How to Avoid Bee and Wasp Stings

Honeybee | Source

The Usual Suspects

Bumblebees, honeybees, wasps, yellow jackets and hornets: when it comes to stinging insects, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To avoid getting stung, it helps to understand “the usual suspects” and what motivates them to attack.


With the exception of Africanized honeybees in some of the U.S. southern states, bees are generally mild-mannered. They live in geometric wax hives and in the wild are known to inhabit hollowed out tree trunks. Bees are generally yellow, brown or black, and their bodies are compact and chunky. They are usually very hairy. Pollen captured and transported on the bees’ hairs are what helps fertilize the blossoms that turn into fruits and vegetables. Bees gather and feed on nectar and pollen from flowers.

Bees sting when they feel they need to protect themselves or their hive. It’s strictly defensive. Away from the hive, foraging bees are usually too busy to bother about passersby. Unlike bumblebees, which have a smooth stinger and can sting repeatedly, honeybees can sting only once. Honeybees have a barbed stinger, which, when deployed, gets stuck in the victim’s skin. As the bee alights, the stinger is ripped from its’ thorax, leaving it imbedded in the skin while venom is pumped into the wound.


All wasps develop as predators or parasites of other insects such as flies, caterpillars and spiders. They’re also scavengers. Wasps are carnivores and hunt their prey, although some also visit flowers for nectar. Where bees are chunky, wasps have more elongated bodies, longer legs, much less hair, and have a pinched or “wasp waist.” Male wasps, which are nearly hairless, have a minor role in pollination.

There are several types of wasps but social wasps , such as yellow jackets, account for the overwhelming majority of stinging incidents. The larger the colony, the more aggressive they become—usually in late summer or early fall when food is in short supply.

Yellow jackets produce papery nests made from rotted wood pulp and saliva, but these are usually hidden. Yellow-jackets nests can be found behind logs, walls, underground in abandoned rodent dens, under the eaves or over-hangs of roofs and porches, as well in hidden nooks under playground equipment.

Although wasps feed on other insects, they are highly attracted to fruit, sweetened drinks and protein-rich foods like meat and fish.

Wasp | Source

Wasps sting to protect themselves or their hive. Unprovoked wasp stings are rare. Unfortunately, it’s easy to unwittingly provoke them. If you unknowingly smack or squash a wasp, pheromones are released. Such powerful scent-signals on one’s skin or clothing will alert other wasps to attack you!

Wasps are one of the commonest uninvited guests at summer picnics. Food and sweetened drinks are powerful draws. It’s not at all unusual for wasps to crawl into drinks containers and soda cans unseen—only to sting the victim’s mouth or lips in an attempt to escape from being swallowed.

Wasps defend their colonies very aggressively and are known to attack intruders who get within 7-8 yards of their nests.

Hornet's nest
Hornet's nest | Source


Much larger than most wasps, and with a proportionately more powerful and painful sting, Hornets are a small subset of wasps that are not native to North America. European hornets are found all along the east coast of the U.S. Like other wasps, they are known to be extremely aggressive and can sting repeatedly.

How to Avoid Getting Stung

· Don’t smell like a flower

Think scent-neutral. Avoid smelling sweet or overly floral. Keep away from heavily perfumed soaps, laundry detergents and additives, as well as colognes, hair products, lotions, oils and flowery deodorants. These strongly scented products attract bees and wasps! Once they figure out that you are the source of these delightful aromas, they will want to get close and investigate.

· Don’t smell like a bear

Bees and wasps become agitated by the strong odor of sweat. If you’ve been running or biking and smell ‘as bad as a bear,’ which, by the way, is one of their natural predators, you may provoke them. To keep under their scent-radar, freshen up—preferably with unscented soap and water before any planned encounters with strenuous yard work or the great outdoors where you’ll be likely to meet.

· Dress the part

Tuck in your shirt. Dress in light colored, close fitting clothing, with long pants and sleeves. Bright floral patterns attract unwelcomed attention, as do dark colors. Bees tend to associate dark clothing with the color of bears and skunks, two of their natural enemies in the wild, and may respond defensively to your black jeans. Ditto for dark hair. Your best bet is to cover it with a hat.

· Don’t drink out of soda cans

Be careful when eating fruits and sugary food outside. Cover all food and drinks. Wrap and properly dispose of peach pits, melon rinds, apple and orange peels. Put them and any empty drinks cans in a covered refuse container. Also, when drinking outside, use a cup. Yellow jackets are notorious for crawling into drink cans unnoticed.

Fat Lip from Wasp Sting

· Don’t go barefoot

Wasps often make their nests in the ground. Bees are very likely to be sipping nectar from clover flowers in the grass. Foot protection, even just flip-flops, will reduce the risk of an unexpected sting.

· Keep your distance

Try to stay away from nests and hives—they will defend their territory. Also, keep your car windows rolled up. If you find you’re in the car with an unwanted stinging passenger, try to pull over safely. Open your windows and car doors to encourage it to leave.

· Bad Vibrations

Bees and wasps feel threatened by strong vibrations—like lawn mowers and string trimmers make. Avoid power mowing or trimming close to nests and hives.

· Stay calm and carry on

Pretend you’re British. Don’t flail your arms excitedly and become hysterical when confronting a bee or wasp. Stay calm. Rapid, sudden movements are perceived as threatening and only encourage stinging.


Comments 52 comments

Virtual Treasures profile image

Virtual Treasures 4 years ago from Michigan

Voted up and useful! Very good article, and very thorough! My son is TERRIFIED of bees and sometimes it's funny to see an 18 year old running around trying to get away from them when he sees them, so I'm definitely going to share this with him! :-)

Ann M Reid profile image

Ann M Reid 4 years ago from Lancaster County, PA Author

Glad to be of service! Thanks!

Les Trois Chenes profile image

Les Trois Chenes 4 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

Nice hub and some great information. We keep bees and really, they won't sting unless you threaten them, advertently or inadvertently. I might add, 'don't look like a bear' either. Nothing dark, brownish or blackish and hairy/furry.

Ann M Reid profile image

Ann M Reid 4 years ago from Lancaster County, PA Author

How right you are! When I was just a newbee beekeeper I went around with my 80-year old mentor, Jim. We visited his 17 hives and on one particularly agitated hive I was stung 12 times-- once on my gloved hands and 11 times on my thighs-- as I was wearing black denim jeans. Never again! I learned not to look like a bear ever again!

Marianne 4 years ago

Thanks for this timely and useful advice. My daughter was stung badly by an angry wasp a few years ago and is truly scared - I'll pass on your top tips!

Ann M Reid profile image

Ann M Reid 4 years ago from Lancaster County, PA Author

I can understand her being scared. Getting stung is no fun! Poor thing. Maybe this will help her steer clear of bees and wasps this summer. Hope so!

binnacledr 4 years ago

For most of my life (62) I have not understood bees, this puts it all in perspective and now I can be more comfortable and respectful of their role in the garden. Brilliant!

Mike Mullahy 4 years ago

Did not know that dark colors attract them. We'll be sure to wear our hats and keep our wardrope toward the lighter side. Good info, interesting reading.

Ann M Reid profile image

Ann M Reid 4 years ago from Lancaster County, PA Author

Yes, definitely go for the lighter colors! Thanks!

mavis waterworth - England 4 years ago

Excellent - easy to read. Bees - Wasps - Hornets etc - the ill informed will now be able to sort the sting - from the non-sting!

Maria Yerger 4 years ago

Guess I never knew yellow jackets were really wasps! Informative and interesting article.

Ann M Reid profile image

Ann M Reid 4 years ago from Lancaster County, PA Author


aj bell 4 years ago

Your last comment made me laugh out loud - have you ever seen Brits reacting to the poor bee / wasp as it tries to go about its business - we take arm waving and screaming to new levels!

A lot of interesting info. but what about my pet hate - mozzies - how can they be placated???

Ann M Reid profile image

Ann M Reid 4 years ago from Lancaster County, PA Author

How to placate "mozzies" or mosquitoes? Well, that's the subject of another article, isn't it? We'll just have to find out, won't we? :)

As for Brits reacting to bees and wasps, well, you have a point. Still, if one can only call on those reserves of calm and grace under pressure-- qualities that Brits have historically espoused and esteemed, that would be a good thing. Keep calm and carry on! It's the Brits at their best and it will help one avoid getting stung, too.

Nora A. 4 years ago

Loved the "pretend you're British" tip! The kids at my summer camp are famous for screaming, running, splashing, etc. I'll be sure to let them know that staying clam is their best defense. Also, bees are always buzzing into my hair. I'll be sure to forgo the fancy fruity citrus shampoos for the summer! Thanks!

Sueswan 4 years ago

A very interesting and useful hub.

I have a fear of wasps. I don't become hysterical but I have to get out of the way.

Voted up and interesting

DS Duby profile image

DS Duby 4 years ago from United States, Illinois

Great tips and very well written voted up and interesting!

sammimills profile image

sammimills 4 years ago from California, USA

Thank you for the tips! Honestly, I do not like bees and every time I see one, I get scared.

ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 4 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Gosh I am afraid of bee stings so this is a good read. Thanks for sharing. Also, let me congratulate you on your Hubnuggets nomination. This way to read and vote for the Hubnuggets Best of luck!

Ann M Reid profile image

Ann M Reid 4 years ago from Lancaster County, PA Author

Thanks very much for your congratulations! Bees and wasps and everything else are always a little scarier when we don't understand them. My goal in this article was not only to provide readers with tips about how to avoid getting stung, but also to give a little background info about what motivates bees and wasps and "where they're coming from." This way, the tips make more sense and are easier to understand, implement and remember!

Redberry Sky profile image

Redberry Sky 4 years ago

I'm a magnet for all things stingy in summer - brilliant tips that I'll be following as soon as I hear the first 'bzzzz' in my garden :). Congratulations on your HubNugget nomination too!

Ann M Reid profile image

Ann M Reid 4 years ago from Lancaster County, PA Author

Thanks, Redberry! Also, I hope these tips help you to steer clear of stings this summer!

janniesavon profile image

janniesavon 4 years ago from NE USA

Ann, wonderful article and information on bees and wasps! Enjoyed what you included: "stay calm and carry on." Good advice but can be difficult for some because of freaking out when seeing these critters.

Also liked what you included about not smelling like a bear. Or wearing too flowery or sweet-smelling fragrances, even wearing flowery patterns on clothing for that matter. So much to remember when it comes to bees and wasps! You covered a wide spectrum of "do's" and "don't's." Thanks again for the great information Ann!!

puerto-vallarta profile image

puerto-vallarta 4 years ago from Langey BC

I was attacked while bringing a horse through a gate. Stung over and over hundreds of times. Turns out they were living in the gate and I disturbed them on the way in so they attacked me on the way out. Good thing the horse was smart and did not move so only I got stung. I have never been the same since its just pure panic for me!

Ann M Reid profile image

Ann M Reid 4 years ago from Lancaster County, PA Author

Jannie- I hope these tips help keep your safe from stings this summer!

Ann M Reid profile image

Ann M Reid 4 years ago from Lancaster County, PA Author

Wow! Well I can sure understand not being the same after being stung like that, Puerto-Vallarta! Unfortunately, it sounds like they went on the defense because by using the gate you disturbed them and they were protecting their home. Accidental stings of that magnitude are (fortunately) fairly rare--but if you're the one it happens to, it makes a huge impression, right? Glad you lived to tell the tale! Hang in there!

L.L. Woodard profile image

L.L. Woodard 4 years ago from Oklahoma City

I appreciate the information about stinging insects and their "attraction" to dark clothes; this is something I had not known. Should be easy enough to remember, though, as those pesky mosquitoes are also drawn to dark clothing.

DoItForHer 4 years ago

I had a nest go after my face. I looked like a goon afterwards. The rest of me was intact. (Yellow Jackets)

Ann M Reid profile image

Ann M Reid 4 years ago from Lancaster County, PA Author

L.L., I found that one out the hard way when I was a brand new beekeeper. I was helping my 80 year old mentor, Jim, with his 17 hives and I wore the usual white jacket and beekeepers hat/veil--but made the mistake of wearing black jeans! That's the day I got 11 stings in my thighs and one on my gloved hand-- quite a record! Afterwards, Jim apologized--he hadn't realized I didn't know this bit of beekeeping wisdom and never thought I'd have to pay so dearly for my mistake! Whoa! That certainly taught me!

Ann M Reid profile image

Ann M Reid 4 years ago from Lancaster County, PA Author

DoIt- Yes, Yellow Jackets can be mighty tetchy--and they will go right for your face, too. Sorry to hear you had such a nasty run-in!

AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 4 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

An excellent and useful piece of writing. I have been stung three or four times in my life and have no desire to repeat the experience.

A long time ago an angler, who used wasps and their eggs as bait, told me the males get thrown out of the nest in August, and are hungry therefore aggressive.

If you see an enormous wasp when you move a pile of stuff in winter kill it. It is probably a queen and you DON't want here laying eggs in your garage or garden.

IN some countries however wasps are naturally vary large.

Ann M Reid profile image

Ann M Reid 4 years ago from Lancaster County, PA Author

Wow! I never heard of using wasps or their eggs for fishing bait. I know I wouldn't want to be the one trying to put a live wasp on the end of a hook or tying it up to make a "fly."

Here in the U.S. wasps can be pretty big. I don't recall seeing wasps when I was in Scotland but the midgies on the Isle of Skye nearly drove my husband out of his mind, poor thing! For some reason, they didn't bother me nearly as much...

mavis waterworth - middlesbrough uk 4 years ago

I have mentioned this site to many of my friends (and to a local wellknown beekeeper and teacher 'of keeping Bees'. They all think the site is so informative AND THEREFORE MORE THAN USEFUL.

Ann M Reid profile image

Ann M Reid 4 years ago from Lancaster County, PA Author

Thanks for your kind words and support, Mavis!

Gavin 3 years ago

Hi, nice article, but you actually have a picture of a fly that is a honeybee mimic on the front of your page! This is easy to pick from the picture, as it has very small antenna relative to a bee, and on examination, would also only have two wings, rather than four as hymenoptera do.

Cleopatra 2 years ago

Once I was really scared to get stung by a bee. I did get stung by a jellyfish, so if you guys wanna know how I never got stung, it's cos I stay calm like Brits do.

Fatima 2 years ago

Hey(: i have my first school dance and there's SOOO much bees/wasp/hornets in there and this is my life saver. Thanks so much!

Rucker 15 months ago

What if you are in your swimming pool and they tend to hang around the pool? Are you likely to get stung?

Ann Reid 15 months ago

Rucker- Bees tend to like chlorinated water-- which can be tough on people with pools. Bees are more gentle than wasps--and generally will just be there to have a drink and then be on their way. They are not as excitable as wasps-- which are easily agitated and will sting if they feel threatened. Unfortunately, wasps are the insect world's equivalent of the guy with a chip on his shoulder looking for any reason to take offense and start a fight. All you have to do is flail your arms around and this is often enough to provoke them-- so try to steer clear of wasps.

I wouldn't worry about the bees as much. I'm a beekeeper and we keep three hives of bees on our front deck and often have "breakfast with the bees" who are about 8 feet away. They don't bother us--even when we're having toast with marmalade-- which you might think they'd be all over. Wasps are another story. At the first sign of a yellow-jacket (which is a kind of wasp) we migrate back inside to finish our breakfast in peace. There can be no peace with a yellow jacket or big wasp. It's just not in their nature. Hope that helps...

Sharon 14 months ago

I found this site helpful. Thanks for explaining the reason not wearing black, or why sweat will cause them to attack. Any helpful tip is a bonus for me.

I'm anaphylactic and have been stung twice before so I'm in a dangerous position near wasps or bees.

Paul 14 months ago

I woke up this morning to find a large wasp in the shower of my master bathroom. I doused it with air freshener, so that it couldn't fly... then I crushed it with a towel. I've had several wasps inside my house this summer (I live in Arizona), and I've found that air freshener is always effective.

Rachel 5 months ago

Thank you so much for the helpful information! Im a teenager and i have to do yard work today and i am completely terrified of bees! I've been stung multiple times in my life which has mad my fear grow. I also had to witness my best friend being chased by 2 swarms of wasps! Your article really helped me feel more informed about how to avoid them. I usually run away as far as I can. But now I know to be British and stay calm! And I've also made the mistake of wearing dark pants. I've always thought they were attracted to bright colors. Thank you for your amazing advice!

Ann Reid, RN MA 5 months ago

Hi Rachel-

Good to hear you are calmer and feel better informed! That will help a lot when you're doing your yard work and encountering bees in the wild. Good luck!


linda 4 months ago


Bees seem to be attracted to my daughter. In a crowd of people it seems like she is the only one that gets stung. She is 7 this year. What could be the attraction to her in public places? Also is wearing bright colors a myth? I also heard that bees don't like strong scents like peppermint, Is this true?

Ann 4 months ago

Yes! If she wears bright colors and smells delicious (peppermint or some other scent used in soaps, shampoos, essential oils, sunscreen, lotion, etc...) the bees will think she is a very yummy-- if somewhat large and mobile FLOWER! Bees love the scent of mint--as well as many other wonderful floral, herbal and botanical and fruity scents.

Bees (not wasps, which are predatory) will not sting unless they are protecting their queen or the hive which contains their brood. I suspect your daughter may be attracting yellow jacket wasps, and not bees. Also, if one swats the air and acts agitated, wasps will sting. The best thing is to be scent-neutral, wear more neutral colors outside and be calm when a bee or wasp is checking her out. I can't guarantee she won't be stung by a wasp (they are nasty critters!) but the bees will most likely buzz off and leave her unharmed. Good luck!

billy 4 months ago

I ate an apple one morning while hunting. One of those pesky critters landed on my mouth attracted to the sugary sweetness. The only thing that saved me from a fat lip like the poor sap in the video is I didn't swat it. If you can resist that urge then you can do as I did: just keep blowing it away and offer it the apple core once you're done!

Ann Reid 4 months ago

Billy- Congratulations on your ability to stay calm, cool and collected under such a challenging experience. You clearly exhibited what Hemingway used to refer to as "Grace under pressure." Also, your offering the wasp your apple core when you were finished was an enlightened gesture that the Dali Lama -- in the spirit of recognizing the value of all sentient creatures-- might have done And YOU DIDN'T GET STUNG!!! . Very impressive!

Adam 2 months ago

Thank you for the article. I've been terrified of bees since I was a child, after one landed on my finger during a trip to a carnival with my family. I had cotton candy on my little fingers so this is why. Fortunately mom got it to fly off without incident but it has stuck with me over the years, particularly since I've never been stung and I'm 38 now. One thing I've noticed that helps is to save yard work for later in the day during the hot months. You'll have less heat to deal with for one, and they aren't out in as many numbers the later it gets. I also tend to wear gardening gloves for hand protection and even earplugs to help me not freak out if one buzzes by. With the increased daylight of late summer, I can technically start cutting my lawn at 7pm and still get an hour's work finished.

Kellyann Kenison 7 weeks ago

Very useful info. I am terrified of bees. Really anything I see that looks remotely like one I usually run in the opposite direction. When I was younger me and my cousins were jumping on my grandma's trampoline and we did not realize there was a wasps nest in there. A bunch came out and chased us I got bit 13 times by the time I got to the pool. I jumped in the pool thinking that would get rid of them didn't really work they lingered for a min or two and left. Ever since that day I have been terrified of them and every time I see one I can't help it. Had to pull my car over one day cause a bee came into it and decided to get into my can of Pepsi and I pulled over and waited for it to leave while flipping out. I really gotta work on that. But now I know why they keep chasing me this summer I've been wearing bright clothes when I'm not working so I should probably stop wearing those and stick with my light shades. Thanks for the information.

Kellyann Kenison 7 weeks ago

Also Ann I have a question do bees like wood I have a wooden patio in my back yard and i have seen a lot of them this summer more so than when I lived in my apartment that had a cement and metal patio

Ann Reid 7 weeks ago

You may be seeing carpenter bees-- they LOVE wood and and make a home in little holes they create. For more info see:

All the Best!


Devon 5 weeks ago

So many great pointers! I found your page while researching what to do about an underground hive I discovered on the side of my house near the base of a Japanese maple. I am a native Washingtonian, and live in the Pacific Northwest between Seattle and Tacoma. This is the first time I have seen bees like this in this area. They are not wasps or carpenter ants, and are much much smaller than HoneyBees, which are generally the only types I have ever seen in this area. They don't seem to bother or attack anything that gets close, and they look like miniature honeybees, move very quickly with direct routes, with many arriving and departing the single entry hole every few seconds ......any idea what type they may be?

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