If you thought the end of summer signaled the end of bees, think again. In fact, some species of stinging insects become more aggressive in the fall as they are preparing their queen and hive for winter. Called overwintering, this is the time when worker bees labor long hours collecting enough nectar to feed and maintain the colony through the winter season.
The most commonly seen bees in Washington are the honey bee and bumble bee. Hives and nests are increasing in numbers all summer long, so at the beginning of fall, if they have reached their max capacity, they send out more foragers to find food to sustain the fall and winter months. As natural food supplies run low (flowers, smaller insects, etc.), bees and wasps will change their diet to food high in sugar and carbohydrates to better sustain themselves for winter. This is when you find them on your soda can, plastic cups, hummingbird feeders or in garbage cans.
While bees are busy getting ready for the season ahead, wasps are taking advantage of a brief, well-deserved retirement. In late summer and fall, when the queen wasp stops laying eggs, the worker wasps change their food-gathering strategy. Adult wasps have just a few weeks to binge on carbohydrates before they die off at the first hard frost.
Aside from being annoying, bee stings can be serious if you are allergic or get stung numerous times. Here’s how each bee type send its message and the reaction it can cause:
- Bumble Bee – not exceptionally aggressive, bumblebees rarely sting. Reduce your chances by avoiding provoking them. Only bumblebee workers and queens have a stinger. As part of their aggressive defense of their nests, bumble bees will chase nest invaders for a considerable distance. The bumble bee sting is one of the most painful. Unlike honey bees, bumble bees can sting more than once.
- Carpenter Bee – are usually solitary and rarely damaging to structures. Male carpenter bees do not sting; the female is capable of stinging when provoked or handled.
- Honey Bee – less aggressive and highly beneficial bees. The worker bee and the queen bee in a hive are able to sting.
- Wasps – similar to bees but more aggressive. Easily agitated, wasps retain their stingers and can inject it many times.
Wasps and bees also both signal others of their kind after they sting, so it’s a good idea to get far away after the first sting!
Since the venoms are injected, applying anything that either cools or numbs the area will soothe it and take the person’s mind off the pain. If a stinger remains in the skin, remove it, since the venom sac remains attached when the bee flies off and can continue injecting venom for some time.
If you do get stung, home treatment is usually all that is necessary to ease the pain.
Reactions to bee stings range from temporary pain and discomfort to severe allergic reaction. And those types of reactions can differ each time you’re stung. Most mild bee sting symptoms include sharp burning at the sting site, a red welt at the area and slight swelling, all of which will go away within a few hours. If you experience a more intense reaction prompting severe redness and swelling, it should resolve in 5-10 days. People who have a severe allergic reaction – such as skin hives & itching, difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat and tongue and possibly loss of consciousness – require immediate emergency treatment. For them, a bee sting is life-threatening.
If you find that bees are not buzzing off your property and causing a nuisance, you should exercise caution and seek a pest control professional for effective, environmentally friendly methods of hive removal.