The sting of the Oriental hornet, spotted nesting in Ħamrun last week, is more painful than that of other wasps but the species is not a threat to local beekeeping.

Pictures of wasps, believed to be Oriental hornets nesting on the third floor of the Student Services Department, were uploaded on Facebook triggering a discussion about their dangers and how to get rid of them.

But environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino says it is senseless to kill them because, like every other species, they have a role to play in the ecosystem.

If a swarm (not just a solitary wasp) is spotted near a residence or garden, people should keep their distance and ask for advice from professionals and not from those who come with chemical spray to kill them, he says.

Oriental hornets are present in southern Europe and the Mediterranean and have also been recorded in Malta. Similar to the European hornet wasp, it preys on other insects and constructs a paper nest from vegetative material in cracks and crevices. It frequents human habitation in search of food and water.

The whole colony could attack people only if provoked.

Mr Baldacchino warns that the hornet wasps, which are very active in late summer and early autumn, can deliver a sharp, painful sting, problematic to those who are allergic to its poison. Multiple stings can be very dangerous and require urgent medical attention.

This was reiterated by the Parliamentary Secretariat for Agriculture which said the sting was very painful – much more so than that of bees or other wasps.

It is not just farmers who might come across it; it nests everywhere, including in highly urbanised zones.

A spokeswoman for the secretariat said it was still too early to gauge its impact on beekeeping. “Currently this wasp is not posing any particular problems. The Agricultural Department only witnessed bees being attacked by this hornet once, last year.”

The Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Unit is aware of the reported sightings of this wasp.

A Health Ministry spokeswoman said the insect was not a newcomer and entomologists have been reporting its presence for at least 60 years.

Mater Dei Hospital and healthcare centres have not reported any cases of insect stings specific to this species. The spokeswoman said in most people any wasp sting produced immediate pain. There could also be localised reddening, swelling and itching. Ice, analgesic or anti-histamine creams often relieve the symptoms.

Some might experience an allergic reaction to wasp venom. Allergic (anaphylactic) shock, while rare, can be fatal if untreated.

Symptoms usually occur 10 to 20 minutes after a sting but may appear up to 20 hours later.

If stung

1. Apply cold water or ice in a wet cloth
2. Lower the stung arm or leg
3. Do not drink alcohol

Seek help

Widespread swelling of limb
Painful joints

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