Temperatures outside are warming up – and that means stinging insect season has arrived.
Bees, hornets, wasps, and yellow jackets all begin to become active in the late spring months, busily buzzing about and building their nests. As we move into summer, their activity increases. In late summer and early fall, stinging pest activity will spike as the pests increase their hunt for food.
For businesses, the presence of stinging insects brings with it liability risk. Stinging pests can inflict dangerous and potentially life-threatening stings. It only takes one sting to be dangerous to someone who is allergic. In severe cases, a sting could send them into anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening condition that can cause severe swelling of airways, preventing someone’s ability to breathe. Stings may also cause hives, blood pressure issues, or even unconsciousness.
Small animals can also be stung and have similar reactions to humans, such as localized pain and swelling. This is even more concerning when the animals being stung are pets. Just as with humans, some pets can have more severe allergic reactions, putting them at risk. If your business is pet-friendly, such as a multifamily complex, a restaurant that allows pets on-site, or even a doggie daycare, this may be an escalated concern for you.
While any active stinging pest situation on your property should be addressed immediately with a pest management professional, if your property hasn’t seen activity yet, there are actions you can take right now to reduce the chances of a problem developing on your property.
Types of stinging pests
There are many types of stinging pests that can become problematic on commercial properties. Understanding the basic biology and behavior of these pests is critical to developing a pest management strategy for your business.
Wasps (includes yellow jackets, paper wasps, and mud dauber wasps)
All wasps prey on other insects, but are also highly attracted to the food and beverages humans consume. Yellow jackets will nest in voids, such as ground burrows or in wall voids. Wasps, including yellow jackets, are attracted to untreated wood. Paper wasps build umbrella-shaped, honeycombed nests in protected corners. Mud daubers will build mud-like tubes for their nests, which they attach to structures.
Hornets (European hornets, bald-faced hornets)
Hornets mostly feed on insect prey, but they can also feed on vegetation, such as tree fruit or bark. They are less likely than wasps to scavenge for human food. Hornets build exposed, football-shaped paper nests that hang from high-up locations: tree limbs, roof overhangs, in or near chimneys, or light fixtures. They will also build nests in shrubs.
Bees feed on plant nectar. They will build their hives in natural voids, such as holes in trees. However, they can and will nest in wall voids and other inaccessible areas of structures. If you see bees flying into a structure, call an expert. Bee health has become an increasing concern over the last decade, so working with a professional to solve a bee problem may allow some bees to be saved and transferred to beekeepers.
Not all bees are honey bees. Carpenter bees feed on nectar, just like honey bees, but they are attracted to wood because they bore into it to build their nests. Large “bumblebee” looking bees swarming around wooden structures in early spring may indicate a carpenter bee problem. Carpenter bees are unlikely to sting unless their nests are disturbed – males actually cannot sting – but they have been known to aggressively “dive bomb” humans who get too close to their nests.
Although these large wasps are likely to look menacing, they don’t pose a serious sting threat. They often fly low over grassy lawn areas. They will occasionally “chase” people, which can be frightening due to their size.
Not all stinging pests will die after they’ve stung someone. Bees have a barbed stinger; their stingers are likely to remain in their victims and be pulled out of the bees as they fly away. Once their stingers are removed, bees die. However, this isn’t the case with wasps and hornets, which have a “smooth” stinger that allows them to sting their victims repeatedly.
Ways to decrease your stinging pest liability
Since a single sting can be life-threatening to someone with an allergy, it is critical the businesses operating in the public space take every precaution to eliminate the chances their employees, customers, guests, and visitors can be stung.
Stock epinephrine (check state laws)
Epinephrine is a drug prescribed to counter the dangerous reactions caused by anaphylaxis. It is widely administered using an epinephrine auto-injector that allows the drug to be safely injected into the outer thigh of someone having an allergic reaction.
As of June 2019, many states have legislation in effect or pending to make the life-saving drug epinephrine more readily available in public spaces. All 50 states have legislation in place to have epinephrine stocked in schools.
Many other states have legislation in place or pending that voluntarily allows public “entities” such as restaurants, sports venues, amusement parks to have the drug on hand. The definition of an entity differs from state to state. In some states, such as California, legislation requires that entities have someone on staff that has completed epinephrine training or certification.
To view a full list of state legislation regarding epinephrine, visit the Food Allergy Network’s Public Access to Epinephrine page.*
Perform weekly inspections
Stinging pests can take up residence quickly and in many places, especially during the warm weather months from April to October. Have your maintenance team perform weekly inspections of buildings and grounds to keep an eye out for stinging pest activity or nests. Be sure to look high, low, and at eye-level. Hot spots will include trash cans or garbage areas, eaves, gutters, light fixtures, protected corners, burrows in the ground, picnic areas or playgrounds, and anywhere that people may have food exposed or leave food residue behind.
Practice good garbage area sanitation and maintenance
Trash areas are highly attractive to stinging pests due to the plentiful availability of sugar-rich beverage and food residues. To decrease the prevalence of stinging pests in these areas, there are a number of actions you can take:
- Use self-closing lids on trash cans, if at all possible. This will greatly reduce the chances that stinging pests can get into the trash.
- Be sure that dumpsters have lids.
- Always use garbage bags or liners in trash cans. This will help reduce the likelihood that food and beverage residues build up inside the can.
- Have trash removed regularly from both cans and dumpsters.
- Clean cans, lids, dumpsters, and dumpster pads regularly to eliminate the build-up of organic debris and sugar residues.
Activity for stinging pests increases in late summer and early fall, so keep up vigilance in these areas through the fall.
Avoid untreated wood
Untreated wood can attract wasps, which will chew the wood to get pulp to make their nests. Wasps may target any untreated, unpainted, or unsealed wood. Balconies and decks, eaves, swing sets and playground equipment, picnic tables, sheds or storage buildings, stairways, etc. are all at risk. A simple stain, seal, or paint job can reduce attractiveness.
Use signs in public spaces
In public areas where people may congregate and eat, use signage to remind people to throw away food scraps and clean up spills. This can include courtyards, outside dining areas, parks and picnic areas, playgrounds, and pools, to name a few.
What you should do if a person or pet is stung on your property
Knowing the appropriate action to take if someone is stung on your property can be difficult to determine. However, the following actions should always be considered:
- If someone is stung or may have been stung and appears to develop signs of anaphylaxis (difficulty breathing or talking, severe swelling, unconsciousness), call 911 immediately.
- Anyone who is stung should be monitored for several hours for signs of an allergic reaction: severe itching, hives, difficulty breathing or swelling of the mouth, lips, or throat, shortness of breath, nausea, or unconsciousness.
- If the stinger is still visibly present in the skin, it is important to remove it as quickly as possible.“As long as the stinger is in the skin, it will keep pumping out venom,” says entomologist and Rentokil Steritech’s Director of Operations Education and Training, Nancy Troyano, Ph.D.
Do not use tweezers to remove the stinger, as this may actually release more venom into the skin. Instead, gently scrape over it with your fingernail.
- Apply a cold ice pack or compress to the sting site to reduce swelling and pain.
- Monitor pets, just like humans, for any signs of distress following a sting. Take pets experiencing distress to a veterinarian.
It may not be possible to prevent stinging pest activity on your property, but with diligence and monitoring, you can reduce the risk your business faces by removing the conditions that are conducive to stinging insects or addressing a developing problem before it becomes severe.
Take the proactive steps listed here to reduce the likelihood of a problem. Most importantly, have a contracted relationship with a pest management provider that knows your property and your business. This will help ensure a swift response to any issue when you call.
Need help with a stinging pest issue at your business? Rentokil Steritech is standing by. Simply call us at 800.488.9495 or use our Live Chat on our Contact Us page and we’ll get back to you right away.
*Rentokil Steritech provides this information as a service to our readers; it does not supersede the information provided by any state legislature. Readers are advised to fully research their state’s legislation and requirements for stocking epinephrine.