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How to Identify Each Stinging Insect and Protect Yourself

There are many reasons to love the summer months, from the warm weather and longer days to the general carefree feeling in the air. However, one of the more unpleasant parts of summertime is the resurgence of bugs like mosquitos and stinging insects. 

While most stinging insects play an important role in our ecosystem, it doesn’t change the fact that many of us go running in the opposite direction at the first sight of a wasp. Insect sting allergies are also fairly common, with 5% to 7.5% of Americans having a hypersensitivity to these pests’ venom. 

Therefore, knowing how to identify each common stinging insect is essential for protecting yourself and your loved ones this summer. Learn about the different stinging insects you may encounter and how to avoid getting stung. 

Honey Bees

Honey bees can be identified by their thick, oval-shaped bodies with dark brown hair and yellow stripes. Honey bees are extremely important to the environment and pollinate $15 billion worth of crops in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Honey bees prefer to reside in natural environments such as gardens, orchards, and meadows, and these bees are typically regarded as very docile insects that will only sting when provoked. 

Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees resemble large bumblebees and have round bodies with smooth, black abdomens. They are similar to honey bees in temperament and their ability to pollinate, but they can cause a lot of damage to wooden structures by boring into wood to create their nests. Carpenter bees prefer to nest in unpainted, weathered wood and are especially drawn to softer woods like pine and cedar. 


Wasps are typically thin, hairless insects with three distinct body parts: a head, a thorax, and an abdomen. Wasps consist of a large category of stinging insects, including hornets, yellow jackets, and paper wasps. These critters will become aggressive with humans if they feel that their nest is being threatened or their food supply is low, which is why your best bet is to avoid the area surrounding a wasp nest to avoid getting stung. Wasp nests built above ground can typically be found in bushes, trees, or attics. 


Hornets have reddish-brown heads and thoraxes and can be identified by their thin waists. Unlike the previous insects mentioned, hornets are known to be aggressive and can swarm in large numbers when provoked. Hornets prefer to nest on the branches of trees and shrubs but tend to spend the winter months nesting in the crevices of home siding and rotten logs.

Yellow Jackets

Yellow jackets are black in color with distinct yellow markings on their head and abdomen. Yellow jackets are among the most aggressive stinging insects, and they are known to target honey bee hives and eat their bees and larvae. These insects can also sting multiple times, making them one type of pest you don’t want to mess with. Yellow jackets prefer to nest on the forest floor, as well as on rock walls and sometimes inside structures. 

Mud Daubers

Mud daubers are lesser-known wasps that travel solo to build mud nests consisting of tubes on an exposed surface. Unlike other types of wasps, mud daubers are not easily agitated and are not known to sting, even when provoked. Mud daubers are thin and black in color and have what is known as a “thread waist,” referring to the long, skinny segment between the thorax and abdomen. 

Tips to Prevent Getting Stung

Not all stinging insects are aggressive, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take proper precautions. 


How do I know if I was stung or bitten?

In most cases, it can be difficult to differentiate a sting from a bite. Most insect bites release salvia, which causes redness and irritation. Venom from a sting can do the same thing, but it will be less pronounced. Ultimately, if you have an allergic reaction, you were most likely stung by an insect. 

What is worse? A yellowjacket or hornet?

On average, yellow jackets are more aggressive and feature a smooth stinger, which can sting repeatedly and painfully. 

Why do bees sting unprovoked?

Honeybees will defend their colony and sting if they feel you are a threat to their habitat. 

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