Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Summer's Insects

   As a bee keeper, this is the time of year when I spend time trying to educate  folks (children, mainly) about bees and their benefits.  But I also find myself defending them and trying to remove the bad rap bees have gotten due to the general public calling ANYTHING that stings a bee.
    So, here is a round up of several stinging and biting insects, how to identify them, and what to do if you end up on their bad side!
   Bees:  there are several types of bees - honey bees are my favorite, but also Mason bees, bumble bees, wood bees (some call them carpenter bees, but I have never seen them heft a hammer), sweat bees, ground bees, etc.
Honey bees:  they have hairy body - adapted to help collect pollen, their protein source.  They have a stinger with a small hook at the end, causing it to become embedded in the victim.  This also means the entire stinger and venom sac is pulled from the bee's body, so it is able to sting only once, and will die soon after. They live in  hives tended by humans, but also can be found in the classic "bee tree" of Winnie The Pooh fame.
Honey bees on comb
Bumble bee: hairier body than the honey bee.  They also use pollen as their protein source. Is capable of stinging many times.
Bumble bee on a flower (close up pic) Bumble bee on white flowers
Bumble bee

Carpenter/Wood bees:  These look like and are often mistaken for bumble bees.  Carpenter bees are somewhat solitary, nesting near others of their sort, but not making a hive.  They will eat tunnels into wood - often they can be seen in garage soffits, or porch railings.

                  Get Rid of Carpenter Bees
carpenter bee

Paper wasps build open, multi-celled nests.
Paper wasp nest
What are the Differeces Between Wasps, Yellow Jackets & HornetsWasps:          They have a smooth body and a straight stinger able to inflict several stings in rapid succession. Most easily recognized for their  very thin "waist" separating the body into two very distinct sections. Wasps are often feared more than necessary.  Yes, they will defend their homes if disturbed, but most of the time they just want to  live, mate, and eat other insect pests.

Yellowjacket nests are usually built below ground or in an enclosed location.
Yellow Jacket nesting in a hole near the ground
Yellow Jackets:   These are the nasty ones who end up in that can of soda you were drinking, and can sting your mouth when you take a swig. (Yes, experience talking here!) They are in the same order as wasps and hornets.  They are easily recognized by their bright yellow and black striping.  They are, however, a bit thicker than wasps with a shorter body.  Like wasps, they can, and will, sting multiple times. Avoid leaving food, particularly sweet food, uncovered at picnics to avoid their presence in your food.

Hornets: Again, these guys will sting many times in a quick period of time.  The last time I accidentally disturbed a nest I was stung five times on my fingers before I could even yell. Smooth bodies help identify these, as do their nests which are often found hanging in trees - generally they are quite magnificent to behold.  These nest are made from wood pulp. 
Hornets usually make large, enclosed nests of paper that house several hundred individuals.
A hornet nest in a tree. 
      In all cases, if you are stung, try very hard not to panic.  Flailing your arms and screaming will only continue to agitate the insects and will possibly result in more stings than if you stand still or walk away.  (Hard to remember when you feel under attack, but try.)  Scrape out the stinger (if from a honey bee), do not grab as this will squeeze more venom into the area, resulting in pain and swelling.  Use a fingernail or a jack knife or the edge of a credit card to scrape across the skin and lift the stinger out.  Wash the area and apply ice for any swelling.  Antihistamines (like Benedryl) can help with itching and swelling.
 IF YOU EXPERIENCE DIZZINESS, SWELLING OF THE TONGUE OR THROAT, HIVES(no pun here, really), OR A WEAK  AND RAPID HEARTBEAT, SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY.  These are all signs of an allergic reaction and should not be ignored.

Ticks: They live in fields, bushes, woods, even your yard, so you will probably encounter them periodically.  If you find a tick attached to you, carefully pull it out using a pair of tweezers. Wash the area and keep an eye on it.  It is not only the deer tick which is now carrying the Lyme disease.  Look for the red bull's eye rash and pay attention if you start feeling "off" - aching in the joints can  be a symptom on Lyme Disease, and should be mentioned to your doctor.

Mosquitoes:  They breed in standing water, so be aware of water in pool covers, birdbaths, and buckets, dumping and replacing it.  they are most prevalent in the early morning and evening hours, so to avoid bites, stay inside during those hours.  (Okay, reality check - no one wants to spend all summer indoors during the evenings!)  There are various  mosquito repellents on the market, choose the one you prefer, and wear it.  Many folks swear by citronella candles and torches, others by planting lemon grass near patios.  I do not know how efficacious any of these methods, are, but feel free to try them.
   If you are bitten (a misnomer as they are actually stabbing you with their needle-like mouths to draw out blood),  hydrocortison creams can lessen the itching, as can calamine lotions.  Above all, do not scratch , as this can break the skin, introduce bacteria, and lead to infection.
    Have a fabulous summer!

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