Whether you’re in
the water, on a mountain trail, or in your backyard, the wildlife you may encounter
have ways of protecting themselves and their territory.
Insects such as
bees, ants, fleas, flies, mosquitoes, and wasps and arachnids such as spiders may
bite or sting when provoked or distressed.
The initial contact
may be painful, and it’s often followed by an allergic reaction to venom
deposited into your skin through the insect’s mouth or stinger. Most bites and
stings cause nothing more than minor discomfort, but some encounters can be
deadly, especially if you have severe allergies to the insect venom.
Prevention is the
best medicine, so knowing how to recognize and avoid biting and stinging
animals or insects is the best way to stay safe. The animals you should
recognize and understand depend very much on where you live or where you’re visiting.
Different regions of the United States are home to many of these creatures. Season
also matters: mosquitoes and stinging bees and wasps, for example, tend to come
out in full force during the summer.
Types of Biting and Stinging
Here are some bugs that can be
Biting Insects, Arachnids, and
Many bugs bite, but
only a few do so intentionally. Most bites are relatively harmless, leaving
just an itchy patch of skin behind. But some bites can carry disease: Deer
ticks, for example, typically carry Lyme disease.
- chigger mites
- scabies mites
- bed bugs
- head lice
- pubic lice
- horse flies
- black flies
- bed bugs
Many larger insects
and other bugs won’t seek you out, but will bite if handled.
Some spiders have
poisonous fangs. Poisonous spiders found in the United States include:
Insects will sting humans
only as a defensive move against a perceived threat. Typically, a bee or
stinging ant’s stinger will be accompanied by a small amount of venom. When
injected into your skin, the venom causes most of the itching and pain associated
with sting. It also can cause an allergic reaction.
insects in the United States include:
- paper wasps (hornets)
- yellow jackets
- fire ants
Scorpions have a
well-deserved reputation for stinging. Many species of scorpions have barbed
tails equipped with poison — 25 species worldwide have poison capable of
killing a human being. The most venomous species of scorpion native to the
United States is the Arizona bark scorpion.
Reactions to Bites and Stings?
The venom injected
into your body from the bite or sting of an insect will cause your immune
system to respond. Often, your body’s immediate response will include redness
and swelling at the site of the bite or sting. Minor delayed reactions include
itching and soreness.
If you’re very
sensitive to an insect’s venom, bites and stings can cause a potentially fatal
condition called anaphylactic shock, which can cause the throat to tighten and
make breathing difficult.
Some bites and
stings may cause illnesses when venom contains infectious agents.
Who Is at
Risk for Bites and Stings?
Anyone can be
bitten or stung by an insect, and bites and stings are very common. You’re at
greater risk if you spend a lot of time outdoors, especially in rural or wooded
locations. Children and older adults may have more severe reactions to bites
What Are the
Symptoms of a Bad Reaction to Bites and Stings?
If you’re bitten or
stung, you may see or feel the insect on your skin during the attack. Some people
don’t notice the insect and may not be aware of a bite or sting until one or
more of the following symptoms emerge:
- swelling, which may be concentrated in the
affected area or may spread throughout the body
- redness or rash
- pain in the affected area or in the muscles
- heat on and around the site of the bite or
- numbness or tingling in the affected area
Symptoms of a
severe reaction requiring immediate medical treatment include:
- difficulty breathing
- nausea or vomiting
- muscle spasms
- rapid heartbeat
- swelling of the lips and throat
- loss of consciousness
If you feel ill or
experience flu-like symptoms in the days following an insect bite, see your doctor
for tests to rule out infections or diseases you may have contracted from the
Bites and Stings
Many people are
aware they’ve been bitten or stung because they witness it or see the insect
shortly after the attack. Although you shouldn’t further provoke an attacking
insect, try to preserve the insect if it dies following the bite or sting. Its
identity may help your doctor to properly diagnose your symptoms. This is
especially important for a spider bite, as some species have dangerously potent
Bites and Stings
The majority of
bites and stings can be treated at home, especially if your reaction is mild.
Remove the stinger if it’s lodged in your skin, wash the affected area, and
apply an ice pack to reduce pain and swelling. Topical anti-itch creams and
oral pain relievers and antihistamines may be used to combat uncomfortable
services immediately if symptoms of a severe reaction are present. First aid
instructions while waiting for paramedics to arrive include loosening the
victim’s clothing, laying them on their side, and performing CPR if breathing
If you believe a
spider of the black widow or brown recluse variety has bitten you, seek
emergency medical treatment even if symptoms seem minor or haven’t emerged.
Scorpion bites also should be treated in the emergency room, regardless of
Most bites and
stings heal by themselves after several days of mild discomfort. Monitor the
affected site for signs of infection. Contact your doctor if the wound appears
to be getting worse or hasn’t healed after several weeks.
Bites and stings
that cause severe reactions can be fatal if they aren’t treated immediately.
Once you have experienced a severe reaction, your doctor will likely prescribe
an auto-injector of epinephrine, a hormone that can prevent anaphylactic shock.
Carry it with you at all times to diffuse the reaction immediately following a
bite or sting.
Avoid Bites and Stings
Use caution when
near nests or hives containing aggressive insects. Hire professionals who have
the proper safety equipment to remove a nest or hive.
When spending time
outside, you can take preventive measures, including:
- wearing hats and clothing that provide full
- wearing neutral colors and avoiding floral
- avoiding perfume and scented lotion
- keeping food and drinks covered
- using citronella candles or insect repellent