In fact, the answer to the question of whether a wasp has a sting is not as obvious as it might seem at first glance. It would seem that if wasps can sting, it means they must have a sting, right? So, not quite like that …
The situation is as follows: each female does have a sting, but it is absent in males. Considering that most of the so-called paper wasp specimens are just females, we can say that almost all wasps that you meet on your summer cottage, balcony or attic of your house have a sting.
The sting of this insect is the main instrument of defense against enemies and attacks on a large victim. However, many adult wasps are vegans and use the sting only for the purpose of obtaining food for their larvae, or for self-defense and collective defense of the nest.
Interestingly, in the overwhelming majority of cases, when hunting, public wasps try to save poison, and their victims are killed with powerful jaws. The wasp does not have teeth, but its well-developed jaws do an excellent job of gnawing through even the very dense chitinous covers of other insects.
Unlike public relatives, single species of wasps (for example, Scoli) produce food for their offspring almost always with the help of a sting.
Despite such differences in the use of this body, it is almost the same for all wasps. As for the difference in the effects of stinging different types of wasps – it can be very, very significant, and is explained by differences in the composition of insect venoms.
Detailed anatomy: wasp sting under the microscope
The sting of a wasp is a long, strong, pointed organ connected to a poisonous gland and having a duct inside, through which venom from the gland is injected into the body of the victim.
The photo below shows the sting of the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris):
And here you can see what the sting of a hornet looks like (Vespa crabro):
The sting is in the back of the abdomen. For most wasps, in a quiet state, it retracts inward, and when bitten, it is excreted due to contractions of special muscles.
Looking at the wasp’s sting under a microscope, one can see that it has smooth walls and is translucent, but when viewed with the naked eye, this organ appears dark brown:
Interestingly, it is precisely because of its smoothness that the sting of a wasp differs substantially from the sting of a bee: the latter has numerous notches on this organ. It is because of the presence of such chipping a bee sting firmly held on the skin of the victim, like a harpoon. Being unable to reach it, the bee flies away with the internal organs partially torn out and subsequently quickly dies:
The photo below shows what a bee sting looks like under a microscope:
Constructively, the wasp’s sting consists of two elongated stylets – it is they who pierce the integuments of the victim’s body. From the abdomen of the insect they are advanced in special formations called sleds. These skids, in turn, at the rear end of the wasp’s body are covered with several plates. When the wasp stings, the plates are moved apart, the sled slides out a little from the abdomen, and the stilettos slide along them.
The video clearly shows the wasp pushing the sting out of its abdomen:
The poison during sting flows from the channel between the stylets and the sled. In the stylets themselves there is no such channel, and if the wasp does not manage to enter the sting to a sufficient depth, the poison does not enter the body of the victim.
The photo shows what the wasp’s sting looks like at the moment of partial protrusion from the abdomen:
The sting of a wasp is a modified ovipositor that evolved into a formidable weapon. There is a similar ovipositor, for example, in grasshoppers and locusts (popularly called the sword because of its characteristic shape), as well as in some other insects. But if, in the same locust, the egg-blade performs its direct functions and serves to remove eggs from the body of a female, then in the course of evolution it was supplemented with a poisonous gland, became harder and stronger, and insects use it for hunting and protection.
Riders – close relatives of the wasps – are a kind of transitional group in this regard. Their ovipositor is not drawn into the body and can be very long. With it, the insect pierces the integument of the victim and inserts its eggs into its tissue. Some riders can sting a person painfully: in this way, their egg-laying also performs both functions — protection and reproduction.
But the males have no stings. Considering that the predecessor of this organ, the egg-deposit, is the prerogative of only females, it becomes clear why males are deprived of their sting.
However, in nature it is very difficult to outwardly distinguish male paper wasps from females, and it is usually not possible to guess which insect can sting and which one does not. Moreover, in ordinary social wasps, males are extremely small, appear only at the end of summer or early autumn, and live only two or three weeks. So most of the wasps encountered are just females that have a sting.
Each wasp has only one sting. Theoretically, the loss of only this organ is not lethal to the insect. However, in real conditions, it does not lose it, since the smooth walls of the sting make it easy to take it out of the body of the victim and reuse it.
How does a sting work when wasp attacks
The sting extends from the abdomen of the insect exactly at the moment when the wasp stings. After the attack, the insect can not hide the sting and inflict one or more “blows” on them.
Of course, for a successful sting, the integuments of the victim’s body must be softer than the sting itself. For this reason, wasps rarely hunt beetles that are well protected by solid elytra, but spiders, even very poisonous and dangerous, very skillfully paralyze with their venom:
After the poison was introduced into the victim’s body, the wasp easily removed the sting and, depending on the situation, either hides it and flies away, or stings it again. Pull out their weapons from the bodies of insects and spiders, as well as from the skin of humans and other warm-blooded animals, the insect can absolutely freely. This is the main difference between a wasp sting and a bee sting: a wasp does not leave a sting after a sting.
A row wasp can sting about 4-5 times. At the same time, for one bite, she injects into the body of the victim an average of 0.3-0.4 mg of poison (and large hornets and scoli can inject up to 0.7 mg).
Wasp sting in the skin: is it possible?
Considering that wasps do not leave a sting in the skin of a bitten person, the situation when their weapons have to be pulled out of the wound is practically excluded.
All cases of stranded and severed sting are related to bee stings. By the presence of this organ in the skin of the victim, it is easy to distinguish the wasp’s bite from the bee’s bite: if there is no sting, it means that the wasp has bitten, and if there is, then it means the bee. On this basis, it is safe to judge who stung you after all.
Speaking of stinging, it is worth telling about how you can pull a bee’s sting out of the skin without causing additional harm to yourself.
There are two main and most used methods:
- The safest way to remove a sting is to carefully remove it with a needle, while taking into account the next important point. The bee leaves its sting in the wound along with the venomous gland (and part of the intestine), and the walls of the sac with the poison continue to shrink, injecting new portions of toxins under the skin. Therefore, the sooner it will be possible to extract the sting, the less pronounced will be the effects of the bite.
- You can also get a sting with tweezers or nails, but this method is much less preferable. The fact is that in this way you will squeeze out an additional amount of bee venom into the wound, both from the stinger itself and from the bag connected with it. But if you don’t have a sharp object on hand, you can simply grab the sting with your nails as close as possible to the skin’s surface and take it out.
It is impossible to leave a bee sting in the skin – not only because of the addition of additional amounts of poison under the skin, but simply because after some time the wound can fester.
As for wasps and hornets, in general, we can thank them for the fact that they do some of the work to neutralize the bite themselves, without leaving a sting in the skin and flying away with it.
Different wasps, different stings, different bites
Despite the fact that almost all wasps have a sting, the bites of their different types differ significantly in strength (soreness) and consequences. The difference is determined by the effect of poison on the human body.
For example, the poison of giant Asian hornets is very allergenic and often leads to anaphylactic shock. Multiple bites at once of several such hornets can pose a risk to life, even in people who are not prone to allergies.
Scoli, however, in size not inferior to hornet, sting, by contrast, very weak. Their poison is designed to paralyze sedentary and harmless prey – the larvae of beetles – and therefore it almost does not cause pain in humans, but only leads to a slight numbness of the tissues.
Bites of road wasps, many species of which prey on tarantulas and other poisonous spiders, cause a very sharp pain in warm-blooded animals. By pain, their bites are one of the most powerful insects in the world.
And, for example, among philanthropists known to beekeepers who hunt honey bees, the sting is too thin and it is often not possible to pierce the rough skin on the palms of a person. Therefore, although philanthropists sometimes sting people, beekeepers boldly catch them with their bare hands, without fear of bites.
It is important to remember that almost always wasps sting a person in self-defense or when defending a nest. Being disturbed, these insects first of all try to fly away, and only when they are in a critical situation (especially if they are crushed), they resort to extreme measures and sting. In addition, if the insects seem to have come too close to their nest, they can collectively attack in order to chase away the potential abuser.
That is why in nature or in the dacha in order not to be stung, it is enough to be attentive, not to make sudden movements in the presence of wasps and hornets and look around. If there was a nest nearby, you should bypass it, and if an insect accidentally sits on the body – just brush it away, but in no case slam it. Such accuracy in most cases is quite enough to avoid bites.