Summer is winding down, but there is still plenty of warm weather left to enjoy the great outdoors. Unfortunately, along with all that glorious sunshine often comes intrusive insects that don’t only ruin barbecues, but also your health. Some carry harmful bacteria, while others may even transmit disease and viruses through painful stings or bites. Still others can wreak havoc on your garden and trees, and even the environment. Your best course of defense for staying safe this summer is recognizing which insects you need to avoid, and how to further protect yourself against them. Here’s the scoop on dangerous insects that can absolutely ruin your summer fun.
Africanized killer bees
Here’s the thing about those Africanized killer bees…When provoked, they can be deadly aggressive, attacking in far greater numbers, and 10 times faster than our domestic bees. This makes them extremely dangerous to humans. In fact, they will even chase a person a quarter of a mile for a sting. To date, they’ve killed about 1,000 humans. In addition, stinging victims will receive ten times as many stings as those received from the European strain. But you’d never know it from their appearance — golden yellow with darker bands of brown. Killer bees look very similar to our domestic honey bees; however, they are slightly smaller than their counterparts.
After their initial introduction to Brazil, killer bees gradually spread northward through South and Central America, and then to eastern Mexico — moving 100 to 200 miles per year, according to the Smithsonian. By the 90’s, these deadly bees reached southern Texas, Arizona, and California. Today, Africanized honey bees can be found in: Texas, Arizona, Southern Nevada, New Mexico, Southern California, Oklahoma, Southern Arkansas, Louisiana, and southern and central Florida.
- They nest in unexpected places, including crates, utility boxes and poles, tires, boxes, tree limbs, junk piles, mailboxes, overturned flower pots, holes in the ground, and empty cars.
- If you spot a killer bee nest on your property, contact a licensed pest control professional. Due to their aggressive nature, they can be extremely dangerous to deal with.
As if we haven’t been through enough in 2020, along comes “murder hornets.” This Asian invader makes “Africanized killer bees” look positively innocent. Officially known as Asian giant hornet, it gets its nickname from slaughtering entire bee colonies. Murder hornets are extremely large — approximately 1.5 to over 2 inches long. They first appeared in Washington State and British Columbia, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They’re armed with massive teeth and can easily tear honey bees in half. They also deilver a nasty sting to humans; however, they won’t usually attack unless the nest is threatened.
The USDA is on high alert for these giant hornets since experts believe they could be disastrous for the domestic North America bees. Bees are already on the decline due to colony collapse disorder and pesticides. So, the last thing our homegrown bees need is a supersized predator capable of taking out a whole hive in one afternoon. If you believe you’ve come in contact with a murder hornet, calmly leave the area as soon as you can. Especially if you are allergic to wasp stings.
The Spotted Lanternfly is an aggressive species native to Vietnam, China, and Bangladesh. It was first spotted in Pennsylvania in 2014. What makes this bug so invasive is that it’s a threat to many fruit crops and trees, and can be spread long distances by people moving infested materials or items containing egg masses. If not contained, the spotted lanternfly could seriously impact the country’s logging, grape and orchard industries. Unfortunately, at this point it’s been spotted in many states, including Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. However, most states are considered a risk. And the risk is high. Crops impacted include:
- Apples, cherries, grapes, and apricots
- Maple, oak, pine, poplar, sycamore, willow, and walnut trees
- Nectarines, peaches, and plums
Keep an eye out for this invasive threat. Egg masses and adults can be found on trees, plants, bricks, metal, stone, and other smooth surfaces. In addition, check your cars, trucks, and trailers — even the clothes you wear. They’re called “the hitchhiker” for a reason.
Red ants (aka fire ants) get their name from the painful bites and stings they inflict. These dangerous insects are reddish-brown in color and are an aggressive species found throughout the southern U.S. They build large mound nests, typically flattened with irregular shapes, between two to four square feet in diameter. And, they find their way onto your property via potted plants, shrubs, and trees.
Red ants sting (not bite) when their nest is disturbed. Stings are painful and often result in a raised welt that turns into a white pustule. If you’ve disturbed a nest, you’ll likely experience multiple painful stings. If you’re allergic to insect stings, you’ll react more severely to those from red ants. So, avoid tell-tale mounds and prevent red ants from entering your home by sealing all external and internal cracks and crevices.
Black widow spiders
Black widows are shiny black and identified by the red hourglass marking on the underside of their belly. The bright red mark is a sign of danger to predators. While not actually an insect, these arachnids bear mentioning due to their dangerous bite. Tall summer grass and piles of firewood or debris on your property make attractive grounds for black widows to spin webs. While black widows are generally beneficial for insect control, their bite is the most toxic spider bite in the U.S. The venom is made up of neurotoxins that affect the nervous system. In fact, their venom is actually 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake’s, according to National Geographic. Bite symptoms include nausea, muscle aches, paralysis of the diaphragm, and difficulty breathing. However, chances of dying are unlikely. That said, bites can be fatal to small children, elderly people, or those with underlying conditions.
Ticks are small, crawling bugs with eight legs, and, like spiders, are not actually insects but part of the arachnid family. However, due to their parasitic nature, which relies on the blood of humans and animals to survive, they’re worth adding to the list of predator insects. There are hundreds of different kinds of ticks throughout the world, with nine species thriving in the U.S. Ticks are carriers because they will feed on infected animals and then transmit diseases to the next animal or person they bite. While all nine species can and will bite humans, three, according to the CDC, are most prone.
Black legged tick (aka deer tick) carries Lyme disease as well as other bacterial co-infections such as Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, and Ehrlichiosis, according to the Global Lyme Alliance, which can complicate the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease. Each year more than 300,000 people are infected with Lyme disease. No matter their life stage, deer ticks bite mainly in the spring, summer and fall, but can actually survive anytime the temperature is above freezing.
Lone star tick spreads Ehrlichia chaffeensis, E. ewingii, Francisella tularensis, Heartland virus, Bourbon virus, and Southern tick-associated rash illness. They cause a host of flu-like symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, fever, chills, and upset stomach. Since viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics, infected people may require hospitalization and may be given intravenous and treated for pain and fever. This very aggressive tick, distinguished by the white dot on the back, will bite from early spring to late fall.
Dog tick, which spreads Rocky Mountain spotted fever, will primarily bite dogs, but humans are also prey. Rocky Mountain spotted fever requires immediate attention. Without prompt treatment, it can cause serious damage to internal organs, including the heart and kidneys. Early signs and symptoms include severe headache and high fever. Within a few days of bite, a rash typically appears on ankles and wrists. Caught early, Rocky Mountain spotted fever responds well to antibiotics.
Here’s how to prevent bites from ticks
- Avoid areas where ticks live like tall grass and leaf piles.
- When working or traveling through tall grasses and leaf piles, wear clothing that protects you from ticks like long sleeves, pants, and socks.
- Use an EPA-approved tick repellant properly.
- Remove clothing, to protect from ticks and examine yourself daily for ticks and bites.
Creepy crawlers are everywhere this summer — some more dangerous than others. Be aware and stay safe!