Tuesday, 16 August 2016



As I am writing this blog I am noticing that it is now wasp season!
August seems to be their peak - certainly in my garden.

I live near a marsh and the mosquitoes are like vampires leaving a huge welt and very itchy!
 A day at my favourite beach reveals more and more jellyish on the sand and don't even get me started on the ants!!

Pretty much the only ravenous insect I encourage are the bees and fortunately my garden is full of them. I have finally managed to get enough plants to bring them in.

A day at the beach especially with a picnic can be a science lesson in the local biting and stinging wildlife.
So what is in a sting or bite and are those old wives tales for treatment really true??

Blue bag for a bee and vinegar for a wasp?

Do you really need to pee on a jellyfish sting??

A little bit of science can help you out.

There are so many websites giving advice for "natural" cures for stings and repellents. It is worth a look but in the panic of a painful sting will you remember what to do??

Bee Sting

Common knowledge says that bee venom is acidic so using a bicarbonate of soda paste will neutralise it and help with the pain. The calming effect of bicarbonate is true - it really does reduce itching and is useful for mosquito bites.

It is true that many bees have a sting that is barbed and will lodge in the skin of a mammal or bird pulling the sting from the abdomen of the bee and killing it. So most bees rarely sting unless on purpose. Their sting is used for inter bee battles when the hive is threatened.
Bee stings are amazingly complex with peptides to break down cells which releases histamines and this is where people with allergic reactions have trouble .
For most of us doctors usually recommend ice to reduce inflammation and give a mild anaesthetic effect with an antihistamine cream .

Wasp Sting

The alkaline nature of a wasp sting has led to old wives tales of vinegar or lemon juice to neutralise the sting. As with a bee sting it is unlikely that this will really happen and will probably hurt because one of the things in wasp venom is acetylcholine which stimulates pain receptors - there is even more of this in a hornet sting.

Ant Bite

Wasp and bee venom varies a little from species to species but ants vary markedly. So it can help to know what has bitten you.
Some ants don't bite but spray formic acid and some use their venom to neutralise attacking ants of a different species!

One final thing in all these insects venom is an alarm pheromone so if you have been stung and kill the insect others will know.........

Jelly Fish

There are more and more jellyfish on our beaches and of course abroad. So there you are splashing around and suddenly you feel a stinging hot pain....yes you've brushed up against a jellyfish or tentacle portion in the water.
The harpoon like cells penetrate your skin easily and inject venom which is designed to paralyse and kill fish and depending on the species will raise a painful welt, blister or make you very ill indeed and could kill you.
However before we all race off the beaches - the sting of most jellyfish found around British water is painful but not lethal.
So having seen that episode of Friends you run off to find someone to pee on you? Well no - because pouring fresh water - including urine - onto a jellyfish sting releases even more venom so experts suggest remove all trace of the tentacle and then  rinse in plenty of salty water and very recent research suggest that hot salty water is best.


The female causes the problem and she doesn't actually bite you - she uses her proboscis, which is razor sharp, to pierce your skin and drinks some blood which she can use in the production of eggs. As she finishes and flies away she leaves some of her saliva in the wound which can contain diseases - malaria and zika virus being just two.
Your body reacts to the saliva producing histamine - so tissue swelling, itching and redness. People reacts differently some quite violently and an infected bite can need antibiotics but usually antihistamine will work.
If you are into natural remedies lavender oil works too - and scientists have researched that one.

The best remedy is not to get bitten at all so how do you repel them?
Insect repellants usually produce an odour that insects don't like and so they stay away.
There are plenty of insect repellents that you can buy over the counter which work in similar ways DEET being one well known brand. It does have a greasy feel and unpleasant odour so many people turn to "natural" products and at the moment the trend is for lemon eucalyptus oil. Citronella candles and spray can work too

So sadly the old wives tales/home remedy methods usually over simplify the situation and many don't work at all.
Probably your best bet is ice to reduce the pain and antihistamine for the inflammation  for ant, bee and wasp and warm salty water for a jellyfish.

Have fun!!

PS: For those of you wanting a little more serious science facts here are two amazing  Chemical Compound posters from Compound Interest   http://www.compoundchem.com/

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