Ouch! Those intimately acquainted with the sting of Alabama's notorious red wasp know that they never want to encounter another. And who can blame them? Knowledge is power, so get to know this flying insect and you'll have a better chance of staying safe from its painful sting.
The red wasp's scientific name is Polistes carolina, and it’s one of two existing species of red paper wasps. According to National Geographic, "Generally, the brighter colored species are in the Vespidae, or stinging wasp, family." This proves true for P. carolina, which is a small, inch-long flying insect with a bright red body, dark wings, and a stinger that can pack a painful punch. Though they seem to have notably dense populations in Alabama (especially in the summertime when they're out in droves), many Southerners are well acquainted with red paper wasps because they can be found throughout the eastern United States.
Red paper wasps tend to be more aggressive than other species of paper wasps, and the females of the species are the ones that sting. While some wasps are solitary, P. carolina is a social species. These wasps live in colonies, and there can be hundreds of individuals living in a single nest at one time. The wasps build their nests by breaking down plant and wood fibers to form a papery substance. That substance is shaped and, when dry, forms a honeycomb-celled structure the wasps then inhabit. They also can live in hollow portions of trees or beneath eaves and bridges.
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It’s best to steer clear of this stinging pest. However, when wasps are on the move, stings happen. If you’re stung, you can expect pain and swelling, which is often accompanied by itchiness. You should apply ice to counter the swelling and may find some relief by applying hydrocortisone cream. If, however, you are allergic to wasp stings or are prone to severe allergic reactions in general, you should seek professional medical care.
For more information on the South's buzzworthy insects, check out the Grumpy Gardener’s ode to great golden digger wasps, primer on giant hornets, and polemic on yellow jackets.
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Beware! It only takes one sting to remind you that you never want another. Keep an eye out, and stay away from red wasps this season.