If you talk to someone with insect phobia, they’ll tell you dangerous bugs exist everywhere. They aren’t wrong. In fact, creepy crawlies outnumber humans 200 million to one.
Not all insects are dangerous, however.
Many of them are beneficial to our planet and ecosystems. But the United States is also home to many that you should avoid. Some are even deadly.
Join us as we look at America’s ten most dangerous bugs, their habitats, and what to do if you get bitten.
Let’s suit up!
Why Might a Bug Be Considered Dangerous?
Before buying stock in Raid, let’s pause and look at insects’ role in our ecosystems. A large percentage of bugs are either beneficial or neutral. They either add to our environment or don’t damage it.
Good bugs pollinate crops, clean up trash, provide food for birds and fish, and, yes, even for some humans, but that’s another topic.
Of course, we also get a lot of products from insects, like silk, beeswax, dyes, honey, and medicine. That said, bugs survived for 385 million years for a reason. They’re survivors.
In nature, survival means you’ve adapted to your environment. Over millions of years, some insects evolved defensive weapons to protect themselves. Either to deter predators, kill prey, or multiply as fast as possible, these traits affect us today.
Harmful insects fall into a few categories. Stingers, biters, and crop destroyers fill our list of the most dangerous bugs in America.
Let’s take a look and see which live in your region.
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10 Most Dangerous Bugs in the USA
Insects adapt to their surroundings, so it’s no surprise that the various regions across the country have different bugs. Depending on where you live, you might have one, two, or all of these critters to contend with.
Are All These Creatures Really Bugs?
Now yes, it’s a gross overstatement to say these creatures are bugs. The term “bugs” usually refers to insects with piercing mouth parts. But we all know that the word is a catchall for anything that crawls, flies, or spins a web.
We’ve got a wide range of creatures on this list that fall outside the definition of bugs. Ants, spiders, scorpions, and ticks fall into different categories. However you classify them, these creatures cause injury, food insecurity, and death.
Arthropods, arachnids, and parasites! Oh, my!
#1 Brown Recluse Spider
Known as the violin or fiddle-back spiders, the brown recluse packs a serious punch. Usually found in the American Southwest all the way to California, its markings give it away. A violin-shaped mark on the head lets you know what you’ve just been bitten by.
Brown recluses live in loose piles of debris outside and piles of clothes indoors. You’ll also find them on undisturbed furniture. The bite of this creature is a defensive adaptation that causes severe damage.
When surprised, the brown recluse bites what it assumes is prey. Their venom contains a hemotoxin or blood poison. Almost immediately after a bite, tissue death occurs.
Left untreated, an infection may set in and spread to surrounding organs as if this isn’t bad enough.
Brown recluse bites are best treated by a professional. Try to capture the spider for proper identification, but definitely seek medical attention.
Frequently seen crawling out of cowboy boots in movies, this next creature isn’t a bug. Scorpions are arachnids adapted to living in almost the entire United States. They’re instantly recognizable by their crab-like pincers and stinging tail. Like a medieval battle machine, scorpions are predatory and aggressive.
Most active at night, scorpions like a dark burrow during daylight hours. Cracks in concrete, under rocks, trees, and closets are prime spots. You’ll be happy to know most live alone. But some species burrow with thirty or more together.
Stings from this arachnid are intensely painful but not usually fatal. Bark scorpions, common in the Southwest, are one of the most dangerous types in North America. As more people move into scorpion habitats, human encounters become more common. As a result, two and a half million people are stung annually, and 2,600 don’t survive.
Doctors recommend RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) if you’re stung by a scorpion. This technique manages most scorpion stings in adults. If you’ve got high blood pressure or symptoms worsen rather than improve, seek medical attention.
#3 Black Widow Spider
You can’t imagine a more perfect image for our third entry. Dark as night with a blood-red hourglass on the abdomen, the black widow spider looks terrifying. Known for consuming their mates, females have shiny, hairless bodies.
Common in the southern United States, black widows spin their webs in places humans a likely to go. Under rocks, near rodent holes, and in outbuildings and doorways are typical spots to find the distinctive webs. In addition, these spiders are active hunters and often attack humans when protecting their eggs.
Known for potent venom, black widow bites require medical attention. You might not feel it when it initially happens, but you’ll know it happened soon enough. Pain radiates from the bite and spreads to the stomach and lower back. Without treatment, symptoms worsen, including cramping, nausea, tremors, and headache.
You probably won’t die from a black widow bite, but it can be fatal for those with heart problems.
#4 Red Imported Fire Ant
Fire ants are one of the most invasive insects on this list. Introduced into the United States in the 1930s, red imported fire ants (RIFA) cover the South and Mexico. Deep red bodies with black bottoms, these ants build mounds near water. When disturbed, they’re incredibly aggressive and attack en masse.
When attacking, the ants start by biting and then bring out the big guns. RIFA have a stinger that leaves behind a painful pimple-like bump. Since they attack in large groups, you can imagine the carnage. Fire ants are carnivorous, so they’re known to eat the living and the dead.
Fire ant mounds don’t have a central opening and often hide in the grass. Stepping on a nest prompts the attack signal, and they come out in droves before they bite. In the event of an attack, get as far away from the mound as possible.
Most of the time, you can treat bites with simple soap and water. Anti-histamines can reduce itching, and in severe cases, steroids can help.
Some folks are allergic to fire ants and need medical attention. Epi-pens come in very useful for these situations. So if you live in the South and are allergic, ensure you have one handy.
#5 Deer Tick
If you spend time in the woods or walk through tall grass, you’ve likely encountered this pesky arachnid. With a black head and red body, these tiny creatures transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. Common in the eastern part of the United States, these ticks are most active from April to September.
After feeding on infected deer or mice, they’ll bite humans and spread the love. The longer a deer tick feeds on the host, the more likely it is to transmit the bacteria. Their long, hooked arms grab onto anything passing by and latch on. After a day in the woods, make sure to check yourself for any ticks.
Deer ticks burrow into the skin to get their sharp mouth-parts into their host. If you find one or more on your body, get them all the way out. If their mouth-parts are in your skin, they can continue spreading the bacteria through the bite.
Lots of myths about removing ticks exist. Save petroleum jelly and essential oils for other activities. Instead, use clean tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it out slowly. Never crush them with your fingers.
These insects appear at every barbecue and pool hang in the country. Mosquitos are also one of humans’ most significant sources of bloodborne diseases. Found all over the world, various species carry different pathogens.
West Nile and Zika viruses are the most common in the southern United States.
Bats, birds, and spiders all eat adult mosquitoes, while fish and frogs eat the larva. Females feed on blood and inject anti-clotting agents to keep things flowing. When they inject their fluids, viruses and parasites hitch a ride. Mosquito-borne illnesses kill 725,000 people each year.
Using insect repellant, emptying standing water, and staying inside during dawn and dusk are the best way to protect yourself. Cities with significant mosquito outbreaks generally spray to reduce numbers. This is useful, but avoiding the most active times is still the best protection.
Serious bites benefit from calamine lotion and hydrocortisone. If you think a mosquito-borne illness has infected you, seek medical attention.
#7 Yellow Jacket
Flying, stinging, and bad-tempered yellow jackets are insects that pack a punch. Common in all parts of the United States, these pests frequently interrupt picnics and cookouts. The female of the species is especially aggressive.
Capable of stinging many times, as opposed to a honey bee’s suicide sting, one yellow jacket can be problematic. The bigger issue is that they aren’t usually alone. Extremely territorial, you’ll figure it out quickly if you unknowingly set up your picnic near the nest.
If attacked, avoid swatting or swinging at the insect. When threatened, they just become more aggressive. During an attack, cover your face and walk slowly away. They may follow you 200 to 300 yards from the nest if they think you’re a threat.
Cartoons often make it look like hiding underwater will deter the attack. Studies show that yellow jackets are happy to wait for you to come back up for air.
#8 Kissing Bug
Kissing bugs, related to assassin bugs, feed on humans, dogs, and wild animals and are found in 29 states. The bites themselves aren’t painful; the parasite they carry is the problem.
Chagas disease, caused by the parasite common in kissing bugs, has symptoms like tiredness, diarrhea, and vomiting. Unlike mosquitoes, the kissing bug releases the parasite in poop. You may infect yourself if it excretes while feeding and you scratch the bite.
The best way to avoid these foul creatures is to remove their habitat and keep them out. Clear areas under and around your house to ensure they aren’t nesting there. Plug gaps into your home and make sure screens are up and in good repair. Keep lights off at night, so you don’t attract insects.
Like vampires, kissing bugs usually stay away if there’s no invitation. So keep your environment unfriendly to them, and you’ll probably be ok.
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#9 Paper Wasp
Also known as umbrella wasps, these pests are a frequent sight around the country. Their nests are large, almost cartoon-like, and house around 200 mature wasps for the season. Paper wasps don’t survive past one season; the first hard freeze usually takes them out. On the other hand, queens winter in sheltered spaces and start fresh each year.
Gardeners love paper wasps because they keep the population of harmful insects down. If you enjoy picnics, though, these flying menaces are the bane of your existence. They feed based on the season. When they’re building up the colony, protein is the main focus. They change to sweeter items as it gets warmer, just in time for popsicles.
You won’t get attacked by paper wasps unless they feel directly threatened. When they do attack, they have similar traits as their cousins. Smooth stingers mean you’ll get stung multiple times by the same wasp. Unlike yellow jackets, they aren’t aggressive and have relatively small hives.
Let them be if you can deal with them living in your tree. If they move into your walls or attic, call a bee expert. Most of the time, beekeepers can relocate them without destroying the hive.
#10 Honey Bee
The humble honey bee isn’t anyone’s idea of a dangerous bug. But when threatened, they pack a wallop. For creatures whose primary purpose is gathering nectar they live a sweet life. Hives range from 2,000 to 60,000 members, mostly worker bees serving the queen. Their habitat ranges across the whole country.
Honey bee colonies include a queen, female workers, and male drones. The bees you see out gathering nectar are working, so let them do their thing. Unlike their wasp cousins, their stingers are barbed and only good for one sting.
When a honey bee stings, the stinger sticks in the skin and releases toxins and pheromones. Get it out as quickly as possible. Pheromones let other bees in the hive know of the attack, and they’ll come to defend their home and queen.
Africanized honey bees are a different matter altogether. In 1985 scientists brought them to Brazil to increase honey production, but twenty-six hives escaped. They migrated north through Mexico and into Texas, killing over 1,000 people. Killer bees, as they’re known, also kill horses and other animals that stumble into their range.
While we love honey as a natural sweetener, approach these bees with respect. They’ll die for their queen. And if you’re allergic, you might too.
Coexisting With Dangerous Bugs
Dangerous bugs are everywhere, and some are worse than others. Wherever you live, you’ll do your best to know what kind of insects to avoid. Some just smell bad, others drink blood, and a few will cause permanent damage or death.
Insects are an essential part of our ecosystem. They were here first, and we’ve got to find a way to coexist.
But if you’ve got spiders in your house, we won’t blame you for burning it down!
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