Know your biting, stinging, screeching summer critters

Know your biting, stinging, screeching summer critters
Know your biting, stinging, screeching summer critters
Posted at 12:47 PM, Jul 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-03 08:52:15-04

(RNN) - It's a jungle out there.The US alone is home to about 91,000 known species of insects and an additional 73,000 "undescribed" species. Yes, they far outnumber people, and like us, they get active when things heat up.  Identification is key, and there are plenty of resources to help out. They're annoying, sometimes dangerous, and in the worst of cases, they can kill.

Mosquitoes: Stay out of the swarm

Mosquitoes kill more than a million people worldwide via Zika, West Nile virus, yellow fever, dengue and several types of encephalitis, according to the American Mosquito Control Association, which recognizes 176 species of the insect in the US.

They're drawn to water - they need it to breed - so areas with standing water are likely hubs for hordes of mosquitoes. They're at lake and the pool but also in inconspicuous sites such as bottles, buckets, barrels, holes in trees, docked boats, bird baths, leaky faucets, old tires and even overturned garbage lids. The CDC reports that disease-carrying mosquitoes come out most often in the twilight periods of dusk and dawn.

Mosquitoes are attracted to dark clothing and can more easily bite through tight-fitting clothes, so experts advise wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothes and - though it's not always practical in the summer heat - long sleeves and pants.

The powerful mosquito repellents DEET is considered most effective, but studies since the 1980s have shown adverse effects including nausea, headaches and dizziness when people use them for prolonged periods. Alternatives include products containing picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus. or the formula IR3535, including Avon's Skin So Soft, Bug Guard Plus and SkinSmart.

Get tick-smart

Ticks are more prevalent than ever in the US, says University of Rhode Island professor Thomas "The Tick Guy" Mather. American dog ticks, which don't carry disease, were once the primary concern.  

But there is an ever-increasing array of pathogen-carrying critters include deer ticks and the lesser-known black-legged ticks, tiny critters that cling to weeds in grassy areas. Mather advises people to check his site, TickEncounter as a basic resource. Though ticks are commonly referred to as insects, they're arachnids.

Most people know about deer tick transmitted Lyme disease, but not much about emerging illnesses that some pathogen-carrying ticks can cause,  including babesiosis and tick-borne relapsing fever, among others. Some are transmitted by nymphs the size of a poppy seed.

Surprisingly, Mather says it's still safe to leave the house this season. Tick bites are preventable with tick-repellent clothing, treated with the chemical permethrin. The clothing, as well as spray to make your own clothes tick-repellent, is widely available online and at stores including Walmart and Target. She spray is especially important, since ticks always crawl their way up people and animals, never jumping or dropping on hosts..

And if you are bitten by a pathogen-bearing tick, Mather said  there is a 24-hour window in which the insect can be found and removed before it transmits an infection. Always remove ticks with tweezers, and never with petroleum jelly, gasoline or hot objects.   

 Ants: Crazy and on fire

 Some ants are a little more fierce than their picnic-ruining cousins.

Take crazy ants, which invaded parts of the US Southeast around 2010. They're hopped-up loners with no particular place to go,and they are legion, with more than 10,000 ants making up part of a single colony.

Experts say insecticides can kill crazy ants, but their numbers and size make taking down an entire empire nearly impossible. They also stake out some strange habitats, like electric housing and circuit boxes, where they can chew through the wiring. In the Southeast and Gulf states, crazy ants have caused power outages. 

Red imported fire ants form another fearsome group. Anyone who disturbs a nest will be stung by multiple ants who can each leave around six separate stings, and can bring on severe effects in people with allergies.

Caution and knowledge of what fire ant mounds look like is key, experts say. The mounds are flat, irregular in shape and usually take up around two to four square feet. Fire ants usually make their homes in outdoor soil near buildings or in landscaping. 

Spiders: itsy-bitsy and otherwise

There are at least 4,000 known spider species in the US, making them all the more difficult to identify. There are near-comprehensive online guides such as Spiders.US, where you can browse by location, color and other traits. Contrary to their frightful image, most spiders are more helpful than harmful, eating more than 400 million tons of insects each year

But arachnologists say a handful of spider species in North America can be particularly dangerous.

The  black widow is often cited as the one whose bites are venomous enough to require medical attention. If left untreated, a black widow bite can be fatal, but more often it brings on serious but non life-threatening reactions such as nausea, cramping and chest pains.

The species is found throughout most of the Southern US and in isolated areas including Los Angeles, arachnologist Richard Bradley, author of Common Spiders of North America, told the Cool Green Science Blog

The black widow previously shared its deadly reputation with the brown recluse, which does provide a venomous bite, but one that is rarely fatal. True to their name, they tend to live and breed in dark, secluded places. People are unlikely to come in contact with brown recluses unless they pick up objects or pull on clothing the the spider has long considered home. 

Beware the buzz: Bees, wasps, hornets and friends 

Flying fiends send more than half a million people in the US to the emergency room each year, according to the National Pest Management Association. Because they pollinate flowers, bees are more friend than fiend, but they still pack a sting.

Pest World offers a handy guide to distinguishing bumble bees, carpenter bees and honey bees as well as a rundown of the habitats and characteristics of baldfaced hornets, paper wasps - which will sting upon being touched - mud daubers and yellow jackets.

The common housefly, always on the scene in the summer, is often seen as a mere annoyance. They don't bite, but the swatter-targets are up to insidious things. They use their spongy mouths to release their saliva onto their food - yes, your food, the stuff they're landing on - to turn it into liquid form and soak it back up.

And that's the least shocking thing about flies. They're suspected carriers of more than 65 diseases, including typhoid fever, dysentery, cholera, anthrax, tuberculosis and plenty more, reports the Penn State Department of Entomology. Their favorite hangouts? dumps, sewers, decaying stuff.

Some of the biggest and loudest bugs winged bugs - cicadas -  can only hurt your levels of sound tolerance. They are enormous and ominous-looking, but you're more likely to hear them than see them - they live off fluids in trees, not blood.

While some species of cicada only drop by every two decades or so, some come to visit every summer. You'll know when.

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