Spring and summer bring out the bugs. Try having a Fourth of July barbecue without mosquitoes and flies. Camping, hiking, hunting and even picnics in the park can result in bee stings, tick bites or a chigger attack. Though some areas of the United States have more problems with fire ants and scorpions than others, I have identified six typical stinging and biting spring and summer insects, how to prevent them and how to treat their bites and stings.
With any of these bugs, some people may be deathly allergic to a bite or sting. Seek medical attention right away if you or someone else stung or bitten experiences shortness of breath or tightening of the throat.
Fire ants are common around the southern and southwestern United States. Fire ants have a copper brown head and darker abdomen. They are very aggressive and will bite and sting anything when they feel threatened. When a fire ant attacks you, it uses its mandibles to bite and latch on, and then it injects a poisonous venom.
Fire ants usually built mounds in moist soil under fallen timber, logs, rocks or bricks. You will not see those types of anthills until it is too late. Fire ant hills are visible only when the ants have no other choice but to build in an open area, such as a field or park. Fire ant mounds can be as tall as 15 inches and as deep as 5 feet.
Fire ants sting between 30 and 60 percent of people who live in fire ant areas each year. A fire ant sting feels like a burn—hence the name fire ant.
Fire ants latch on when they bite and sting, so you cannot simply just brush them off. If fire ants attack you, you must pick them off your skin one by one. Remove any clothing they may have crawled on, if possible.
Fire ant stings produce a red, irritated and painful bump or welt that turns into a white pustule or blister. Do not scratch the area or pop the blister because the blisters can turn into an infection.
- Treat your yard with ant bait and insecticides before anthills appear. You can do this yourself or hire a professional.
- Treat an individual mound with bait and chemicals or pour boiling water into the mound as a last resort.
- Do not disturb the mound before treating it. You must surprise attack the colony before it can transport the queen to another location.
- Watch where you are stepping when outside and educate children to stay away from anthills.
- Wash the area with soap and water to prevent infection.
- Elevate the area as soon as possible.
- Apply cold compresses or an ice pack. These will help prevent swelling and reduce itching.
- Apply aloe vera gel, hydrocortisone cream or water and baking soda paste. Or apply hand sanitizer (rubbing alcohol) to the affected area.
- You also may take over-the-counter, or in severe cases, prescription antihistamines.
There is one thing that everyone hates about summers—mosquitos. Seriously, mosquitos suck (pun intended). Not only are mosquitos super annoying with their buzzing and irritatingly itchy bites, but they also spread diseases. Experts say mosquitos are more active at dawn and dusk, so avoid being outside then. If you live in the South, you know this is simply a laughable theory. Mosquitoes do not stop me from having a good time during the summer, and they should not stop you, either. Here are ways to prevent mosquito bites and some proven itch treatments.
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting long sleeves, long pants and socks.
- Empty any standing water in the yard.
- Ensure all window and door screens are secure without holes and gaps.
- Keep fans blowing on the area where you will be.
- Avoid using scented lotions, perfumes, body spray, shampoo and hair products.
- Spray bug spray on yourself and your clothing 15 minutes, but no more than 20, before going outside. Look for products containing DEET, Picaridin, lemon eucalyptus oil, IR 3535 and/or Citronella.
- Use products, such as mosquito coils, citronella candles and torches, mosquito nets, yard foggers and Thermacell bug repellents.
- Take an antihistamine.
- Apply an ice pack or cold compress.
- Rub tea tree essential oil on the bite.
- Soak a cotton ball with apple cider vinegar and apply to bites.
- Rub on aloe vera gel.
- Clean the bites with rubbing alcohol.
- Apply a baking soda and water paste.
- Dab regular-flavored toothpaste on the bite.
- Use store-bought anti-itch creams.
- If you just must scratch, slap or pinch the bite instead.
For more about mosquitoes read these blog posts: DIY All Natural Solution to Beat the Bird Flu – Mosquito Trap and West Nile Virus.
Bees, Wasps, Hornets and Yellow Jackets
Bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets have stingers that inject venom into victims. Generally, while all these stings are very unpleasant, they do not pose much of a serious threat, unless you are allergic or stung multiple times.
The hornet’s sting is the worst one. Wasps, hornets and yellow jackets pose more problems to humans than bees because they build nests where we live and are aggressive about protecting them. You can differentiate between a bee and the others by its appearance. Bees have more rounded bodies with fuzzy hair. While wasps, hornets and yellow jackets have no hair and thinner, longer bodies. Furthermore, wasps, yellow jackets and hornets have retractable, non-barbed stingers, making it easy for them to sting a victim multiple times. A bee’s stinger is barbed and remains in the skin once stung.
Wasp, bee, hornet and yellow jacket stings produce red welts; the areas may swell and be painful and itchy.
When stung by a bee, first look for the stinger. It will resemble a small, black dot. Use a credit card, dull knife or other hard, flat object to scrape out the stinger. Do not use tweezers or your fingernails. The bee stinger injects a venom sac into your skin, so the faster you can remove the stinger, the better.
You can prevent and treat bee, wasps, hornet and yellow jackets the same.
- Take precaution when doing yard work, gardening, and especially when mowing the lawn. Do not disturb nests.
- Do not leave sugary drinks unattended. Large, wide-mouthed cups are best so you can see inside before drinking. I learned this the hard way.
- Tightly cover food and trash cans.
- Keep the area clean and free of rotting food, fruit, garbage and animal feces.
- Wear closed-toed shoes outside.
- Avoid wearing brightly colored clothing and floral patterns.
- Remove hives and nests as soon as you see them.
- Do not swat at a bee, wasp, hornet or yellow jacket. Remain calm and still and slowly leave the area.
- Stay away from flowering plants.
- If a bee stings you, leave the area and do not squish it. A bee that has stung or is dead releases a bee-attractant.
- Wash the area with soap and water.
- Apply a baking soda and water paste.
- Cover the sting with a cold compress or ice pack.
- Take an antihistamine and over-the-counter pain reliever.
- Rub on hydrocortisone cream.
- If you are stung in the mouth or nose, seek medical attention.
To learn more about bees, read How to Avoid a Bee Attack.
Chiggers, also called berry bugs, harvest mites, red bugs or scrub-itch mites, are one of my worst summer nightmares. Technically called trombiculidae, chiggers are a type of parasitic mite and a relative of the tick. Chiggers are most problematic in the summer. Nearly microscopic, they are orangey-red if you could see them. Lucky for northerners, chiggers are not a problem—you find them in the south, southeast and midwest.
Chiggers get on us via our clothing when we walk, touch, rub against or brush plants or grass on which the chiggers are hanging. Then the chiggers insert their feeding receptacle into our skin and inject an enzyme that kills the surrounding area. This area of deadened skin hardens, causing the chigger’s feeding receptacle to turn into a feeding tube called a stylostome. Unbothered, chiggers can feed on us like that for days.
It is a myth that chiggers burrow into your skin. Hence, treatments such as petroleum jelly and nail polish, do not work. Those will not suffocate them. The digestive enzyme in the chigger’s spit is what makes the bite so itchy.
Most bites occur around the ankles, crotch and groin; behind the knees; in armpits; and around the waist.
Symptoms of chigger bites usually occur one to three hours after the initial bites. A chigger bite is extremely itchy and red. The area affected might be bumpy, flat or blistered. The itchiness can last for days, while the sores can stay on the skin for up to two weeks.
- Keep your grass mowed.
- Treat your lawn with an insecticide.
- Avoid moist, shady, heavily vegetative areas.
- Wash with soap and water thoroughly after being outside.
- Remove clothing and wash it.
- Wear long pants tucked into boots and a long-sleeved shirt in areas where chiggers may be.
- Spray bug spray containing DEET or Permethrin on skin, clothing and backpacks.
- Wear thick socks and high shoes, such as boots.
- Avoid dark-colored clothing while outside.
- Apply over-the-counter topical antihistamines, corticosteroids or Calamine lotion.
- Take oral antihistamines.
During my days as a summer camp counselor, we always told our campers to shake out their shoes and towels before using them. Scorpions in that area of North Texas were notorious for crawling into those damp, dark places and causing quite a painful surprise in the morning.
There are more than 70 species of scorpions in the United States, mostly concentrated in the southwest. Although all scorpions produce venom, most of them are harmless, except for bark scorpions. They are nocturnal and hide during the day under rocks, logs, cracks or burrows.
Scorpions usually do not sting unless attacked or provoked, and they can control the amount of venom released when they sting. Sometimes, such little venom releases when you get stung that you may barely feel any symptoms.
Scorpion stings turn red and cause a sharp pain, sometimes intense, followed by numbness or tingling. The area may or may not swell. If symptoms worsen or you feel nauseous, have muscle twitching or blurry vision, seek medical attention immediately.
- Do not stick your hands into places where scorpions could be hiding without gloves on.
- Shake out shoes, towels and clothes before putting them on or using them.
- Check your sheets at night before going to bed if you live in an area with scorpions.
- Wear closed-toed shoes while outside.
- Wash the sting with soap and water.
- Apply an ice pack to the area.
- Take an oral antihistamine or acetaminophen for pain and swelling.
- Avoid aspirin and ibuprofen.
- When in doubt, always see a doctor.
Ticks are relatives to spiders and live all over the United States. They are parasites that need blood to complete their life cycle. Ticks can carry and pass nine serious diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease. You may not feel a tick bite at all until after the tick has fed on you and fallen off. The area might be itchy and red, or you could feel a burning sensation and sometimes even intense pain. If you feel weak, nauseated, are vomiting or have fever, rash, swelling, joint paint or confusion, even if it is a few weeks after getting a tick bite, visit a doctor and tell them a tick bit you.
- Avoid brushy and tall grassy areas.
- Stay on trails while hiking.
- Spray DEET or Permethrin on skin, clothes and gear.
- Wash with soap and water right after being outside.
- Wash clothes immediately after being outside and put them in a hot dryer.
- Perform a full-body tick scan within two hours after being outside.
- Treat your yard with insecticide.
- Keep your lawn mowed and free of brush, yard clippings and debris.
- Using tweezers, grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull directly up.
- Wash the affected area, your hands and the tweezers with soap and water and disinfect with rubbing alcohol. Do not burn off the tick from your or anyone else’s skin.