In The United Kingdom we have two main species of wasps and If you see a wasp in Britain, it will most likely be either the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) or the German wasp (Vespula germanica). These species are very similar in size and appearance predominantly yellow with black markings. Wasps are sociable insects, living in vast colonies of up to 10,000 workers that build nests in trees, buildings and old animal burrows. Queen wasps hibernate in the winter before emerging in spring to build nests and lay eggs. The workers in the colony will later take over the nest building duties and collect food for the growing larvae in the spring and summer months. As summer closes the Queens are ready to leave the nest and hibernate for the Winter while the workers and Drones are dying off. The original Queen has probably already died and a new queen will go into hibernation.
We have seen bees already come out of hibernation due the early good weather this March and we have already had calls to deal with wasps. These High temperatures coupled with artificial lights and central heating can confuse hibernating Queen wasps in Winter to come out of hibernation. This can lead to problems in a house with wasps and even people getting stung!
What do they look like
While there are some similarities in its appearance to a bee in its shape and size there are some differences. Knowing what kind of sting you are dealing with is crucial if you or someone you know is having a bad reaction. The Common Wasp is about 15mm long though the Queen is another 5 mm on top of that. The body has triangular markings and is bright yellow and it has two longer antennae. When the wasp is at rest it folds its wings.
What symptoms might you see with a sting?
Common wasp sting reaction
Remember that bees sting just once as a last resort and they leave that stinger behind in your skin. If you see the stinger then you have been stung by a bee. The Common wasp stings multiple times and does not leave behind a stinger. This can help you choose the best wasp sting remedies. What is also especially unpleasant about the wasp is that it leaves a pheromone or scent when it stings so other European wasps sense it and attack as well. Symptoms of the sting include:
- Pain that feels like it is burning
- A raised lump at the site
- Local swelling
If there is a more severe reaction, for example, 1 in 10 are allergic, then there might be anaphylaxis symptoms that require immediate medical attention including;
- Swelling around the throat, tongue or mouth
- Finding it hard to swallow and even breathe
- Itching and burning skin beyond the site of the sting as well as there
- Wheezing and noisy breathing
- Heart rate speeds up, tightness in the chest and palpitations
- Vomiting, nausea or stomach cramps
- Feeling weak
- Collapsing, falling unconscious
- Metallic taste in the mouth
How to treat a Common wasp sting
If a child is stung more than 5 times, an adult more than ten or there is swelling around the mouth, breathing issues or a severe allergic reaction as described above then see urgent care. For Common wasp sting first aid for less severe concerns you should:
- Clean the area affected with soap warm water
- Reduce the pain and inflammation using a cold pack
- Use allergy medications for reducing swelling and pain-relieving creams
- Watch that there continues to be no serious reaction
- If you have an allergy you should carry medication just in case. When giving first aid to someone with an allergy once you administer their medication, call an ambulance, apply a pressure immobilization bandage if you know, keep them still and avoid using a tourniquet.
Recognising their nest
Before you go looking it is important to state the best thing to do is have a licensed pest control service come out, explore your property and handle the nest elimination of the nest for you. They have the best equipment, the training and the skill and knowledge to handle it as safely as possible. Especially if you have had an allergic reaction when it has come to treat Common wasp sting reactions. It is possible that others may need to be involved including your local council depending on the location of the nest.
If you still wish to find the nest there are some things you can do. Since the European wasp can forage for food for a distance of 500 meters from its nest, you can place food in a visible outdoor location and then track the wasp as it flies back to the nest. Wasps usually fly in almost a straight line to return to it with the food they have found. You may need to move the food source around a bit until you have success. Keep in mind nests are in sheltered places, in walls, hollows of trees, underground even. It looks like it is made from paper-mache and is grey in colour.
Take appropriate precautions
As well as being prepared with first aid and remedies you can reduce the risk of the sting by getting rid of European wasps. One way is by making your area less of a good hunting ground for them. Avoid leaving food and drinks outside, even pet food. Fallen fruit should be collected off the ground and bins should have tight lids. Compost bins must also be covered and when you eat outside try to cover food as much as possible. If you see a European wasp leave it alone, if you swat at it, it will attack. Call in a licensed wasp pest control expert to handle a nest if you have one.