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First Aid for Insect Bites and Stings


When it comes to First Aid for bites and stings, prevention is the most desirable route to follow. Here are some tips for avoiding the annoyance (and pain) in the first place:

• Avoid wearing bright, flowered clothing when camping, hiking, or picnicking so that you won’t look like food to insects, and use unscented toiletries so that you won’t smell like food!
• Keep food, especially sweet or greasy food (such as fried chicken) covered, as well as pop cans, lemonade, and even water bottles in dry places.
• Don’t flail your arms around to frighten the critters away—they might interpret that as aggression and attack.
• Use a good insect repellent.


If a bite or sting occurs despite your best efforts, treatment depends upon the insect and the severity of the injury.

Bees, Wasps, Hornets, & Horseflies

Description: Small, golden with brownish stripes on abdomen
Nest: in hives (domestic or in hollow trees)
Venom: Acidic; can only sting once, then bee dies.
Treatment: Remove stinger by scraping in one direction with flat side of knife or credit card (not tweezers, as they can squeeze more venom into the wound). Wash with warm water and antibacterial soap; apply non-sudsing ammonia or baking soda/water paste.

Description: Large, fuzzy yellow and black stripes
Nest: On or under the ground, wood, or bricks
Venom: Acidic. Can sting multiple times.
Treatment: Same as for honeybee stings

Carpenter Bees
Description: Large, shiny black abdomen
Nest: under eaves, in outbuildings and in walls
Venom: Acidic. Females can sting.
Treatment: Same as for honeybee stings

“Killer” Africanized Hybrid Honeybee
Description: Similar to regular honeybees, slightly smaller, extremely nervous and aggressive
Nest: Anywhere they can find a hiding place, or on the ground
Venom: Acidic, like honeybees, but they attack in swarms when disturbed, causing multiple stings
Treatment: Usually need medical care because of number of stings; can be fatal

Yellow Jacket Wasps
Description: Black & yellow like bees, but with a “tightly-belted” waist. Highly aggressive
Nest: On the ground
Venom: Protein-based, pH neutral, paralyzes prey for easy transport
Treatment: Wash, apply antihistamine cream (like Benadryl) and ice—10 minutes on, 10 off, as long as needed. Can apply a paste of aspirin or meat-tenderizer. Multiple stings: take oral antihistamine as well; seek medical treatment.

Paper Wasps
Description: Dark color, sting multiple times
Nest: Under a ledge or roof
Venom: Same as Yellow Jackets
Treatment: Same as Yellow Jackets

Description: Large black and white wasps
Nest: in trees, shrubs, and under eaves
Venom: Same as Yellow Jackets
Treatment: Same as Yellow Jackets

Description: Large flies—may be black, have green heads or yellow stripes. Long antennae.
Nest: Live and breed in marshy areas, attracted to water
Venom: No venom. Horseflies tear a little chunk out of the skin then lick up the blood. Bites are painful, easily infected.
Treatment: Wash wound, apply antibiotic ointment and bandaid. See a doctor if it doesn’t heal properly (watch for increasing redness or red lines.)



Regular ants
Description: May be large or small; red, red and black, golden, brown, or black
Nest: Usually build hives on the ground
Venom: Formic acid, bites both sting and itch.
Treatment: Ice, baking soda paste, non-sudsy ammonia, or calamine lotion

Fire ants
Description: Usually very small and red, throughout southern tier of states
Nest: Near water or on watered lawns, or under something on the ground. In the open, they build tall mounds up to fifteen inches high
Venom: Alkaloid, unlike other ants. They both bite and sting, first biting and then while holding on, injecting venom in a circle around the bite with the stinger near the tail. Aggressive and able to “call” friends to join the attack. Causes burning pain, itching, raised red areas or pustules, swelling, flu-like symptoms, and abnormal heart rhythms.
Treatment: Wash site for two minutes, flooding with rubbing alcohol, Betadine, or hydrogen peroxide, then apply a cortisone anti-itch cream such as Benadryl. A little later, apply antibiotic ointment and bandaids; bites are very prone to infection. For multiple bites, seek medical attention.



Most spiders in the United States are venomous, as they use venom to paralyze their prey, but luckily most of them either cannot bite people or their bite produces only a mild itch or irritation. Three spiders, however, deserve special mention.


Black Widow
Description: Females (the dangerous ones) have a rounded, polished black body with red spot(s) on the top or underside of the abdomen, sometimes in hourglass shape. Usually not aggressive, but bite in response to disturbance or touch.
Nest: Untidy, tangled webs of strong silken fibers to trap their prey
Venom: the neurotoxin latrotoxin, which in black widows is 15 times stronger than rattlesnake venom. (Fortunately, they only inject a small amount!) Bite feels like a pinprick at first, but soon causes breathing difficulties, chills and fever, adominal cramps, stiffness, anxiety and restlessness.
Treatment: Get medical help; antidote available. Cleanse bite, apply a cold compress and elevate. Some symptoms continue for weeks.

Brown Recluse
Description: Narrow body, tan to brown with violin-shaped marking on its back. Usually more active at night than in daylight. Non-aggressive, bite when caught in clothing or trapped by person’s body.
Nest: Indoors or out, in a dry, dark, protected space. Web threads go in every direction. Habitat from Nebraska to Ohio, and south to Texas, then across to northwest Florida. Related species in desert southwest.
Venom: Necrotic (flesh-destroying) poison. Bite is hardly noticeable, then site develops pustule, redness, blister, purplish color, then a black scab that falls off, revealing an open ulcer.
Treatment: Requires medical treatment with anti-venin, corticosteroids, antibiotics, and surgical removal of damaged tissue. Do NOT apply heat!

Description: Large, hairy brown or black bodies with long legs. Often kept as pets.
Nest: Usually burrow in the ground, prefer warm, dry climates.
Venom: Paralyptic to prey. Painful bite, but no more dangerous than a honeybee unless you have an allergic reaction.
Treatment: Apply a paste of meat-tenderizer and an ice cube.


Description: Shaped like a small lobster with stinger in the tail that curls over its back. Reddish, blond, brown, or black.
Nest: Favor warm climates, especially Arizona (poisonous Bark Scorpion). Most burrow in the ground.
Venom: Neurotoxin. Sharp burn followed by sensitivity to touch and tingling or numbness.
Treatment: Cleanse wound with soap and water, elevate if possible, and apply a cold compress—ten minutes on, ten off. Keep victim still and administer non-steroidal anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprofen, Aspririn, Motrin, or Advil. Don’t give food or liquid, as swallowing may become difficult. Call Poison Control (1-200-222-1222) for advice on whether to transport person to a hospital. Alarming symptoms would include blurry vision, roving eye-movements, muscle twitching, and difficulty walking. Children are at most risk. Anti-Venin drug Anascorp is approved.


Description: Long, segmented, wormlike bodies with many legs. Brown or tan to red. Front two “legs” inject venom.
Nest: Burrow in soil and leaf litter; prefer warm climates
Venom: Painful sting, similar to bee venom. Large centipedes are the most dangerous.
Symptoms: Weakness, swelling, chills, fever, itching.
Treatment: Wash and dry site, apply first warmth to relieve the pain, then cold if there is swelling. Give ibuprofen or acetaminophen; apply cortisone cream for itch. Seek emergency care for any sign of allergic reaction such as swelling of lips or tongue, difficulty swallowing or breathing.




One thought on “First Aid for Insect Bites and Stings”

  • Arthur

    This is not completely accurate. Some people have more severe reactions to these stings/bites and any of them can result in professional medical attention being needed.

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