In the diverse realm of insect kingdom, some of the most intriguing members are those armed with stingers, an evolutionary development utilized for defense, hunting, or both. From tiny bees to powerful ants, these insects with stingers have a complex relationship with our ecology and our existence.
13 Insects with stingers
This lists will explore some of these insects, highlighting their distinct traits, the roles their stingers play, and the remarkable ways they use these biological weapons for survival.
Scientific Name: Apis mellifera
Honey bees, specifically the western honey bee, are flying insects known for their role in honey production and crop pollination. Their bodies are distinctively striped in yellow and black, and they have colonies that include a queen, worker bees, and drones. These bees use their stinger to defend themselves.
They sting intruders when threatened, causing pain and irritation by releasing venom. However, the act of stinging is a self-sacrificing act for the honey bee, as it dies shortly after due to the detachment of its barbed stinger from its body.
2. Fire ant
Scientific Name: Solenopsis invicta
Fire ants are a group of stinging ants that are known for their painful sting and aggressive behavior and may vary in appearance depending on the species, but they’re generally reddish-brown in color. They’re small and can be found in habitats like grasslands, forests, and urban areas.
These ants build big underground colonies with complex tunnel systems and use their stingers to defend themselves. When threatened, fire ants may swarm and deliver many stings, injecting venom that gives a burning sensation and can cause painful welts and allergic responses in certain people.
3. Bald-faced hornet
Scientific Name: Dolichovespula maculata
Bald-faced hornets are aggressive wasps with distinctive black-and-white patterns on their bodies. These wasps build large hanging paper nests, often reaching up to 58 cm (23 in) in length, and are widely distributed throughout the United States and southern Canada, with a higher concentration in the Southeastern United States.
They have a strong sense of self-preservation and will actively defend their nest by repeatedly stinging intruders. In addition to their sting, bald-faced hornets have a unique defense mechanism where they can squirt venom from their stingers into the eyes of vertebrate intruders, causing temporary blindness.
4. Paper wasp
Scientific Name: Polistes dominula
Paper wasps, notably the European paper wasp, are common social wasps. They have a distinct appearance with a yellow and black body, similar to other aggressive wasp species.
These wasps have a hierarchical social structure, with dominant females serving as the main egg layers, while subordinate females or workers primarily forage and don’t lay eggs. Paper wasps also have a stinger used for defense, but unlike females, male wasps don’t possess a stinger.
Scientific Name: Bombus spp.
One of the insects with stingers that you might recognize are the bumblebees with round, fuzzy bodies covered in soft hair and exhibit a coloration with contrasting bands of color, serving as a warning to potential predators. Bumblebees have colonies with one queen, and their colonies are smaller than honeybees.
Their stingers lack barbs, allowing them to sting repeatedly without injuring themselves. This hurts humans but usually doesn’t cause serious medical problems. However, it can cause allergic reactions in some people.
6. Velvet ant
Scientific Name: Dasymutilla occidentalis
You may find the velvet ant among the species with a stinger, and it isn’t an actual ant, but a wingless female wasp. It displays a coloration with a black body adorned with an orange-red pattern on the thorax and abdomen. The female velvet ant has dense, velvet-like hair and a painful sting, earning it the nickname “cow killer.”
Instead of building their own nests, females look for the brood cells of other ground-nesting wasps like cicada killers and horse guard wasps to lay their eggs in. Males, on the other hand, have dark, translucent wings and don’t possess a sting.
7. Cicada killer wasp
Scientific Name: Sphecius speciosus
If you see a cicada killer wasp, you may observe that it has a stinger. However, they don’t attack humans and seldom sting unless they’re provoked. They’re huge solitary digger wasps with winged females that have aposematic coloring with reddish and black spots on their bodies.
Females are noticeably larger than males and rank among the largest wasps in the Eastern United States. Cicada killer wasps mainly hunt cicadas by stinging them and paralyzing them. Female wasps lay eggs on paralyzed cicadas in burrows, providing food for the developing larvae.
8. Bullet ants
Scientific Name: Paraponera clavata
Bullet ants are reddish-black ants, about 18-30mm long, native to Central and South America. They live at the roots of trees and tenaciously defend their colonies with their potent stingers.
Their stings are known to be some of the most excruciating of all insect bites, and bullet ants can produce symptoms such as swelling and rapid heart rate for up to a day.
9. Tarantula hawk wasp
Scientific Name: Pepsis spp.
The tarantula hawk is a wasp that hunts tarantulas and paralyzes them with its stinger. You may recognize them for their large size, reaching up to 6.5 centimeters in length, and their striking blue-black bodies with bright rust-colored wings. This vibrant color also serves as a warning to potential predators about their powerful sting.
Female tarantula hawks use their stinger to paralyze tarantulas, which they then pull to a carefully constructed tunnel. They place one egg on the tarantula’s abdomen and close the burrow. The hatched larva eats the still-living spider, but avoids vital organs to keep it alive for as long as it can.
10. Carpenter bees
Scientific Name: Xylocopa spp.
Carpenter bees are recognized for their habit of burrowing into plant material, typically dead wood or bamboo. They’re mostly black, with some having yellow or white hair, and people often mistake them for bumblebees. Male carpenter bees display threatening behavior as a defense mechanism, despite having larger eyes and no stinger.
Female carpenter bees have stingers with venom, so they can sting multiple times. Despite their ecological value as pollinators, their wood-boring habits can cause structural damage, categorizing them as pests.
Scientific Name: Vespula spp.
Yellowjackets, predatory social wasps, are recognizable by their black and yellow markings. They use lance-like stingers with small barbs repeatedly in defense or when provoked.
Unlike bees, a yellowjacket’s stinger doesn’t usually detach after use, allowing for multiple stings. Their venom primarily poses a danger to allergic individuals or when received in high doses.
12. Mud dauber wasp
Scientific Name: Sceliphron caementarium
Mud dauber wasps are recognized for their slender bodies and unique mud-made nests. These solitary insects aren’t typically aggressive, and stings are uncommon. However, when threatened or during prey capture, they use their stingers to inject venom.
The venom paralyzes, rather than kills, the prey, usually spiders, facilitating transportation to the nest. The prey stays alive in a paralyzed state, providing fresh food for the hatched larvae. Despite their intimidating stingers, mud daubers pose minimal threats to humans.
13. Harvester ant
Scientific Name: Pogonomyrmex spp.
Harvester ants collect seeds and are known for their sizes, which are usually around 0.3 to 0.5 inches long. With hues from light brown to red, they’re equipped with robust mandibles for seed collection.
Crucially, they possess a venomous stinger for defense, injecting it into their victim by biting and then swiftly stinging from their abdomen. This potent venom can induce 4-8 hours of acute pain and symptoms akin to neurotoxicity, including piloerection and localized swelling.