Stings from bees, wasps, yellow jackets, hornets and ants - all
members of the Hymenoptera order of insects - resulted in 25,360
hospital visits from 2001 through 2004.
Insect identification is helpful in diagnosing a Hymenoptera venom
allergy, prescribing a treatment and providing guidance on
prevention, said Dr. Troy Baker of the Malcolm Grow Medical Clinics
and Surgery Center at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and colleagues,
writing in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Insects can sting without being seen, are relatively small, and can
look similar to one another, making it hard to identify the
perpetrator in many cases, they added.
To see how good people are at identifying common stinging insects,
Baker and colleagues enrolled 640 adults from four different air
force bases in Maryland, Florida, Ohio and Nevada.
The study participants looked at pictures of four stinging insects
and two different nests in photographs on a six-question multiple
choice test. They also answered questions about themselves,
including whether they had ever been stung by an insect.
Nine of every ten participants had been stung by at least one insect
in the past, with 41 percent stung two or three times and 20 percent
stung four to six times.
On average, people answered three out of six questions correctly.
Just 20 people had a perfect score and 10 had them all wrong.
The honeybee was correctly identified 90 percent of the time. Next
was the yellow jacket, correctly identified 72 percent of the time,
and the hornet and wasp, each correctly identified about half the
Only a minority of participants recognized the nests. About 30
percent recognized the hornet nest and 18 percent knew the wasp
Perhaps not surprisingly, people who'd been stung were better at
identifying honeybees, wasps and wasp nests.
“Overall, this study supports the general perception that adults are
poor discriminators in distinguishing stinging insects with the
exception of the honeybee,” the authors write.
For that reason, they advise that people who've had a bad reaction
to an insect sting should be tested for the venom of all flying
[to top of second column]
Patrick Liesch, who manages the University of Wisconsin Insect
Diagnostic Lab but was not involved with the study, told Reuters
Health by email that a lot of stinging insects have evolved to look
fairly similar. “They have these bright flashy colors - yellow and
black - and it kind of serves as a warning pattern,” he said.
“They can deliver a painful sting,” he added. “So I think that in
general people probably have a pretty good feel for these yellow and
black insects - that they may able to sting.” But when it comes to
telling them apart, “things may get blurred a little bit.”
Liesch said people who are stung can capture the insect and keep it
at home in a container.
“If you start having some kind of adverse reaction you can get it to
the physician, who then may be able to identify it and if they can't
positively identify it, they can get it to another resource, like an
entomologist,” he said.
He added that if the bug can’t be captured, experts can often
identify insects from photographs, as long as they’re not too dark
and the resolution is good.
For identifying stinging insects at home, Liesch recommends a series
of books called Things That Bite by Tom Anderson. An internet search
will also identify local websites that can help.
“Most states are going to have some type of extension service fact
sheet describing stinging insects,” he said.
Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, online June 23, 2014.
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