Last updated on September 21st, 2023 at 11:58 am
No, a wasp’s sting has a smooth surface that allows it to dislodge after each consecutive sting. This is very different from a honeybees barbed stinger which can lodge in human skin and cause irreparable damage when the bee tries to escape.
Now we know the short answer let’s take a deep dive into why wasps ting, exactly what happens when a wasp stings you and the anatomy of a sting.
Why Do Wasps Sting?
While it may seem like a wasp is hunting you down like a seeker-killer missile there are actually some very valid reasons why a wasp might sting you out on your adventures.
Defending themselves and their nest
If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to disturb a wasp nest you’ll be well aware of their ability to retaliate swiftly and without mercy.
They’re highly territorial insects and this makes for an aggressive response that many intruders really aren’t ready for.
The nest inhabitants will leave on mass, all with the same shared goal of driving away any potential attackers.
This can quickly lead to multiple stings and it’s more than enough to drive away most insects and animals whether they are predators or not (us humans included).
Wasps are attracted to sweet food and drinks, this can vary from ice cream at the seaside to the rotting sugary apples slowly fermenting in your back garden.
If you’re seen as a threat to their food or it looks like you might be taking it away you could be set for a painful sting.
For example, we’ve all been having a picnic when a wasp lands on your food, but believe it or not it may sting you if you try to shoo it away or swat at it.
Now, this is a bit of a wide definition because technically wasps are always provoked to sting but for the purpose of this discussion we’ll look at human provocation.
This could be sitting or standing on an unsuspecting wasp or if you’re very unfortunate swallowing one.
This is the most common reason people get stung by wasps in day-to-day life.
When they’re tipsy
Yes, you heard right even wasps can have a few too many and start to get a bit drunk.
This happens more often than you’d think and is a regular occurrence when overly ripe fruit starts to ferment in the late summer sun.
The fermentation process starts to create alcohol that the wasps inadvertently consume when they’re feeding on the rich flesh of the fruit.
It’s also possible for a wasp to become impaired if it happens to land close to your favourite sugary alcoholic beverage to have a quick drink.
What Happens When a Wasp Stings You?
Now we know why a wasp might sing you let’s look at the timeline of a sting and the symptoms you can expect.
The initial sting
When a wasp stings you, it injects venom into your skin through its smooth stinger.
The initial feeling is a sharp pain that gradually intensifies from the site of the sting.
Swelling and redness
Within a few minutes of being stung, the affected area will start to swell and become red.
The swelling and redness may spread around the site of the sting to other areas of the body.
Itching and burning
After the swelling and redness, the affected area may start to itch and burn.
This can be quite uncomfortable and can last for several hours.
For the unfortunate few, a wasp sting can cause a more serious reaction like anaphylaxis.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include difficulty breathing, swelling of the face and throat, rapid heartbeat, and dizziness, if you experience any of these symptoms after a wasp or bee sting, seek medical attention immediately.
Treatment and healing
Over time, the swelling, redness, itching, and burning will gradually subside.
The time it takes to heal will depend on the severity of the sting and your body’s reaction to the venom.
The Anatomy Of A Wasp Sting
A sting is a defence mechanism wasps use to protect themselves from perceived threats.
They inject venom into the victim’s skin through a specialized organ called a stinger, located at the end of the wasp’s abdomen.
The stinger itself is a modified ovipositor, an adapted organ that’s normally used by female wasps to lay eggs.
*Interesting fact – Some parasitic wasps use their modified ovipositors to inject eggs directly into the bodies of their hosts, not unlike some of the aliens we see in sci-fi movies.
When a wasp stings it contracts the muscles in its abdomen to push its stinger into the victim’s skin.
Once the stinger penetrates the venom is injected into the victim through a hollow tube located right in the centre of the stinger.
The venom contains a complex mixture of proteins and other molecules that can cause a variety of effects, ranging from mild pain and swelling to potentially life-threatening systemic reactions.
For those interested in the science behind this, the primary component of wasp venom is a protein called phospholipase A2 (PLA2).
PLA2 breaks down the cell membrane releasing a cascade of signalling molecules that trigger the immune system’s inflammatory response.
This leads to the classic symptoms you see when you get stung like redness, swelling, itching, and pain.
Other parts of the venom can cause even more severe reactions like histamine, which can cause your blood vessels to dilate and airways to constrict, leading to difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis in susceptible individuals.
The act of being stung can also trigger an emotional response, if you’ve ever been stung unexpectedly you’ll know how much of a shock it can be particularly if it’s a larger wasp or hornet.
Sting fact – The sudden pain and surprise of being stung can activate your amygdala, the part of your brain responsible for processing emotions leading to that startled feeling.
The science and anatomy of a wasp sting involve a complex interplay of venom components, immune responses, and neural signalling that all comes together to bring us the uncomfortable reactions we all dislike.
So do wasps die after they sting you?
No, even though you might want them to after you’ve just been stung, these clever little insects have a smooth stinger that allows them to remove it post-sting.
If you want to learn more about the fascinating world of insects in your back garden then don’t miss some of our other great reads below packed with fascinating insights into the world of bees.