7 Serious Dangers of Wasps Around the Home

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Updated April 12, 2022
A family barbecues in the backyard
Photo: dusanpetkovic1/Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Wasps are fiercely territorial and will attack anyone that gets near their nest.

  • Social wasps use a pheromone to call other wasps when they feel threatened.

  • Wasp stings can cause a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

  • Enough wasp stings can kill a person, whether or not they’re allergic.

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The mean buzz of a wasp can send even the bravest person running for the hills—and they’re the last guest you want to see at your backyard barbecue. A wasp sting is enough to ruin your day, but that’s not the only reason to keep your distance. 

So, how dangerous are wasps? Here are the risks of crossing paths with a wasp and its colony.

1. Wasps’ Nests Are Dangerous Territory

Wasps are fierce protectors of their nest and their young. They’re also incredibly territorial and have no qualms about attacking anything (or anyone) that gets too close. 

While certain wasp nests, such as that of the paper wasp, are above-ground and fairly conspicuous, others can be quite hidden. The yellow jacket, for example, nests in the ground and isn’t immediately detectable, especially from a distance. This means they can be particularly dangerous for children at play and curious pets, who might not realize what they’ve provoked until it’s too late.

2. Social Wasps Call for Reinforcements When Threatened

When a single wasp is in your personal space, it’s normal to swat or flail to get them to buzz off. However, when you do this, you might end up with a bigger problem on your hands. 

Social wasps release alarm pheromones when they’re threatened or agitated. These function as a call-to-action to alert their nearby nestmates to gang up and protect the nest. In large numbers, this presents a very real danger to the (often unwitting) human or animal. 

3. There’s Potential for an Allergic Reaction

For those with an allergy, the pain of a wasp sting is the least of their troubles. While it’s common to experience swelling at the site of the sting, some individuals will have a more severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. Symptoms of this life-threatening condition include:

  • Lightheadedness or feeling faint

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Anxiety and confusion

  • Wheezing

  • Loss of consciousness

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. If the affected individual doesn’t have access to an adrenaline auto-injector, it can be life-threatening. If you or someone you know experiences this reaction, call 911, use the injector if available, and remove the stinger if possible.

4. A Person Can Become Allergic to Wasps and Other Flying Insects

According to the Anaphylaxis Campaign, a person can become allergic to an insect or wasp sting, even if they were previously stung and had no serious reaction. The initial sting can cause sensitization—the phase where the person develops the allergy. After that, any future sting can trigger an allergic reaction, ranging from mild symptoms to life-threatening anaphylaxis. For this reason alone, it’s always best to leave wasp intervention to the pros.

5. Wasp Stings Can Be Lethal in Large Numbers

A closeup of a wasp nest
Photo: Volodymyr/Adobe Stock

Whether or not a person has an allergy, sustaining enough wasp stings can be lethal. The USDA states that the average non-allergic person can safely withstand 10 stings per pound of body weight. 

While it’s unlikely to get stung that many times at once, the threat is still present—especially if you’re poking around a nest. A single wasp can sting multiple times, so a confrontation with only a few hundred of them can be deadly.

6. It’s Hard to Leave Wasps “Bee” When They Attack

While solitary wasps are generally harmless, social wasps can be relentless once they’ve locked on to a human target (or multiple human targets). Their aggression trumps any fear they might have of a swatting hand. If you’re facing a large number of them, your best defense is running away and finding shelter ASAP.

7. A Wasp Infestation Is Difficult (and Dangerous) to Tackle on Your Own

Any DIY attempts to eradicate a nest are unlikely to be 100% successful. In other words, you can kill most of the hive, but you’ll typically get met with an angry swarm of survivors. Even if you’re able to escape, the surviving wasps can rebuild, leaving you in the same situation as when you started.

Aside from rousing the nest, there are other hazards to DIY wasp removal. For instance, applying spray killers to a paper wasp nest or other above-ground nests can result in the poison falling back down on the person spraying it. What’s more, using a ladder for high-up nests can result in serious fall injuries in the event of an attack. If you’re faced with a nest, it’s best to contact a local wasp removal service and stay out of the line of fire.

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