. They are found on every continent, except Europe and Antarctica; but in the United States, they are only found in the Southwest. Even though the pain from a sting only lasts 5 minutes, it also causes paralysis of the affected limb. For this reason, they are ranked as the 2nd most painful insect sting in the world. 

Bullet Ant

Our final stinging insect on the list is another insect that does not fly. Despite its lack of wings, you should still stay as far away as you possibly can from the bullet ant. It is found in South America, and unlike some other contenders on this list, it is not misnamed. It is in fact an ant species and is called the bullet ant because the pain is said to be as bad as being shot. Its venom can cause muscle spasms and hallucinations. The pain lasts around 24 hours but comes in waves. For these reasons, the bullet ant currently holds the title of the number one most painful insect sting in the world!


Prevent Unwanted Stinging Insects

Insects play a very beneficial role in our ecosystem. For example, without honeybees, 80% of the world’s pollinating would not be accomplished. But in addition to playing a vital role, these insects can also prove quite painful when we interact with them. It’s good to know what you’re up against and what to avoid when it comes to the world of painful stinging insects! Get a quote for stinging insect control today!