How to stay safe
All wasps can sting, so use some care in studying them. Small wasps have very little venom and may have less effect on you than a mosquito bite. Big wasps have much more venom. Wasps that nest alone, or in small groups, are unlikely to sting. Wasps, such as yellow jackets, or hornets, that nest in very large communities are the most likely to protect their home. These are called social wasps.
If you go near social wasp nests, only do it with a trained adult who knows what he is doing, like a beekeeper friend. Always make sure you are dressed for safety, with a bee veil and long-sleeved, light-colored shirt and long light-colored pants. The most important thing is to protect your eyes, as a sting near or in your eyes can be very serious.
If you know of a nest in a wild place, you can watch them from a distance but do not go near. If you accidently disturb a nest that you did not know about, try to protect your eyes as best you can, and get away from the nest quickly. If you have been stung, you may need to get medical help, so find a responsible adult as quickly as you can.
Some wasps visit flowers just like bees, to get the nectar from them. While they are visiting flowers, all kinds of wasps are safe to watch if you do so calmly. Never swat at a wasp, as the motion of your hands is a threat to them, and you will be sure of a sting. If a wasp is "looking you over," you are perfectly safe as long as you stand still or slowly back away from her home. She is probably trying to decide if you are a threat, and if you swat at her, you'll convince her that you are. If you stand still, or slowly move back away from the nest, she will stop looking at you and return to her job.
Sometimes yellow jackets come to investigate you because you have a sweet smell, and they think you might be a flower. Don't wear perfumes or colognes when you are outside in yellow jacket territory, especially in the late summer and fall.
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