We were sitting outside in the sunshine with a glass or two the other day when a particularly persistent wasp decided to spoil the party. We are surrounded by millions of insects, and some of them can be a bit of a pain.
Wasps and hornets are probably the more feared than most British insects, and some people can have extreme allergic reactions to their stings. Hornets, though larger than wasps and with a nastier sting, are much less aggressive than smaller wasps and are really no trouble provided you keep your distance. Other insects can be confused with hornets, such as queen wasps and some quite harmless insects like the giant wood wasp (stingless) or the hornet clearwing moth. At this time of the year wasps have less work to do and lots of sweet stuff to binge on - hence they start to be more troublesome. Our instinctive reaction is to try to bat them away; I do it, but it’s never a good idea - it only makes them cross and all the more more likely to sting. If you do get stung and start to feel faint, out of breath or your skin begins to swell up, seek immediate medical attention.
Like wasps, bees will sting when they feel threatened, and we can be allergic to their stings too. Bee and wasp venoms are quite different from each other. Ants can also be venomous; ant poison is administered via a bite, but most British ants don’t have high toxin levels, and won’t cause much damage. Ant and bee stings are acid, and I recall we used to treat them with washing blue; wasp stings are alkaline, and can be eased with a bit of vinegar. The little black garden ants don’t bite.
Horseflies are my number one hate. Bees, wasps and ants bite or sting if threatened, but horseflies really are out to get you, and some can be very persistent. In my experience, there are those that sneak up on you, and you don’t know they are there until they have bitten you, but even nastier are the big black horseflies that have a loud and very annoying buzz and just seem to want to terrify you into submission (maybe that makes the blood flow more freely). Horseflies are in fact placid vegetarians most of the time, but the female, as with mosquitoes, needs mammalian blood before she can lay her eggs. They cause damage by ripping the skin so that blood flows freely, which they then lap up. The wound is very painful, can easily become infected, and horseflies can also carry a number of diseases. It’s important to treat wounds with antiseptic wipes, and keep them free from dirt.
Midges and mosquitoes are a nuisance rather than a danger in the UK, though of course mosquitoes spread malaria and other dangerous diseases elsewhere in the world. Mozzies are more active in the early morning and the evening than at other times - cover up, and use over-the-counter repellants. Then there are ticks - but they’re not actually insects, so I’ll leave them for another time!