Stinging Insects

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No doubt about it - field photography will bring you into contact with a number of stinging insects.  This is a matter of some trepidation for many aspiring photographers, but it shouldn't be.  If you know a little about these insects, your chances of being stung in the field are very small.

Stinging is a defense used by social bees and wasps, usually to protect their nests.  Rule number one is to avoid the nests

Bees and wasps on flowers are most unlikely to sting; I have never been stung in years of walking through fields full of wildflowers and their attendant swarms.  Stinging among social insects is also released by the presence of alarm pheromones.  These are released from glands in the body when one insect stings, and they trigger others in the areas to sting as well.  This elicits a group response that usually drives predators away from the hive.  You could get into problems if you inadvertently crush an individual bee, releasing its pheromones, but this rarely happens and usually only the insect that you crushed actually stings you.  Beekeepers use smoke to mask the smell of these alarm pheromones and keep the bees docile.

Other tips:  

  1. Stinging insects are more likely to attract dark objects (bears, raccoons, skunks, etc. all have dark fur), so wear light clothing (which also attracts fewer mosquitoes).  
  2. Move slowly through flowers to give the insects time to move out of your way.  
  3. Don't swat a bee on your skin or clothes; instead "shoo" it away with a wave of the hand.  
  4. Use a long lens to photograph wasp hives.  
  5. Keep your eyes open for yellowjacket nests in the ground.
  6. In the fall, yellowjackets stop hunting other insects (which provide protein for raising young) and switch to getting carbohydrates for themselves.  At this time they may crawl into open beverage containers.  Don't drink from containers you can't see into or which don't have a bee-proof lid (don't drink out of aluminum cans).

When asked, something like 1/3 of all people will say that they are allergic to bee stings.  Well, everyone is a little allergic to the venoms.  The people who need to watch out are those who go into anaphylactic shock, less than 3% of the population.  Most of them know who they are, and they carry the appropriate injections with them in case they are stung.  The rest of you can relax.