Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Tips to avoid being stung

If a wasp wants to share your picnic or lunch, stay calm and don't flap your arms about. If the wasp persists, put down your food and move quietly away. Wasps have an exaggerated reputation for aggressiveness but they are unlikely to chase you or attack en masse unless you disturb the nest. One of the things that triggers a mass attack by wasps may be the smell of wasp venom, so the smell of the first wasp stinging you will excite other wasps. We recommend that you normally stay well away from wasp nests.

Everyone should know the simple precautions to avoid being stung. Be alert, don't panic and be prepared to run in a hurry!

  • Never deliberately disturb a wasp nest. If you accidentally disturb one, keep well clear until it has settled down.
  • Keep a look out for the flight paths of wasps approaching their nests. If possible detour around them, but one or two people moving relatively quickly can usually pass close to a nest entrance without harm.
  • If you think you are being attacked, act immediately. Run quickly through thick vegetation. This should brush most of the wasps off, and a quick sprint of no more than 20 m should see you safe.
  • It is sensible to wear trousers and long sleeved shirts to lessen the chance of incidental stings.
  • Wear light coloured clothes. When disturbed, wasps, as well as honeybees and bumblebees, direct their attack against dark coloured objects.
  • Don't panic if the odd wasp settles on you. If you remain still the wasp will usually fly off in seconds. It can be especially unnerving to have wasps settle in your hair, but trying to dislodge them will inevitably lead to stings. A close fitting hat or cap provides good protection.
  • Before stopping for a tea break or to eat lunch, check that there are no nests nearby. There's nothing wasps like better than a sandwich, especially fish flavoured! Watch the food you are eating, to make sure a wasp doesn't alight on it just before you put it in your mouth. Stings inside the mouth, throat or in the neck area can be potentially life-threatening as the swelling associated with stings can block airways.
  • Wasps are also very partial to canned drink (soft drinks and beer). Keep an eye on your open can. A wasp can easily climb in for a drink and will quickly sting you if you unwittingly take a mouthful.
  • If an insect gets in your car, stop the car, roll down the windows and get the insect out of the car.

These tips to avoid wasp stings are applicable throughout New Zealand. They have special relevance to the forests in the north of the South Island, which have the highest numbers of wasps in late summer and autumn.

Those of you who a) use honeydew beech forests for work or recreation; b) who plan to be in other areas with high wasp numbers; or c) have had an allergic reaction to an insect sting in the past, should carry a first aid kit with up-to-date medication prescribed by a doctor specifically for the treatment of wasp stings. It is most important that you are trained to use the contents correctly!