The 12 Most Dangerous Bugs to Watch Out for This Summer and How to Protect Yourself
Learn to recognize these dangerous insects—and how to protect yourself.
Black Widow Spider
Black widow spiders are typically black with two attached reddish triangles on their back, according to Brittany Campbell, PhD, an Entomologist with the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). These spiders are roughly the size of a paper clip and have venom 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake's, Campbell says. It could cause muscle aches, nausea, and trouble breathing. Although Campbell says fatalities are rare, females black widow spiders might bite more often than males as a defense.
How to protect yourself: Campbell says people can reduce their risk of black widow spider bites by reducing clutter in basements and garages, eliminating the favorite hiding spots for these spiders. And make sure to wear gloves while cleaning along with these other steps to avoid insect dangerous summer bugs and their bites or stings.
With a lifespan of nearly 30 years, tarantula spiders can grow to almost the size of a personal pizza. Most tarantulas are afraid of large predators (like humans) but if provoked—watch out! Though their venom isn’t deadly, it’s not pleasant and can cause rashes and pain at the biting point. That's partly why you shouldn't ignore spider bites or these 7 other bug bites.
How to protect yourself: The best way to protect yourself against tarantulas is to keep them away as much as possible. Like black widow spiders, tarantulas love small, dark spaces. So keep your space neat, clean, and organized as much as possible. Regularly dust and wear protective clothing while working in a hot spot for spiders.
Africanized "killer" bees look so much like European honey bees that the only way to tell the two apart is to measure their bodies, according to Campbell. These bees are slightly smaller and have a golden color with darker bands of brown. Although Africanized bee venom isn't more dangerous than regular honeybee venom, the former tend to attack in greater, more dangerous numbers, Campbell says. If Africanized bees attack you, run quickly to shelter in a zig-zag pattern as soon as possible, Campbell suggests.
How to protect yourself: You can avoid attracting bees to certain areas by keeping both food and garbage in sealed containers, according to Campbell. Also, rinse out food containers before throwing them away. Finally, avoid wearing dark colors, floral prints, loose-fitting clothes, and sweet-smelling perfume or cologne to avoid attracting bees, Campbell says.
There are about 170 different mosquito species in North America alone. Some of the most dangerous ones, according to Campbell, are the Culex mosquito, the Asian Tiger mosquito, and the Yellow Fever mosquito. Mosquitos are one of the most dangerous summer bugs because they spread diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus, and Zika, among others, Campbell says.
How to protect yourself: "Wearing an insect repellent containing DEET or another EPA-registered ingredient is the best way to prevent mosquito bites," Campbell says. It's also essential to prevent mosquito breeding grounds around your home since they can lay eggs in as little as half an inch of water. Mosquito repellent works well because of the smell, and that has to do with why certain people attract mosquitoes more than others.
Red fire ants are more of a dark reddish brown and have six legs and antennae. "They get their common name from their ability to inflict painful bites and stings," Campbell says. This could also equal an allergic reaction in some people.
How to protect yourself: Stay very far away from their telltale mound nests. They usually nest in the soil near structural foundations or in landscaping, according to Campbell. They are also on golf courses, at picnic grounds, and at playgrounds. And although these ants are often outside, they could get inside the home through HVAC systems or AC units, Campbell warns. To prevent red ants from entering a structure, seal all internal and external cracks and crevices. If you already have an ant problem, you might want to try these common items that could get rid of ants.
There are a few different species of paper wasps. They are mostly brown with some yellow, but each has various bands of color that differentiate them. No matter the type of paper wasp, they will sting if you disturb their nest or somehow threaten them. Otherwise, they're not really an aggressive species by nature, Campbell says. If you are stung, however, it will be painful and can cause the same risk of allergic reaction as other insect stings.
How to protect yourself: Campbell says the best way to prevent a paper wasp infestation, and the potential of getting stung, is to make the home less attractive to the bug. So before trimming hedges, picking fruit, or doing yard work, check for paper wasp nests. Like with other dangerous summer bugs, it's also key to seal any cracks in the home, repair tears on screens, cover open food, and avoid wearing strong fragrances outside. You should also get rid of these things in your house that are attracting pests.
Adult brown recluse spiders range from tan to dark brown, and they have six eyes in three groups of two. These spiders could bite and inject venom that requires a trip to the emergency room. The venom might cause dead tissue and may require plastic surgery, in some cases, Campbell says. Not all brown recluse spiders result in ulcer formation, and other spider bites might cause a similar reaction, too.
How to protect yourself: Preventing brown recluse spiders from entering your home is the main way to avoid bites, per Campbell. Seal any small openings or holes in your house to keep them out. Wear protective clothing and gloves when moving firewood, since spiders like to hide in stacked wood. Try not to leave clothes and shoes on the floor and shake them out before wearing, especially if you store them in the basement, garage, or other dark areas.
With a crab-like appearance, scorpions are predatory and often come out at night. Scorpions like warm, dry climates and are often in deserts. Take precautions when hiking and camping by keeping shoes, blankets, and towels secured indoors. Stings can feel much like a Honeybee sting with mild swelling, a rash, or they may be more serious.
How to protect yourself: You can protect yourself from scorpions by also eliminating standing water, sealing cracks around your doors or windows, and turning your outdoor lights off at night to ward off crickets—an insect scorpions love to eat.
Ticks automatically come to mind when you think of the most dangerous summer bugs. But, ticks are technically arachnids, not insects, Campbell says. Still, you need to especially watch out for "hard ticks" which feed on humans and pets. Ticks can carry Lyme disease along with other diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, or tularemia, among others, according to Campbell. These diseases could result in rashes, fever, chills, and headaches. Plus, Lyme disease also affects joints along with the heart and nervous system if untreated.
How to protect yourself: Ticks can attach themselves to exposed skin so after time spent outdoors, it's important to do a full body check for ticks. "Check children for ticks when they come into the house because it takes up to four hours, possibly longer, for the tick to start feeding," Campbell says. It's also a good idea to use tick repellents, tuck your pants into socks or boots while outdoors, and keep grass, weeds, and other debris piles low. Here is how to effectively protect yourself from ticks.
Centipedes and Millipedes
Centipedes are easy to spot by their worm-like body and anywhere from 15 to 177 pairs of legs. If you handle them roughly, larger centipedes could inflict a painful bite, according to Campbell. As for millipedes, the buy could release a foul-smelling liquid that causes skin irritation.
How to protect yourself: Reduce areas of moisture in or around your home to protect yourself from a centipede infestation. Make sure you remove piles of leaves and grass clippings on your property. And seal off cracks where they could enter the home. If you do find one in your house, Campbell says you can get rid of it with a vacuum. Not sure what bit you? Here's a handy guide for identifying bug bites.
Horseflies have black or gray bodies with large eyes that have green or purple horizontal stripes. You don't have to worry about male horseflies, but the females do bite. Female bites are especially painful because horseflies tear and lap at the skin. Some species spread disease, but that usually only involves livestock, according to Campbell.
How to protect yourself: During outside activity, Campbell recommends wearing light-colored clothing and insect repellent to prevent horsefly bites.
Kissing bugs have a head in the shape of a cone. They are usually light brown to black in color, although some species have red, yellow, or tan markings on their stomach, Campbell says. Kissing bugs occasionally bite humans in their sleep, and people with sensitive skin could have an allergic reaction. Even worse, kissing bugs also carry a parasite that causes Chagas disease. Nearly 300,000 people in the United States are infected with the parasite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
How to protect yourself: Again preventing this bug bite starts with keeping kissing bugs out of your home. Homeowners should seal cracks with caulk, install door sweeps, and remove debris piles from the yard, according to Campbell. Anyone who hates bugs will love these essential products that can ward off dangerous summer bugs for good.