Bug off stingers!

‘I am currently in Bali and I leaned into a plant near The Baleka Resort. I believe I was stung by a bee or wasp, I went to a pharmacy and bought a small bottle of Bokashi oil and found it helped very much! Although my hand is swollen and hurts occasionally, I still don’t know what caused it. Paige’

By the sound of it, most likely a wasp or hornet sting of which there are many varieties, all of varying degrees of intensity but always painful sometimes bordering on unbearable.Dealing with insect bites and stings is a common problem faced when gardenening so it is always important to wear closed footwear, appropriate clothing such as long plants, sleeves and gloves. But even just strolling by can pose a danger as you have described.

In fact, beestings and wasps scare me more than spiders or snakes, and along with ants are the most common insect dangers you are likely to encounter in the garden or out and about.

It’s can be very unsettling being stung by an unseen insect. Typically snakes and spiders will leave two distinct puncture marks from the fangs and possibly draw blood, whereas an insect sting won’t. If you are having trouble breathing, heart palpitations, feeling faint or generally unwell get yourself straight to a medical centre or hospital as a precaution, plenty of people have been killed by a simple bee or wasp sting, and there are also plenty of lethal snakes going around.

Bee, wasp, and ant stings and bites can cause terrible allergic reactions long after the initial pain has long worn off. If you’re like me you could be left with welts, a rash and itch that lasts for days, perhaps even weeks.


What to do if you’ve been stung?

Nothing is as effective the day after as it is immediately, so get to work straight away! Being allergic myself I can only tell you what works best for me. If it’s a bee firstly remove the stinger if it’s still under the skin.


Ice – Icing the sting provides instant relief and is the best first course of action to immediately reduce the pain it may also help reduce any longer-term reaction, swelling, rash etc. Apply ice direct to the sting as soon as possible for 10-30 mins, anything frozen will do, a bag of peas even a wrapped icy-pole. Works well for marine stingers also.


Baking Soda – Make a thick paste from baking soda and water, apply to the area and wrap up with a bandage. Having a bath in baking soda also helps by drawing toxins out of the skin.

Here’s another hack – if you ever have a troublesome splinter cover it with a thick paste of baking soda and water, leave overnight, later find the splinter tip protruding from the skin, easily remove with tweezers. If you’re ever covered in tiny grass ticks or nymphs too small to get with tweezers have a long bath in baking soda, it’ll draw them right out. Baking soda swells the adjacent skin cells forcing foreign materials out in the process. Pick it up in the supermarket, you can also use it to bake cookies and cakes, mix it up in organic pesticide or to kill plant fungus on leaves, even for cleaning around the house. It has so many uses entire books have been written about its versatility. I always keep some on hand – just be sure not to confuse it with baking powder which is an entirely different thing.


Natural oils/ointments – Eucalyptus oil, tea tree oil, or even cajeput oil from the melaleuca sold under names such as ‘minyak telon’ or ‘kayu putih’ are most effective to reduce itch and irritation. One of the best soothers I have found that simultaneously reduces itch, swelling and duration is aloe vera gel applied direct from the garden. I can’t vouch for aloe ointments as I’ve only ever used the real fresh stuff straight from the plant. Red tiger balm is also effective containing camphor, clove, mint, menthol and cajeput oil.


Antihistamine – Take as soon as possible to head off the itchy rash that could possibly manifest in the following hours and days. If you take on day two it’s probably too late to have an effect.

In my experience bees will never sting in anger, usually it’s because you’ve stepped on one while walking around bare foot or wearing loose footwear. If you were to say raid a bee hive though, then there’s a probably a good chance you’d get stung but generally out in the garden bees usually don’t present a danger. When they’re out swarming the dandelions, lavender or peppermint for pollen they’ll happily fly around and avoid you letting you go about your daily business.

Wasps and hornets on the other hand are a totally different story. They come in many varieties, are territorial, can be particularly aggressive, and often seek you out – especially if you come into close vicinity of their nest, even a few metres will do. Usually you’ll get stung before you’ve even realised that there’s one nearby as they’re often hidden under vegetation.

Wasps are terrible! Whereas a bee stings once and is done, a wasp attacks repeatedly, often they conduct a gang attack leaving you with multiple stings from multiple adversaries. They’ll chase you, they’ll aim for your eyes <wear sunglasses>, they’ll even sting you through a t-shirt – all this leads to you doing the crazy slap dance – it can seem hilarious to onlookers but not if you’re the target…which I often am!

Paper wasps often build nests under the shelter of eaves, ceilings or around window frames, though their natural tendency is to construct a nest attached to trees and especially under the protection of large leaves. I have been stung a few times in exactly the way you have described, simply brushed by a plant unaware there was a nest hidden amongst the foliage.

Hornets also get a dishonourable mention. Known to actively seek you out, they’ll fly loops around your head, follow you, taunt you and generally get in your face – when they enter the house it’s like they don’t want to leave! I’m definitely not a fan of their capers, especially since they pack a very nasty sting.

All this talk of painful insects reminds me of the famed entomologist Dr. Justin Schmidt, an expert in physical agony and creator of the Schmidt pain index, who has been documenting and rating bites and stingers since a young age.

Here’s the scale:

The index rates the intensity of pain caused by a sting from zero to four:

  1. No pain – Oh, was that it?
  2. Pain so slight as to constitute no real deterrent – Ouch! Interesting.
  3. Painful – Hmmmm. That really hurts!
  4. Sharply and seriously painful – Yeeeoooowww! OMFG!

If I poke myself in the eye will it make it hurt less.

  1. Traumatically painful – Oh dear God please let it stop.

I promise I’ll change.

He rates the paper wasp sting as a 3 out of 4 on the pain scale describing it as “Caustic and burning, with a distinctly bitter after taste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.”

“Level four you don’t want to know,” he says. Topping the list at 4 out of 4 is the bullet ant which is described as “pain is so immediate and intense that it shuts down all illusions of life as normal. Imagine sticking a finger in a 240volt electrical socket.”

The ‘bullet’ in the ‘bullet ant’ says it all!

Still at the top of the list just beneath the bullet ant, just as excruciating though shorter lasting is the tarantula hawk wasp. Females use their venom to paralyse tarantulas and then feed off the offspring. The pain is described as “Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has just been dropped into your bubble bath.”

Schmidt been stung more than a thousand times by over 100 different species – mostly accidental, but occasionally on purpose – a fine line between dedication and masochism?


To read more on the amazing Dr. Schmidt follow these links.




Dr. Kris

Garden Doctor

Contact: dr.kris@ymail.com

Copyright © 2018 Dr. Kris

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