Insects like wasps, bees, yellow jackets and hornets have stings, which they use to catch their prey (mainly spiders and insects) and to defend themselves. Various species show different levels of aggressiveness when it comes to stinging but the reasons to attack and sting are mostly the same – the desire to feed themselves and their colony, the urge to defend themselves and protect their colony.
In this blog, we will discuss hornet sting, the most dangerous of all kinds of insect stings, such as bee sting and wasp stings. It is more painful for us humans as compared to wasp sting or bee sting.
Hornet Stings – Reactions and Treatment
In America, the European hornet is the only real hornet. It is around 1-1.5inches in length, with its head thorax, legs and first abdominal section reddish brown in color. The rest of the body (abdomen) is dark yellow having small spots and brownish bands. These hornets usually built their nests in cavities above the ground. The locations like wall voids, hollow trees, etc. are the most common sites of building nests. In the rarest of cases, European hornets may build their nests in sheltered but exposed places. These are not as aggressive as the bald-faced hornets, but will sting if disturbed or harmed.
Talking about the bald-faced hornets, these are not true hornets and belong to the Dolichovespula maculata species. They resemble a lot to the large yellow jacket. The only difference being their gray rounded, gray, paper-like nests built high above the ground – in hollow trees or tree branches. Bald-faced hornets are among the most aggressive insects.
Symptoms and reactions of hornet stings
The typical symptoms of hornets are very much similar to bees, wasps and yellow jackets, except in situation when a victim is highly allergy to the venom of insects or is stung several times by different insects.
The most common reactions and symptoms of hornet sting include:
Again, these reactions are the most common reactions to a wasp or bee sting. The typical symptoms include pain, itching, redness, warmth, swelling at the sting site. The first sign of symptoms is seen right after the sting and lasts for a few hours.
Large local reactions might show increased swelling and the symptoms may last for over a week. Some individuals experience fatigue and nausea due to large local reactions.
These symptoms don’t usually cause major medical issues and are limited to the sting site.
Secondary Bacterial infections
It is a kind of bacterial skin infection that develops if you scratch the sting site regularly as it gives bacteria a space to grow. If the sting site is not cleaned, disinfected or medicated frequently, it might lead to bacterial infection.
Systemic allergic reactions
It is a kind of reaction that occurs in pets and humans that produce immunoglobulin E, a type of antibody, against the insect venom from an earlier sting. Systemic allergic reactions require immediate medical attention. Thankfully, it is a rare case and seen in a very less percentage of stings.
Its main symptoms include:
- Red bumps on the skin
- Flushing of the skin
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the epiglottis
- Narrowed bronchial passages
The symptoms can differ from mild to life-threatening.
Anaphylaxis is the most dangerous immunologic reaction that occurs after a hornet sting. It commonly occurs in people males and individuals below the age of 20. Severe conditions of Anaphylaxis might lead to life-threatening hypotension. Its main symptoms include difficulty breathing, low blood pressure and circulatory disturbances. Most cases of anaphylaxis are in people who have had earlier insect stings with least reactions. Anaphylactic reaction increases the chances of future sting by 50%.
Toxic reactions are caused by the toxins in venom and not by the immune response from the body. Mostly, these reactions take place due to several stings that resulted in a large amount of poison in the body. The common symptoms of these reactions include convulsions, fever, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and fainting. You might not come across signs like rash, swollen red bumps or other skin-related symptoms in toxic reactions. As the venom is a strong stimulant resulting in immune response, people who experience toxic reactions may at a higher risk of insect stings in future. y develop antibodies to the hornet venom and
These reactions are uncommon and if at all they occur, it is after a few days or a week after the hornet sting. The symptoms of these reactions differ considerably from one person to another; the common ones are inflammation of the brain, kidneys, nerves, blood vessels and some blood clotting problems.
Treatment of hornet stings
Although hornet stings are much more painful and dangerous than bee or wasp sting, the treatment process is mostly the same for all. Check out a few tips that will help you treat the painful sting:
- Remove any stingers instantly. You can scrape out the stinger using a credit card.
- Apply ice on the sting site for some instant mild relief. Put the ice over the site of sting for 20 minutes in every one hour or as required. Wrap the ice cubes with a towel or place a clean cloth over the skin to keep it from freezing.
- Take an antihistamine like diphenhydramine or Benadryl, or a non-sedating like loratadine or Claritin that helps to minimize reactions like swelling and itching.
- Take Ibuprofen (Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for relieving the pain.
- Wash the site of sting using soap and water. Apply a hydrocortisone cream on the area to relieve itching, redness and swelling
- If you have not taken a tetanus booster for last 10 years, take one shot within a couple of days.
- Most stings do not demand medical care.
Facts about Hornets you should know
Hornets are gentle giants
By gentle giants, we mean hornets are not as aggressive as you might imagine. Like many other nest-building insects, hornets only attack in defense, when a human or animals threaten their colony. So, if you are too close to a hornet’s nest, you might experience a painful sting. The proximity of closeness is just 2-3 meters.
When out of their nests, hornets are very passive creatures. Some researchers noted hornets are shy, peaceful creatures. They do not like conflicts and only attach when they have to.
Hornets are wasps
Most of us have believed that hornets are wasps are two different insect species, but that’s not true. Hornets belong to a subset of wasps. To be particular, hornets are a social wasp bred that loves in highly organized, large colonies. They belong to the insect family Vespidae. Vespidae includes all the species of the hornet and some wasps like yellow jackets, potter wasps, pollen wasps and paper wasps.
To your surprise, bald-faced hornets do not belong to the hornet family and are wasps.
The distinct difference between hornets and wasps is size. Hornets are comparatively more substantial in size. Now you can understand why hornets look scarier than wasps, even though they are shy. Another difference between the two is their color. While the wasps are mostly black and yellow, hornets are orangey-red — their color changes from species to species.
Hornets built nests above the ground
If you wonder where do hornets build their nests, it entirely depends on the hornet species. In general, they prefer building nests in high areas, like:
- Under roofs
- Hollow tree trunks
- Areas above the ground
Most elevated nests of hornets are free-hanging with the support of a stalk (petiole) attached to the closest object like a tree branch.
Exception: Apart from high places, these insects also build their nests in closed spaces that offer security and support. Sometimes, you might see a hornet nest in an old, abandoned rodent burrow.
Situated in gardens, fields and parks, hornet’ nests in the ground are very dangerous for humans. These are usually areas populated by humans. So, if you unknowingly step on a hornet, it will sting.
Hornets are natural pest controllers
One of the most exciting facts about hornets are they work as natural pest controllers. Having a craving for other small insects like aphids, they help nature get away from the unwanted garden pests that damage agricultural resources.
Commonly, hornets like having a rich diet or protein and sugar. Some of the vital food dosage hornets have include:
- Sugar: Hornets have a sweet tooth and crave for fizzy drinks and fruits.
- Sap: They love tree sap. You might find these creatures use their mandibles to pull the tree bark and consume the sticky substance.
- Protein: The young hornets live on proteins in the form of insects.
Hornets love bees
One of the favorite things of hornets is bees! Not just because they are a great protein source for the future queens, but also as they provide golden, sweet, sugar goodness which is the favorite of hornets.
It takes only a few hornets to wipe out a colony of a honey bee. They are 5 times the size of the European honey bee. Their massive power and huge size indicate that one hornet can kill around 40 bees in a mute,
But, the Japanese honey bee has got a smart technique to stop the hornets from wiping out their colonies. As soon as a hornet group moves to the beehive, they attack her before she releases any pheromones to attract teammates, As a honey bee sting is nowhere as intense as a hornet’s sting, they swarm around the hornet, while vibrating their bodies fast. These vibrations lead to a drastic rise in the temperature that can roast the hornet alive.
This tactic is a result of evolution over centuries. Honey bees from other parts of the world need to get a grip of this defense strategy, being prime targets to the huge hornets while they move around the globe.
Hornet venom is deadly
The main factor that makes hornets one of the dangerous insects is their sting; their venom is deadly. Although, the chances of experiencing a hornet sting are minimal, if they do attack you, it can be fatal.
The reason behind their sting being so dangerous is the giant size of hornets. In general, a hornet sting is not toxic to humans, but because of their size, they release a large amount of venom in each sting, which makes it deadly. They release more poison per sting as compared to other stinging insects.
Huge Asian Hornets
At the moment, giant Asian hornets are becoming popular across the world. Originated in Japan, the giant Asian hornet has crossed the borders of Europe very fast. Having a dangerous venom and ling stinger that create adverse effects on your nervous system and tissues, it is better not to mess with these shy, peaceful creatures.
Hornets are a delicacy in Japan
Hornets indeed are one of the reasons of hospital visits in Japan, but that doesn’t keep the people away from savoring the predatory stinging insects. In the mountain areas of Japan, villagers consider hornets as a delicacy, especially hornet larvae. It is mostly eaten raw or deep fried. These insects provide a high amount of protein.
The larvae of a hornet produce sweet, sticky segregation called vespa amino acid mixtures (VAAM) that gives energy to the workers. The product is also top-rated in energy drinks of Japan.
Just imagine, as red bull gives you wings, what would you get from a hornet energy drink?
Well, for that you need to go to Japan!
The Bottom Line
Hornets are giant stinging insects, more prominent in size than wasps, yellow jackets and bees, which make their sting more deadly. Though a hornet sting is something uncommon, if they sting, it can be life-threatening for some humans. Remove the stinger and apply ice for 20 minutes every hour to get relief from the severe pain and itching. If the case worsens, you need to seek medical help.