Weather causes increase in insect stings around Point Dume – Malibu Surfside News

Pictured is a honey bee pollinating a flower in Point Dume. photo:Suzanne Guldimann, Staff Writer. …

The warm, dry weather this winter appears to be contributing to an increase in insect stings in Malibu.

In a normal year, most insects are less active during the winter, but this year, yellow jacket wasps and bees — the most common stinging insects — are unusually active and are coming into contact with humans as they seek water and food.

Insect authorities stress that honey bees are beneficial and are not generally aggressive. Most bee stings occur when the victim inadvertently touches or squashes a bee. Many Malibu bee stings occur on the beach. Bees are drawn to the wet sand, where they come into contact with barefoot humans.

Individuals who are allergic to bee stings should make sure to pack an up-to-date bee sting kit when they head to the beach and avoid walking barefoot on the sand.

The bee’s sting is barbed and can remain imbedded in the victim’s skin with the poison sac still attached. It’s important to scrape the sting off, because pulling it out can inject more venom.

Yellow jacket wasps are reportedly responsible for the vast majority of “bee” stings. Yellow jackets — the common Malibu species is Vespula pensylvanica — are often mistaken for honeybees, because they are the same size and have similar coloring — although honeybees are actually brown and yellow, not black and yellow.

Bees can only sting once and will only use their weapon in defense. Yellow jackets have a reputation for being extremely aggressive, and each individual can sting repeatedly.

Entomologist Justin Schmidt of the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Arizona, who developed the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, described the pain of a yellow jacket sting as, “Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.”

Schmidt reportedly volunteered to be stung repeatedly by the majority of stinging hymenoptera — ants, wasps and bees. For most people one sting is more than enough, and for individuals who are allergic, a single encounter can become a major medical ordeal.

Experts stress that yellow jackets, like bees, are beneficial, but in large concentrations they can pose a serious health hazard. Because yellow jackets are attracted to human food, most stings occur at events such as picnics and backyard barbecues. Covering drinks and checking to make sure food is wasp-free before taking a bite can help prevent incidents.

Los Angeles County West Vector Control advises that sanitation is the best method to eliminate foraging yellow jackets.

“Tightly covering all waste food sources and moving garbage receptacles away from eating areas reduces food available to foraging workers.”

The agency also says, “Eliminating standing water sources helps to reduce the water available for cooling the nest and drinking. Limiting the amount of food and water available to a yellow jacket hive will drastically limit the size of the hive and its survivability.”

Foraging yellow jackets can ruin a picnic, but subterranean yellow jacket nests, constructed in abandoned gopher burrows or other ground holes, and potentially containing hundreds or even thousands of wasps, can be a serious hazard for unwary humans and animals. A nest of this type located on the side of a Point Dume Road has reportedly generated numerous sting reports in recent weeks.

“I stepped right on the entrance to the hive, getting out of the way of a car,” one victim told the Malibu Surfside News. “Two days later I had to go to go to the ER. The swelling just kept getting worse. I’ve never seen anything like it. I asked around and heard from several other people who’ve been stung, too.”

The victim added that she contacted the occupants of the house to let them know about the underground hive.

“They were totally unaware that the wasps were there but they said they’d take care of it,” she said. “I hope so. I don’t want anyone else going through this experience.”

The key to peaceful coexistence with yellow jackets seems to be keeping a safe and respectful distance. Help is available when peace isn’t possible. According to the Vector Control website, “The district will provide control for any established yellow jacket nest that is not in or on a structure.”

Vector Control recommends, “If you find a yellow jacket nest, do not try to take care of the nest yourself. Move away from the nest and call the District. Our trained staff will come out and remove the nest free of charge. If we cannot remove the nest, we will provide you with a list of private pest control companies who can.” The LACWVCD hotline is (310) 915-7370.

Allergic reactions to yellow jacket stings can include swelling that lasts for days, hives and anaphylaxis. Yellow jacket stings can also become infected. A swelling that is larger than four inches in diameter, or that appears more than 24 hours after the sting may require medical attention. According to the National Institute of Health, anyone experiencing hives, dizziness, shortness of breath or facial swelling should seek immediate medical assistance.

A study published in 2006 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology by David Golden, an associate professor of allergy and immunology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, found that some yellow jacket stings “are worse than others.”

Golden wrote, “Because we’ve found that the severity of an allergic reaction is related to the species of yellow jacket, it’s important for people to understand that they can have wildly different reactions depending on which species stings them and that getting stung once without an allergic reaction does not guarantee that a more serious reaction will not happen with a later sting.”

Animals can also experience allergic reaction to bee and wasp stings. Pet owners should contact their vet if they observe signs of swelling or hives.

For more information on yellow jackets and other local stinging insects, visit

Weather causes increase in insect stings around Point Dume – Malibu Surfside News
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