Bugs. Insects. Pests. Whatever you want to call them, they are things that, well, bug us when we’re wheeling, camping, or whatever your outdoor “ing” is. But which are the common ones you’ll encounter, and what kinds of gross things might they do to you? We picked the brain—much like a bot fly larvae—of Missy Henriksen, the VP of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association (pestworld.org), for answers.
You’ll find these literal suckers throughout the U.S., although they vary by species depending on where you are. For example, in Pacific Coastal states, it’s the Pacific/Western blacklegged tick, which hangs out in tall grass and wooded areas. In the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, southeastern, and north-central states, there’s the blacklegged deer tick, found in tall grass, shrubs, forest to field transitional zones, and foot trails in high grass wooded areas. Their season is spring and late summer, although not in dry summer months. The brown dog tick is everywhere (and specifically indoors, where dogs are) and year-round, while the American dog tick steers clear of the Rocky Mountains, but is all over the rest of the U.S. in low vegetation and grass. Its time of year is mid-April to mid-September, peaking in June. Southern and western states are home to the charmingly named relapsing fever tick, which is usually found at campsites, in caves, or in burrowing holes. Enjoy it year-round.
“Blacklegged ticks are the most worrisome species, as they are vectors of Lyme disease,” Missy explained. “Other tick-borne diseases include tularemia, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, to name a few, and tick paralysis in animals.” How do you know it’s a tick bite? Symptoms of tick-borne diseases typically include a bullseye-like rash, which occurs in about 70 percent of the cases, joint pain, fevers, chills and fatigue, and muscle aches. See a doc immediately if you have any of these symptoms, because “not all tick bites result in a tell-tale bullseye,” she noted.
This category is bees, hornets, and wasps, which come in all sorts of flavors. For example, European honeybees are all over the U.S., as are the Baldfaced hornet and Yellowjacket. Africanized honeybees are found in places like Southern California, Southern Arkansas and Florida, Western Louisiana, and Southern Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma. The European hornet is in 31 states, from the eastern seaboard west to the eastern Dakotas and southern regions. They all agree on a couple things though: Shrubs, attics, and hollow trees and walls are a great place to hang out. Summer and early fall are their times of year, but late summer is when they really come to life.
Missy explained that a sting is generally a localized reaction, although three percent of people may have a more significant allergic reaction, such as hives or a rash. The other extreme is anaphylaxis, like tongue or throat swelling, shortness of breath, or dizziness. See a doctor if you’re not sure of an allergy, and carry an epinephrine kit if you are sure.
Now, if the stinger is still in place, remove it and clean the area with soap and water, then ice it. You’re supposed to remove it without squeezing the venom sack, so use a (dull) knife or comb to scrape it off rather than pinching it with your fingers (which can inject more venom). You can also mix baking soda with water and apply it. Benadryl or one percent hydrocortisone ointment (it’s over the counter) will help, too. What’s a stinging insect myth? “People can develop allergies to stinging insects later in life even though they may not have been allergic as children.”
Ah, the black widow. The one of much freakout. It can be found throughout the U.S. and in particular in rodent holes, under stones and wood, and in hollow stumps and trees. Ah, the brown recluse. The one of much freakout. It can be found in south central Midwest, from Ohio to NE and southward through Texas to Georgia. That one likes to linger around rocks, under bark and woodpiles, at utility boxes, and in piles of inner tubes. Throw in Wolf spiders for a trifecta of good times. That one lives throughout the U.S. as well and likes wood—find it in landscape timbers, under decks in leaf litter, and around firewood, as well as under stones. All these guys can be found year round.
“Most spider bites are less painful than a bee sting,” Missy explained. “Pain from nonvenomous spider bites typically lasts for 5 to 60 minutes, while pain from venomous spider bites frequently lasts for longer than 24 hours. The rate of a bacterial infection due to a spider bite is low, less than one percent.” Clean a spider bite with soap and water and apply a cool compress. If you think it was a black widow or brown recluse that nailed you, and it’s on an extremity, elevate it, and even think about tying a bandage above the bite to slow or halt the venom from spreading. But don’t make the bandage so tight that you basically create a tourniquet; one problem at a time, please. “Adults can take aspirin or acetaminophen and antihistamines to relieve minor signs and symptoms, but use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers.”
Scorpions like things dry—deserts and semiarid regions. They tend to burrow in soil or hide under rocks, debris, or logs, although when it’s extra hot is when they head for cool, moist shelter, like in your house; beware while in the attic or crawl space. They are especially happy in the Southwest and South.
“Stings can be fatal,” Missy warned. “They are often very painful and are usually followed by immediate (few minutes to 24 hours) distress, including numbness around the wound, which rapidly spreads to the entire extremity, weakness or even paralysis of the injured part, hyperactivity and anxiety, dizziness, difficulty speaking and swallowing, respiratory distress, and, in some instances, convulsions. The sting site does not swell or become discolored.” In other words, if you’re stung, see a doctor post haste.
These buggers are located throughout the U.S., and their fave locale to get their breed on is stagnant water sources—birdbaths, plant leaves, marshes, storm drains, and old tires, to name a few. “They only need 1⁄4-inch of water to breed,” Missy said. Depending on the temperatures, you may see them in the fall, but summer is their season. Now, about that bite: It’s usually an itchy pink bump, but don’t scratch that itch. “Scratching only agitates the bite area and increases your itching. In addition, over-scratching might cause breaks in the skin that can serve as a port of entry for bacterial super-infections.”
Wash a mosquito bite with soap and water, and get Benadryl or one percent hydrocortisone cream if you’re itching up the wazoo. If you see signs of infection, get to a doctor; antibiotics may be necessary. You’re probably familiar with West Nile virus; it’s a mosquito-transmitted infection, so be aware of symptoms such as high fever, head and body aches, confusion, or other weakness, in which case, see a doc. And one other bit of advice: “Citronella candles do not repel mosquitos,” Missy revealed.