There are hundreds of insects, spiders, and other small creatures that can bite or sting or otherwise cause us discomfort or create a health risk. Here we will look at a few of the most common biting and stinging pests that occur in central California. (We will not discuss spiders or ants here as we have devoted entire pages on this site to these creatures.)
Bees and wasps are closely related to ants. They all belong to an order of insects called the Hymenoptera. They are a very diverse group of insects. Many bees and wasps live in social groups as most ants do. Some wasps and bees live a very solitary life. There are wasps that so closely resemble ants or flies that mistaken identifications are common.
Most people think of bees as “stinging insects” because most of us have been stung by a bee at one time or another. Although serious complications from bee stings are very rare, some people are very allergic to the venom in a bee sting. For those who happen to be allergic, a single bee sting can present a serious, even life-threatening, emergency.
Keeping bees for the honey they produce is one of the oldest agricultural professions. And fortunately, most domesticated honey bees are not aggressive. The picture at right clearly illustrates how docile most domesticated bees really are.
There are, however, species of honey bees that are extremely aggressive. The Africanized Honey Bee (sometimes referred to as “Killer Bees”) has become an extremely serious pest in those areas where it has become established. It is nearly impossible for an untrained person to discern between the two bees, and this has been made even more difficult by the cross-breeding of these bees with local domesticated bee colonies. Although the Africanized Honey Bee is not widely established in Fresno County as yet, they have been found in Kern County and seem to be moving northward.
Aside from these, bees aren’t a significant pest to people in our area. Most bee species are solitary insects that may do some damage to plants (usually insignificant) or, in the case of Carpenter Bees, damage unfinished woodwork.
Wasps are another large group of flying insects. Many wasps are capable of stinging. Some will bite. Some do both. Many wasps feed on pollen or other plant material. Many species of wasps cannot harm people.
Wasps are divided into several large groups. The yellow-jackets and hornets are the species we most often encounter as stinging insects. Generally speaking, yellow-jackets are meat eaters and hornets feed on pollen.
These wasps will attack if they feel their nest is threatened. For this reason, it is best to leave the nests alone unless they are in an area frequented by humans and where they really should be removed. Removal of wasp nests is best left to a professional.