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Stinging insects: Avoidance

Nancy L Breisch, PhD
Albert Greene, PhD
Section Editor
David B Golden, MD
Deputy Editor
Elizabeth TePas, MD, MS


The stinging Hymenoptera are taxonomically divided into three principal groups: ants, bees, and wasps (figure 1). The majority of allergic reactions to stings are due to this order of insects. This topic reviews avoidance of the flying Hymenoptera that include bees, yellow jackets, hornets, and wasps.

The biology and identification of the flying Hymenoptera, as well as fire ants, which are also members of the Hymenoptera order, are discussed separately. (See "Stinging insects: Biology and identification" and "Entomology and control of imported fire ants".)

Diagnosis and management of stinging insect allergy are discussed separately. (See "Bee, yellow jacket, wasp, and other Hymenoptera stings: Reaction types and acute management" and "Diagnosis of Hymenoptera venom allergy" and "Hymenoptera venom immunotherapy: Efficacy, indications, and mechanism of action" and "Stings of imported fire ants: Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment".)


The public often mistakenly thinks of bees and wasps as inherently aggressive under any circumstances due to the ease with which some colonies are stimulated to attack in defense of their nest. In reality, individual workers away from the nest tend to narrowly focus on foraging and typically ignore humans, even when close to them. Stings are almost always provoked by firm, accidental contact, such as stepping on a worker, taking the insect into the mouth with food or drink, or pressing/striking a bee or wasp with the hand. The risk of being stung is therefore elevated in locations where large numbers of bees or wasps have congregated to feed, particularly where humans are doing the same [1-4].

Personal behavior — Preventive measures in locations, such as picnic areas and concession stands, involve minimizing accidental contact with foragers. This includes [4,5]:

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Aug 28, 2017.
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