Insect Bites and Stings

Identifying the Bug That Stung You

Getting bitten or stung by an insect can be stressful and may lead to uncomfortable symptoms. Besides treating the sting, it's important to recognize if you are having a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

This article explores the signs of an insect sting, as well as when to seek emergency medical care. It will also explain which insects leave a stinger in you and how to treat various types of stings.

Which Insect Stung Me?

Verywell / Cindy Chung  

What Are the Signs of Anaphylaxis?

If you're seriously allergic to an insect, you may not know it until you get stung for the first time. Seek immediate emergency care if you begin to feel symptoms of anaphylaxis, which may include: 

If left untreated, anaphylaxis could lead to serious symptoms and even death. If you have an epinephrine auto-injector, inject yourself right away or have someone else do so, and then call 911.

How Do You Identify Different Types of Insect Stings?

Common stinging insects include honeybees, wasps, hornets, yellowjackets, and fire ants. If you didn't get a good look at the insect that stung you, you may be able to identify it by the appearance of the hive and whether the insect was near the ground or higher in the air.

Honeybees

Honeybees, often simply called bees, typically aren't aggressive. However, this can vary based on the exact species. They tend to sting only if their hive is threatened or they're stepped on.

Most stings children get are from honeybees, so it's important to teach them about bee safety. These stings can lead to pain, swelling, and hives.

Honeybee stingers are barbed on the end, so after they enter the skin and inject their venom, the stinger stays behind. To get a stinger out:

  • Act quickly so less venom enters the skin.
  • Use your fingernail or a credit card edge to scrape out the stinger.
  • Wash the area with mild soap and water.
  • Apply ice to the skin.
Bee sting on face causing redness and swelling near eye.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Whether you use a dull edge to scrape the stinger, or grasp and pull it out, the most important thing to do is act quickly. The longer a stinger remains in the skin, the more venom will be released into the body.

Wasps

Wasps vary in color and may be black, white, and/or yellow. Their bodies are smooth, not fuzzy, and their legs dangle when they fly. They tend to nest in trees or in the ground. They're rarely aggressive but will sting if they're disturbed.

Since they don't leave their stinger behind, wasps can sting someone multiple times. Stings may be warm or hot to the touch, feel itchy, and look slightly swollen. To treat the sting, wash it thoroughly, apply ice, and take a pain reliever if needed.

Swollen hand due to wasp sting.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Fire Ants

Fire ants can be found throughout the southern parts of the United States. They are red in appearance and nest in the ground. These nests tend to have a mound of dirt on top that can be as tall as 18 inches.

Fire ants are most likely to bite and sting if a person steps on their nest. They can sting multiple times and will attack as a colony if disturbed.

Stings inject venom into the body that can cause pain, a burning feeling, and itchiness. Welts may form soon after being stung. These can turn into blisters that may lead to infections if scratched.

To treat fire ant stings:

Seek emergency care if you are experiencing a severe reaction.

Yellowjackets

Yellowjackets, a type of black and yellow wasp, cause the highest number of sting-related allergic reactions in the United States. Along with honeybees, they are also responsible for most of the stings children get.

Yellowjackets nest in the ground and can sting multiple times in a row. Stings may lead to redness, swelling, hives, pain, and a burning feeling.

To treat a yellowjacket sting, wash the area with soap and water, and then apply ice. If your symptoms start to worsen over time, be sure to call your doctor right away.

Hornets

Hornets, a type of wasp, may vary in color and may have a white or yellow face. They tend to nest in trees and on the ground. Hornets can be aggressive and can sting multiple times in a row if they feel threatened.

Stings can cause swelling, pain, and itchiness. The area that was stung may also feel warm and look red. To treat a hornet sting, wash the area with soap and water. Then, apply ice and elevate the area if the sting was on the arm or leg.

Summary

Common stinging insects include honeybees, wasps, yellowjackets, fire ants, and hornets. Insect stings can cause reactions that range from mild to severe. A serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis can cause symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Red and itchy welts that appear beyond the site of the sting
  • Mouth swelling
  • Feeling dizzy

If you are experiencing symptoms of anaphylaxis, seek immediate medical care, and use an epinephrine auto-injector if you have one. Then head to the emergency room.

To identify what insect stung you, check whether you have a stinger in your skin, look for a hive nearby, and notice whether the insect was flying near the ground or higher up. If you see the insect that stung you, try to spot identifying features such as body shape and coloring.

In general, mild reactions to these stings can be treated by removing the stinger if applicable, washing the area with soap and water, and applying ice.

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13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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