Home & Garden Garden Why Wasps Attack and How to Avoid Them By Melissa Breyer Melissa Breyer Twitter Editorial Director Hunter College F.I.T., State University of New York Cornell University Melissa Breyer is Treehugger’s editorial director. She is a sustainability expert and author whose work has been published by the New York Times and National Geographic, among others. Learn about our editorial process Updated February 4, 2022 Frederic Cerez / EyeEm / Getty Images Share Twitter Pinterest Email Home & Garden Planting Guides Indoor Gardening Urban Farms Insects In This Article Expand Why Wasps Attack How to Avoid Wasps What to Do If a Wasp Lands on You Wasps vs. Hornets vs. Yellow Jackets What could be scarier than a mad swarm of irked hornets or yellow jackets hot on your tail? Just the thought is terrifying—and for those with allergies, getting caught in such a scenario could be life threatening. The most effective way to avoid this nightmare is to eliminate wasp nests altogether. But then you also eliminate wasps' potential to do a world of good. Nearly every pest insect on the planet is preyed upon by a wasp species, either for food or as a host for its parasitic larvae. These insects are so adept at controlling pest populations that the agriculture industry now regularly deploys them to protect crops. Not only that, but wasps are also important pollinators. Fig wasps, for example, are responsible for pollinating almost 1,000 species of figs. There are many thousands of identified wasp species, split into two camps: social and solitary. Despite their pain-inducing reputations, most varieties are solitary and non-stinging. Colony-building social wasps—i.e., the singing kind, like hornets, paper wasps, and yellow jackets—make up around 1,000 species. Here’s what you need to know about why wasps attack and how to avoid getting stung—plus, what to do if a wasp lands on you. Why Wasps Attack Wasps very rarely sting for no reason. Most often, they'll resort to plunging their venomous stinger into human flesh because they feel threatened. This happens when people (sometimes even unknowingly) get too close to a nest. Social wasps are known to fiercely protect their nests. In nature, they sting other animals as a defense to protect their territory and colony-housing homes. They use this mechanism on humans just the same. And when they sting, they send out a pheromone that serves almost like a 911 call. You only need to anger one to become the target of an aggressive swarm. Solitary wasps, on the contrary, almost never sting unless they're being roughly handled. How to Avoid Wasps There are a few things—bright colors, sweet smells, etc.—that will attract wasps to you. These things don't necessarily anger the insects or make them more likely to sting, but they could make you more likely to swat at them, which will undoubtedly result in injury. Avoid using fragrant soaps or perfumes when you know you'll be outside in what could be a wasp environment. Insects often mistake these floral and fruity scents as food and could be inclined to land on you. The same goes for brightly colored or patterned clothing that could fool a wasp into thinking you're a flower. While it might not keep you from attracting wasps or wandering into their territory, making sure to wear shoes outside (especially in clover and blooming ground covers) will help you avoid a painful foot sting. Be extra careful during autumn, when social wasps are developing their colonies and preparing for winter hibernation. They tend to act with more aggression this time of year. Watch for wasps that get trapped on the water while swimming. Keep outdoor trash cans and compost piles sealed up, and avoid having food out for too long during picnics and other outdoor gatherings. Make sure loose house siding is secured and openings sealed ahead of the nest-building season. Getting rid of a wasp nest is no easy feat. Ultimately, remain vigilant. If you notice a high concentration of insects—certainly if they're wasps—avoid that area. What to Do If a Wasp Lands on You No matter how hard you try to avoid wasps, sometimes encounters are unavoidable through no fault of your own. Here's what to do if a wasp lands on you. Remain calm. This is the most important piece of advice you'll get. Sometimes wasps will land on people just to inspect a smell or have a drink of sweat then leave. If you can't handle the anticipation, gently and slowly brush it away with a piece of paper. This is not the ideal thing to do because it could make the wasp feel threatened.Never make abrupt movements like arm flapping, which could scare the wasp and cause it to act in defense.If you are stung, avoid jerking or swatting. Back away from the bee and potential swarm slowly and calmly. Wasps vs. Hornets vs. Yellow Jackets Hornets and yellow jackets are types of wasps. Out of the two, yellow jackets are generally more feared because they tend to be more aggressive and have the ability to bite and sting. They'll sometimes use their bite as a grip to get their stingers in. On the other hand, many believe hornet venom to be more painful. When people say "wasp" in the U.S., they're often referring to the paper wasp, the most common along with yellow jackets. These, too, can be aggressive and dangerous. All wasps can attack repeatedly because, unlike bees, they don't leave their stingers or die after stinging. So, how do you know which you're dealing with? Well, hornets nests are papery structures (made from chewed-up wood pulp) that hang from porch roofs and tree limbs. Paper wasp nests have visible nesting tubes and take the shape of an upside-down umbrella. Yellow jackets usually nest underground, which is why they're often provoked by lawn mowers. View Article Sources “Insect Stings.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. Arriaga, Danniel. “The Drumming … Wasp?.” Iowa State University. “Know Your Wasps.” University of California. McCann, Sean, et al. “Developing a Paired-target Apparatus for Quantitative Testing of Nest Defense Behavior by Vespine Wasps in Response to Con- or Heterospecific Nest Defense Pheromones.” Journal of Hymenoptera Research, vol. 46, 2015, pp. 151-163., doi:10.3897/JHR.46.6585 “Hey! A Bee Stung Me!.” KidsHealth from Nemours. “Stinging Insects.” National Pesticide Information Center.