Drunken Stinging Wasp

If you’re planning a hike along a path called Bumblebee Ridge, don’t wear flowery lotion or perfume. Yes, I did it and I won’t do it again!

It was our 6th wedding anniversary and we were hiking in FDR State Park near Callaway Gardens in Georgia. We’d chosen the Wolf Den Loop trail which passes over Bumblebee Ridge. There wasn’t a bee in sight. In fact, we hadn’t encountered many bugs at all which was unusual in Georgia.

Then I saw it, a solitary wasp flying erratically as if he were drunk. Particularly I noticed his long legs dangling as he flew sideways in a zigzag pattern toward me. Since he wasn’t making a straight beeline at me I wasn’t worried. I figured he’d fly on past as bees usually do. I don’t worry when gardening around bees. As long as I leave them to their flowery pursuits they don’t bother me.

This wasp, however, was different. I was on his radar. Who knew how far he had flown in response to my lilac body lotion? Lilac flowers have a powerful scent and they aren’t common in Georgia. Perhaps the wasp wanted to investigate this new flower and found a human intruder instead.

Once he zeroed in on me, he flew toward my face and before I knew it he had bounced off my forehead as if by accident. I didn’t know it at the time but wasps sometimes attempt to warn you away if you get too close to their nest by head butting you. This is a warning shot and doesn’t usually involve a stinger. My wasp apparently didn’t read the Patrol Wasp Handbook because he stung me as part of his warning.

Thankfully he flew away and didn’t bring his buddies for a more forceful warning. Maybe we were headed away from the beehive and he figured he’d done his job. It’s a good thing because if we’d been seriously attacked there wasn’t much chance of us running away. We hadn’t chosen an easy trail. The Wolf Den Loop trail was riddled with tree roots, rocky streams and sometimes required a bit of climbing. It wasn’t the sort of trail you could make a run for it on.

Since then I’ve learned a few rules of navigating wasps and bees:

  • First and foremost, don’t enter their realm smelling like a flower. Bees are attracted to flowers and if you smell like a flower you might as well send out the challenge to “Come and get me!”
  • Don’t swat at wasps and bees. Swatting just pisses them off which incites them to sting you whereas they might not have originally planned to.
  • If a bee or wasp bounces off of you or bumps into you, get the hell out of there quick. It means you are near a beehive and it is a warning shot. If you don’t heed the warning his buddies will gang up on you to send a more painful message.
  • If you are attacked by a swarm of bees, run as fast and far as you can. Wasps and bees can fly faster than you can run. However, the farther you get from their hive the more likely they’ll lose interest in stinging you. They might follow you a long way so just keep on running until they’re gone. If you can, try to get out of the open. Look for cover but don’t jump into the water. Get into a car or building and close the door to limit how many bees can get at you. Jumping into the water will not protect you. If they are serious about the attack they will hover over the water waiting for you to come up for air and sting you more. You can’t hold your breath forever.
  • Protect your head. Cover your head and face with your shirt or anything else that’s handy. Your head will be the prime target so you’ll definitely want to protect it. Remember, wasps can sting you over and over again.
  • Once you are safe, get the stingers out. Scrape them out with a credit card, fingernail or similar object. This is preferable to pinching, pulling or tweezers. First aid can include ice, antihistamines, pain relievers, washing the sting and treating it with an antibiotic ointment. If you are allergic to bee stings, seek medical help immediately. If you have access to an EpiPen (usually found in allergy kits) and are experiencing an allergic reaction, consider using the EpiPen until you can get medical help.
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