Here's What To Do If You're Attacked By A Swarm Of Wasps Or Bees

Oh hai there, Vespa crabro (European hornet). Umberto Salvagnin/Flickr; CC BY 2.0

Robin Andrews 29 Aug 2018, 18:37

You know what you absolutely shouldn’t do if you see a wasp nest holed up inside your property? Attack it yourself. Although YouTube videos make it seem tempting to use detergent, vacuum cleaners, or even explosives (hi there, America) to clear out the invading critters with their stinging butt javelins, you really should call a professional.

Either way, it seems that enough of you have been chased by a swarm of wasps – in some cases, after accidentally disturbing their nests – for BBC News and a few other places to explain what best to do in this situation.

To be fair, wasps, whether you’re dealing with yellowjackets or hornets, as well as bees can be pretty dangerous. Per Lifehacker, they account for 33 percent of all animal-related deaths for over-20s in the US. The collective injection of their venom into your body can certainly provoke some horrific and sometimes deadly reactions, that’s for sure, so knowing what to do in the event of an attack is paramount.

So – what should you do? The best advice is pretty obvious: don’t go near their nests. If you leave them alone, they won’t feel threatened and they’ll leave you be too, contrary to what your instinctual fears may be telling you.

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) offers some important advice that’s admittedly difficult to stick to. “Remain calm and move away slowly if you encounter wasps, hornets or bees,” a blog post explains. “Don't wave your arms around or swat at them.” If you do, you’ll just provoke them to attack you further, as you’ll look more threatening.

You shouldn’t even swat at them individually. If you do, they may release pheromones that attract more wasps or bees your way, according to the British Pest Control Association.

If you're somewhere in the Americas and you get particularly unlucky, the swarm may be comprised of Africanized honey bees. Although featuring less venom per bee than others, their swarms are more populous, faster, and more aggressive.

In that event, the US Department of Agriculture advises that you “RUN away quickly” – the capitalization being theirs.

“Do not stop to help others. However,” they hasten to note, “small children and the disabled may need some assistance.” You should also pull your shirt up over your head to protect your face, but make sure you know where you’re running before you go temporarily blind.

If you jump into water, these particular bees will genuinely wait for you to come up for air, so you should instead run indoors. Even if some follow you inside, they tend to become disorientated in well-lit areas, providing you with a chance at further escape in your chosen shelter.

If you are stung and you feel ill, you should seek medical attention immediately. If there are just a handful of stings protruding into your flesh, you should remove them carefully – but don’t pinch them with your fingers, as this will inject more venom into the body. Instead, scrape it out with a sideways slice using a thin object.

The NHS’ other advice is more preparatory work: cover exposed skin with clothing, apply insect repellent, wear shoes outdoors, and be careful around flowering plants, trash, compost, standing and stagnant water, and anywhere food is served. If you know you’re allergic, carry your epinephrine pen with you in such environments.

They also advise not wearing strong perfumes, which can be found in anything from deodorants to soaps, that can attract a variety of insects to you.

So, in general, avoid nests and try not to be clumsy. If swarmed, walk away and stay calm.

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