Stay Safe Outdoors and Watch Out for These Bad Bugs
Bob McNally 05.31.15
Warning: Graphic images of bites and stings below. Don’t read this while eating!
In the U.S., bees, spiders, caterpillars, and ants take a frightening and painful toll on humans. Not long ago in Louisiana, for example, 13-year old Patrick Dodson was attacked by hundreds of fire ants while working in his yard with his mother Donna. In ten minutes he was in severe pain. In 30 minutes he was swollen and numb, and his mother rushed him to an emergency clinic where he passed out. He was transported to a hospital where an ER team quickly went to work stabilizing him. His heart stopped twice, and he nearly died from massive doses of poison the small fire ants injected. A nurse lost count of the sting marks on Patrick when she reached 210.
Nearly 10 million people each year are stung by ants, according to experts. Most are not nearly as life threatening as Patrick Dodson experienced. Nevertheless, outdoorsmen should be wary of stinging insects such as the ones listed here.
Fire ants are tiny, but they pack a powerful venomous wallop like that from a wasp.
What makes fire ants so deadly is they live in enormous colonies, with many thousands of stinging insects clustered in huge, often-easy-to-see mound nests.
When a nest or mound is disturbed, fire ants instinctively attack, swarming the intruder in seconds, biting and stinging at a savage rate.
Fire ants bite, but they also have a thorax stinger like a wasp, and each ant can sting multiple times. Within a short time stings swell, becoming pussy and painful. Each sting is minor, but if dozens or hundreds occur, the result can be devastating.
The brown recluse spider is a serious bad boy bug. Potentially more dangerous than any other American spider, and with venom on a par with that of a rattlesnake, the brown recluse poses potential major problems for outdoorsmen. Measuring only about a ½-inch in size, its identity mark is a violin-shaped mark on the head behind the eyes.
The brown recluse is widely distributed in the south-central United States. Rarely is a bite felt by a victim until four to eight hours later when it becomes painful and itchy, worsening in 12 to 36 hours.
Some brown recluse spider bites form a necrotizing ulcer that destroys soft tissue and may take months to heal, leaving deep scars. The damaged tissue may become gangrenous and eventually slough away.
Few creatures are more scary or intimidating than scorpions, and their venomous sting can be a wallop or a whimper, depending on what species delivers the pop. While deaths from scorpions are rare in the U.S., it’s reported that over 1,000 people die annually from them in Mexico, and many times that number worldwide.
There are 1,500 scorpion species, about 90 in the U.S. More than 40 scorpion varieties live in Arizona, the most deadly being the Arizona bark scorpion. While small at 3-inches, a bark scorpion sting can cause breathing difficulty, involuntary thrashing of limbs, and eye irregularity. A sting is painful, though rarely resulting in death in the U.S.
Despite their huge fangs, threatening appearance and reputation, none of the true tarantulas are known to have a bite deadly to humans. People may suffer severe symptoms due to allergic reactions rather than to tarantula venom.
The bites of many tarantula species are no worse than a wasp sting, though accounts of bites by some species are reported to be very painful.
The puss caterpillar is the larva of the flannel moth and is one of 50-plus stinging caterpillars found in the U.S. The inch-long larva is generously coated in long, luxuriant hairs, making it resemble a tiny Persian cat, the characteristic that presumably gave it the name “puss.” It is variable in color, from downy gray-white to golden-brown to dark charcoal gray, and is distributed widely across the Southern U.S., Mexico and Latin America.
The “fur” of the puss caterpillar contains venomous spines that cause extremely painful reactions in human skin upon contact. The reactions are sometimes localized to the affected area but are often very severe, radiating up a limb and causing burning, swelling, nausea, headache, abdominal distress, rashes, blisters, and sometimes chest pain, numbness, and difficulty breathing.
Ticks pretty much come with the outdoor territory, and are commonly encountered by many hunters, fishermen, campers, and hikers. While most common tick or deer tick bites are of minor irritation, carefully removing them and cleaning the wound with antiseptic is wise.
Some ticks carry Lyme disease, which though rarely fatal, is a very real hazard to health. An infected bite from a Lyme-disease-carrying tick quickly shows the telltale red bulls-eye mark. Immediate medical attention should be sought to thwart the disease in its early stages.
While many types of bees, hornets, and wasps pack a potent and painful punch, the yellow jacket is especially dangerous to outdoors people because they are often found in huge colonies and swarm and attack with the slightest provocation.
The sting of but a single yellow jacket is painful. But when dozens, perhaps hundreds, of them attack outdoorsmen, the potential danger is very real. Death from multiple yellow jacket stings occurs annually in the U.S., and hunting dogs are vulnerable, too.
The jet-black body and bright-red hourglass mark on the underside clearly identifies the black widow spider. While potentially deadly to humans, black widow bites are comparatively rare, although five different species of the spider are found in the U.S.
The black widow spider produces protein venom that affects a victim’s nervous system. This neurotoxic protein is one of the most potent venoms secreted by an animal. Some people are only slightly affected by the venom, but others have a severe reaction.
Symptoms usually start within 20 minutes to one hour after a black widow bite. Localized or generalized severe muscle cramps, abdominal pain, weakness, and tremor may occur. In severe cases nausea, vomiting, faintness, dizziness, chest pain, and respiratory difficulties occur.
Several hours after an initial bite of a black widow spider, the injury progresses and swells as shown on the left. According to this victim, two days after the bite, redness and swelling continued past the elbow and halfway down the forearm. Eight days after the bite, the swelling had subsided, the bite opened, and the infection was nearly gone as shown in the right image.
Probably no creature on earth can cause as much torment for its size as the little chigger. Tiny six-legged chigger larvae chew on campers, picnickers, hikers, bird watchers, berry pickers, fishermen, soldiers, and homeowners in low, damp vegetated areas such as woodlands, berry patches, orchards, along lakes and streams, and even in drier places where grass is low such as lawns, golf courses, and parks. They are abundant in early summer.
Chigger larvae do not burrow into skin nor suck blood. They pierce the skin and inject into the host a salivary secretion containing powerful, digestive enzymes that break down skin cells that are ingested (tissues become liquefied and sucked up). This digestive fluid causes surrounding tissues to harden, forming a straw-like feeding tube of flesh from which further, partially-digested skin cells may be sucked out.
After a larva is fully fed in four days, it drops from the host, leaving a red welt with a white, hard central area on the skin that itches severely and may later develop into dermatitis. Any welts, swelling, itching, or fever will usually develop three to six hours after exposure and may continue a week or longer.
Another stinging bug is the saddleback caterpillar, commonly found in the eastern U.S.
These caterpillars have a pair of fleshy “horns” at either end, and these, like much of the body, have hairs that secrete an irritating venom. Stings can be very painful, causing swelling, nausea, and leave a rash that lasts days. It’s much like a bee sting.
To remove venom hairs, place cellophane tape over the spot and pull it off quickly–hairs stick to tape. The sooner this is done, the less effect the sting has.