The 9 Creepiest Bugs of the Summer
The warm weather and long days give us the opportunity to spend more time outside. We can hike, ride bikes, and hit the beach. When we do hit the outdoors, we’re sure to run into bugs that, well, bug us. While most of the bugs we’ll encounter will be harmless, some can inflict a painful bite or sting, and even have a long-term effect on your health.
Here are nine summer bugs you’ll want to take precautions with this summer.
Ticks are hands down summer’s scariest bug because they can carry Lyme disease, the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States. While ticks are found throughout North America, Lyme disease is heavily concentrated in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ticks are small; adult females are about the size of a sesame seed and can attach themselves as you pass through grassy or forested areas. That’s why it’s important to do a full body check for ticks, and ask a friend to check areas you can’t see. If ticks are removed within 36 hours, you’ll reduce your likelihood of contracting Lyme. Sprays and clothing pretreated with Permethrin can help repel ticks. If you do develop a rash or come down with a “summer flu,” with symptoms such as headache, nausea, aching joints, and malaise, it’s wise to see your doctor and get a blood test for Lyme.
We’ve written about bedbugs previously, and they come in at No. 2 on our list this time because they’re gross, and they’re everywhere, including offices, apartment buildings, and homes. The good news is they don’t spread diseases such as Lyme to humans. You’ll know if you have them if you wake up with irritating, itchy red spots anywhere on your body, and their presence can be confirmed by professionals. To avoid bedbugs as you travel this summer, inspect bedding and the surrounding area for the bugs themselves or rust-colored spots where bedbugs have defecated, advises Michael J. Raupp, a professor of entomology at the University of Maryland. When you return from a trip, put clothing from your pack into a hot dryer for at least 30 minutes. Also, don’t bring used furniture or a mattress into your home as they can come “preloaded,” says Raupp.
Throughout the world, more people are killed by mosquito-borne illness than any other factor. In the United States, mosquitoes in the genus Culex can spread West Nile virus (WNV) from birds to humans. WNV is most prevalent in Western and Southern states such as California and Texas. You can reduce your risk of being infected with WNV by using insect repellent and wearing protective clothing to prevent mosquito bites. There are also some common “mosquito repellent” plants like basil and catnip to ward off these pesky pests.
4. Imported Red Fire Ants
The imported red fire ant is a small (about one-eighth to a quarter of an inch long) reddish-brown bug from South America found primarily in the lower third of the U.S. These ants are highly aggressive and sting, creating a painful, itchy pustule and a possible allergic reaction. A common fire ant encounter might happen when a mound is disturbed on a golf course, picnic ground, or playground. There are many products on the market for treating fire ants, and you can even put boiling water on the mound to destroy them, Dr. Sanford Porter, a researcher at the USDA-ARS Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology in Gainesville, Florida, advises in an interview with Rodale’s Organic Life.
5. Biting Flies
Throughout the U.S., you’ll encounter the biting flies—black ones, picture-winged ones, and those with eyes so big and green that folks call them greenhead flies. And some of them are so large that regular repellent sprays are not effective in deterring them. Greenhead flies are a particular nuisance along the East Coast beaches where they breed in nearby salt marshes. Because the females bite during daylight, and because they occur in large numbers, have a long flight range, and attack persistently, they interfere with the enjoyment of coastal areas throughout much of the summer, note Rutgers University researchers who have developed a DIY trap for the bugs.
Yellow jackets and boldfaced hornets have a narrow waste and shiny body, and they are sometimes confused with their hairy relative the honeybee. Unlike honeybees, though, when some wasps sting their victim they do not lose their stinger, allowing them to sting their victim repeatedly and cause a great amount of pain. So, if you encounter a nest with your lawn mower, for example, don’t stay still—get out of the area as quickly as you can, say the experts. “If there’s a tree or hedge, use them to shield yourself from the yellow jackets and remove the stingers quickly and apply ice,” says Raupp. There are sprays on the market to kill nests, or you can call in a pro. However, before you decide to destroy a nest, consider that wasps eliminate pest insects like caterpillars that feed on trees and garden vegetables. So if a wasp nest is out of the way, where it won’t be encountered by people or pets, Raupp advocates a “live and let live” policy.
7. Africanized Bees
Mostly found in the Southern and Southwestern portions of the U.S., Africanized bees are a species of honeybee that come into contact with humans as people encounter their hives. “They were bred to be aggressive and are very efficient at what they do,” says Raupp. Most Africanized bees do not randomly attack people or animals unless they feel that their hive is in danger. If you see a swarm of bees or are near a hive, it’s important to move away from the area quickly. If you are stung and you’re allergic to bees, it can be a life-threatening situation and you should seek medical attention immediately.
Spiders get a bad rap because they’re creepy and crawly but may be among the most beneficial of all arthropods in that they control vast numbers of pest insects in and around your garden and home. There are only a few species in North America you need to be concerned about, experts note, including black widows (which have an hourglass shaped red marking on their back). The black widow’s bite can be painful, and there may be minor swelling, redness, and a target-shaped lesion, says the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Fifteen minutes to an hour after the bite occurs, a dull muscle pain can spread from the bite area to the entire body. Children and people with weakened immune systems can be more adversely affected by the spider’s venom and may need medical attention.
Scorpions like warm, dry climates and are often found in deserts. They have a crab-like appearance and often come out at night. If you plan to hike or camp in the Southwest, be sure you keep shoes, blankets, and towels off the ground and examine them before using. Also be cautious when picking up or moving rocks, as scorpions like to hide underneath. If you do step on a scorpion, it’s likely to lose the battle. Their sting feels much like a honeybee’s sting. “It’s pretty low on my Doberman scale,” says Raupp, “where a mosquito bite is a 1 and a Doberman bite is a 10. The scorpion is about a 5.”