Melissa and I were working in our respective home office areas this afternoon when I heard her unclearly becoming angry and loud. I knew she had been on Zoom calls all day and wondered if she had finally snapped (admit it, we have all been there). After the commotion died down, she came back to my office to tell me what happened. She had been on a call when a hornet had flown into her ear. She instinctively swatted it away and it landed on the front of her shoulder. The hornet returned the favor by stinging her before she knocked it to the ground. Melissa was unsure what happened to the hornet, but the sting was still hurting. All we had to treat the sting site was the calamine lotion I had bought when I got into poison ivy. Even though I doubted this would do any good, she sprayed it on and went back to work.
When I looked online, I found most people have only minor symptoms from a wasp sting. The initial result can include sharp pain or burning, redness, swelling, and itching at the sting site. The sting may cause a raised welt with a tiny white mark where the stinger pierced the skin. The pain and swelling usually recedes within several hours. “Large local reactions” is a term used to describe more pronounced symptoms associated with a wasp or bee sting. People who have large local reactions may be allergic to the stings, but do not experience the life-threatening symptoms or anaphylactic shock. Reactions include extreme redness and swelling that increases for two or three days, nausea, and vomiting. These reactions subside on their own over the course of a week. The most severe allergic reactions to a wasp sting are referred to as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis occurs when your body goes into shock in response to the wasp venom. Most people who go into shock after a sting do so quickly, and it is important for the victim to seek immediate emergency care. The final words of advice were, “Try to avoid being stung to prevent these uncomfortable symptoms.” Hmm, otherwise I would not have known.
When Melissa talked about the sting, she said it was done by a hornet. I have seen several brown paper wasps (Ropalidia revolutionalis) on the back porch and wondered if that was not what had caused the damage. Wasps and hornets both belong to the Vespidae family (along with bees). There are over 100,000 known species of wasps, and hornets are one subspecies of wasps. Hornets essentially are large wasps, with some species reaching up to 2 inches (5.5cm) in length. True hornets are distinguished from other wasps by the wider heads and larger and more rounded abdomens. All hornets have two sets of wings. They also have a different life cycle. Wasps can vary greatly in appearance among species, with some even being wingless, but their common appearance is that of a long slender body, two sets of wings, a stinger, drooping legs in flight, and an extremely thin waist between the thorax and abdomen. In all wasps, a stinger is present on females, as it derives from a female sex organ. Certain species of wasps (including yellow jackets and hornets) are considered the most aggressive stinging insects.
THOUGHTS: While bees have barbed stingers and die after stinging, wasps and hornets can sting multiple times. The strength of the venom varies among species, but a hornet sting is generally more painful to humans than other wasp species, due to a large amount of acetylcholine. The sting is rarely fatal to humans (except in allergic reactions), but swarms of hornets can be deadly. I vividly remember walking into an open restroom when I worked at a lake in Kansas and immediately being attacked by a swarm of wasps. They managed to sting me 5-6 times before I realized what was happening. I quickly got out, but understood my job was to remove the wasps before they could sting anyone else. This was one of those essential jobs you wished belonged to someone else. During the pandemic people with essential jobs were put more at risk than others. These jobs range from medical personnel to food production staff. When we take precautions, it is not about self-preservation, but about reducing the risk for everyone. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.