When traveling to new parts of the world, or even “staycations” it’s important to be aware of the dangers of insect bites. You probably want to roll your eyes right now. An ordinary mosquito bite is annoying at worst. Hidden in the trees and plants of your favorite trail are little creatures that can pose a serious danger to your health, or even cause death. Before you head out on your next adventure, make sure you’re prepared so you can enjoy your time outdoors.
What should you prepare for dangerous insects
Since insects attack when we least expect it, we need to think one step ahead of them. This means we need to be covered. Always wear protective clothing when going on outdoor adventures. Even if it’s hot! Wear long sleeves, long pants, socks, closed shoes, and a hat. Your local sports store should have a selection of lighter clothing for the hotter months. Bonus! You’re avoiding touching dangerous plants this way too.
The next step to take is awareness, even in your hometown. Carefully research what type of insects you’re likely to find in the area. This can be highly beneficial for preparing a first aid kit or if you have an allergy. The next part of being aware is keeping your eyes open. Don’t walk off the path too much. Insects are generally afraid of us unless we bother them. If you take a break or touch something, look carefully first.
Using bug repellants is important too. Even if your skin is well covered, they can still bite you. Purchase a repellant that repels more than mosquitoes and remember to apply it before leaving. It’s also beneficial to reapply it every three hours as it will lose its effectiveness. Remember to read the labels, not all insect repellants can be applied directly to the skin.
Finally, if you bring any food, protect it. Use airtight containers to store food and keep your drink bottles covered. Mosquitoes love water, wasps like sweet, and ants are always hungry. Ingesting these dangerous insects can be fatal, and definitely, ruin a vacation. Plan carefully when you bring food out.
Where do dangerous insects appear most?
Insects are hiding everywhere. Since they are afraid of us (we must look so big to them), they generally are nocturnal and hide in burrows and use camouflage to not be seen. But since not all insects are the same, they will all make different types of homes.
In the home, bugs have many favorite hiding spots. In your kitchen, bugs like to hide in the pantry, basement, behind and under furniture, and in the carpets. In your garden and the general outdoors, bugs hide in plants, trees, and soil. Bees are more obvious because they build hives. Likewise, with spiders, because they build webs. Mosquitoes like water, so if you live or are traveling near water, be aware.
Top 7 dangerous insects you should avoid
Black Widow Spiders
Black Widow spiders can be found on every continent but Antarctica. They are dark brown or shiny black and no bigger than a paperclip. They have a red or orange hourglass on their underside usually. They prefer to nest near the ground in small holes or wood piles. If they are indoors they will hide under desks or furniture in a basement.
Bites from a black widow spider are dangerous and can result in severe muscle pain, abdominal cramps, sweating, spasms, and increased heart rate. Symptoms usually last for 3-7 days, but for some, they last several weeks. It’s rare to die from a black widow bite. If you experience these symptoms, it’s best to visit a clinic to receive an anti-venom for pain relief.
The Lonomia caterpillar grows up to 5.5 centimeters long and is usually green and brown. They live in clusters on trees and are well camouflaged. The dangerous part of these caterpillars is their bristles that detach easily and inject a deadly venom. These caterpillars are native to South America but often dwell in tropical climates.
Stings from a Lonomia caterpillar will start with swelling at the site. Later, headache, fever, and vomiting will occur. After 24 hours, stings can lead to hemorrhaging and bruising that will eventually spread to all the internal organs. The combination of these will lead to brain death. Luckily, the poison only works in large amounts. A human would need to get stung 20-100 times because each caterpillar injects only a tiny amount of venom.
If stung by a Lonomia caterpillar, clean the area well with soap and use adhesive tape to remove the bristles. Doctors will treat the poisoning with an antifibrinolytic, to stop the hemorrhaging and prevent blood loss. In small amounts though, to prevent the blood from clotting too much. Patients treated with this recover rapidly.
Kissing bugs are found in Asia, Africa, Australia, and are widespread in North America. They hide during the day and come out at night. They live with nesting vertebrates (think pets) and often start sucking blood from them. Keep a close eye on areas where pets sleep on or spend time, also near people beds especially under mattresses. Adult kissing bugs produce a strong odor, which gives them their nickname “stink bugs.”
To prevent bites and home invasions, insecticides can be used on non-porous surfaces such as wood, bricks, and walls. Kissing bugs bite in clusters on the face, usually near the eyes. A common tell-tale sign is blood stains on pillows. If bitten by a kissing bug, use calamine lotion or anti-itch cream. You can also apply an oatmeal-soaked washcloth to the itchy area. If you think the bite is infected, see a doctor.
Kissing bugs are known for carrying Chagas disease. Although it’s rare in North America, awareness of the symptoms is important. In humans, the disease has an acute phase that begins shortly after infection, and the chronic phase that develops over many years.
The first phase lasts a few weeks or months. Symptoms are very mild and flu-like. These can include fever, fatigue, aches, pain, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. A doctor can detect swollen lymph nodes, and enlarged liver and spleen. The most common mark of the disease is swollen eyes. If left untreated, the chronic stage can attack the nervous system, digestive system, and heart tissues.
The Anopheles mosquitoes carry Malaria. The body is dark brown or black. They are found on every continent but Antarctica. Since they can be found in places even where malaria has been removed, there is always a chance the disease can return.
To prevent bites from mosquitoes you should take a few precautions. Don’t wear clothing that exposes too much skin. This gives them fewer places and chances to bite. Wear bug repellant with DEET if you are out in nature. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water, so it’s best to avoid swimming in ponds or resting in wet areas. If you are in a warmer climate you should sleep under a mosquito net.
At first, a malaria infection can seem like the flu. People experience chills, headaches, sweating, aches, fever, diarrhea, fatigue, and vomiting. these symptoms take a long time to start. Some infected persons don’t experience anything for 6 days to 6 months after infection.
If left untreated, malaria can be deadly. Further complications include kidney failure, anemia, coma, low blood pressure, and seizures. A doctor will prescribe a course of medications to alleviate the symptoms and attack the virus.
Africanized bees, also known as the “killer bee” are known for their aggressive behavior, despite looking similar to a honey bee. Slightly smaller than honeybees, they are known for building giant nests and attacking in large numbers.
If you are being chased by them, run in a zig-zag pattern and seek shelter indoors. The place must be sealed. The bees are smart, so don’t jump into the water. They will wait for you. To help prevent stings you can also wear light-colored clothing, avoid wearing scented products, and stay away from piles of wood or junk. Africanized bees like to make their lives here.
The venom from an Africanized bee is no more harmful than a regular bee, but because they attack in large groups, the victim can experience much worse effects. If stung, seek immediate medical attention. To care for the victim until help arrives, you should remove the stingers with a card to avoid popping the venom sac, apply cold to reduce the swelling, and keep the victim conscious.
Fire ants are red in color and enjoy warm, dry, sunny conditions. You usually won’t find them in the woods. They build tall ant hills with multiple entrances. Fire ants typically swam all over their nest. Each nest can contain up to several hundred thousand ants.
To avoid stings it’s important to watch where you’re walking. Also, if you sit down to eat outside, keep your food and drinks protected. If you see a fire ant mound, watch the ground to make sure no ants are nearby.
Fire ants attack in groups. They grip their victims and inject venom through a stinger. Bites on the skin appear as red bumps and white pustules. The stings are very painful and with some deadly. People describe it as intense burning. Stings can be washed with mild soap. A cold compress or antihistamines will help the swelling. If you experience sweating, nausea, or excessive itching, seek immediate medical attention.
The Giant Weta is also called the King Cricket in North America. They are brown and look like a combination of a cockroach and a cricket with large legs. Giant Weta is nocturnal and typically found in forests, grass, gardens, and caves.
They have very strong mandibles (picture wrench-like teeth) they use to bite their victims. Fortunately, the bites are not poisonous but will leave painful scratches. Usually, Giant Weta will run from their predators, so bites are fairly uncommon. The danger of the bites is that they can be infected if not immediately cleaned.
Tips for traveling to places with many dangerous insects
Always shake out your shoes and clothes before getting dressed. In addition, shake your duvet and check the area around the bed before going to sleep. Insects hide everywhere.
The next area of caution is awareness. Watch where you step and rest. If you’re in a wooded area, stay on the path and don’t wander too far into the woods. Insects are generally afraid of us and will avoid heavily trafficked areas.
Mosquitoes bite at all times, so it’s important to keep reapplying bug repellant, especially at dusk. Be careful if you have open cuts and wounds, protect them when applying repellant. If you’re traveling with children, apply it for them to avoid them getting it in their eyes.
Wearing repellants is not enough, you can tuck pants into socks and tuck in your shirt to minimize the risk of bites. After spending time outside, check thoroughly for insect bites and take a shower to rinse off excess repellant. It can irritate your skin. Finding bites sooner is better than later. You’ll be able to identify your symptoms and visit a doctor if needed.
Before leaving on your trip, research the insects native to the area and your accommodations. You’ll be more prepared for what you’ll encounter this way. The type of accommodations can make a big difference too. Staying in town versus a tent can seriously change what you need to prepare.
You want to enjoy your travels, not constantly be in fear of dangerous insects. Exploring new places is an exciting time for growth and making memories. After packing all of your personal belongings, tick off all the boxes on your first-aid list. Now you can relax! Are you ready for your next adventure?