By David Abel and L. Finch
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / September 8, 2010
It got so bad the lingering wasps, which had already stung the nearly unconscious woman more than 500 times, began attacking her rescuers.
The 53-year-old Attleboro woman had either fallen or stepped on a nest, local fire officials said, and when rescuers found her lying on the grass Saturday evening next to her Division Street home, she was covered in a type of wasp called yellow jacket. The firefighters used a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher, which sprayed cold, compressed gas, to stun the insects so they could help the woman, Fire Chief Scott Lachance said.
Afterward, several yellow jackets remained in her clothing and stung three firefighters in the ambulance, he said. A few stragglers made it to the hospital, but did not sting anyone there, Lachance added.
Though summer is winding down, this is the most likely time of year to be stung by wasps and similar predatory insects, entomologists say.
In the past few months, millions of larvae throughout the region have matured, most reaching adulthood during the past few weeks. There are now more adult wasps than at anytime of the year, and they are all competing for sustenance, making them more likely to prowl garbage bins, picnic tables, or anywhere people leave food, entomologists say.
“This is the time of year that they’re scavenging for food stocks to keep their queens alive for the coming year,’’ said Lee Corte-Real, director of the division of crop and pest services at the state Department of Agricultural Resources. “They’re foraging desperately as the weather gets cooler, and sometimes people get in their way.’’
Yesterday, a group of yellow jackets attacked several students and their teacher in Dover, N.H., as they took part in an outdoor science activity, school and local fire officials said.
One of the sixth-graders from Dover Middle School had stepped on a wasps nest, agitating the yellow jackets and sending the students running, Dover Assistant Fire Chief Richard Driscoll said.
The insects chased the students, stinging 11 of them and their teacher, several as many as 20 times, Driscoll said. Firefighters treated three of the students, while the rest of the class darted back to the school, warding off the insects along the way.
“It wasn’t mass hysteria,’’ Driscoll said. “You have to give the kids credit.’’
Eric C. Mussen, a specialist on bees and other insects at the University Of California at Davis, said part of the problem is that many of the traditional prey of wasps — spiders, caterpillars, and other insects — are dying at this time of year, so the yellow jackets are scavenging for food left by people.