Insect Bites: How to Identify Them and Which Ones to Worry About
It’s itchy. It’s sore. Your limbs might be a little achy. Or you could just generally be feeling a little off. You know that something has had its teeth into you. But the questions are, ‘which bug bit you?’ and ‘should you be concerned?’
In North Carolina, we’re pretty lucky. There aren’t that many insects here with bites that can make us really sick. Sure, they cause discomfort and irritation, but they’re not going to be giving business to the undertaker any time soon.
BUT there are some bugs in the area that can cause real problems. Mainly due to allergy risks. And it’s important to be aware of that fact. So, how do you know which little sucker has been using you as a meal ticket? And which ones do you need to worry about?
North Carolina’s Biting Bugs, Their Symptoms and Their Risks
Not counting spiders, which come into a category all of their own (you can find out more about identifying spider bites here), there are eight commonly found biting insect species in North Carolina. So, let’s talk about their vital statistics.
Mosquito bites aren’t dangerous per se. They don’t carry venom, just a mild anesthetic to prevent you from squishing them while they chow down. But they do carry diseases. And that’s where the danger lies. That’s why it’s a good idea to limit the number of mosquitoes in your yard or home through mosquito treatments.
Mosquito bites are characterized by soft, insanely itchy lumps that quickly harden. During the course of the next several days the lumps will grow, often becoming quite large. You’ll usually have more than one bite at a time.
If the bites are accompanied by other symptoms of sickness – fever, nausea, headache, fatigue – you should see a doctor to rule out any form of contagion. It’s also a good idea to see advice if any of the bite sites looks like it might be becoming infected. Otherwise, use calming lotions, such as calamine, and ice packs on the affected areas.
Red Fire Ants
If you Live in NC, you’ll know what a red fire ant looks like. Invaders from Brazil, they grow up to 1/3 of an inch long and are reddish brown in color. And when they bite, it really, really hurts.
Apart from the pain, the first sign of a red fire ant bite will be a small red spot. Usually several spots – you’re lucky if you just receive one bite. The spot/s will form a blister in the next 12 hours. The area will be itchy and painful, but for most that’s as bad as it gets. It’s important to remember though, that allergies to red fire ant bites can occur. It’s rare, but if you notice any symptoms of confusion, dizziness, vomiting or shortness of breath, seek go straight to your local ER.
NOTE: Red fire ant bites can be fatal to children. If you are at all concerned, seek medical help.
Paper wasps are one of the easiest biters to identify. They have the stereotypical hourglass figure of your average wasp, but they’re slightly narrower and generally a dark brown/russet color. These guys don’t so much bite as sting, and when they do, you know about it.
You will never be unaware that a paper wasp has stung you. There is an immediate stabbing sensation, rapidly followed by burning. Minor swelling, itching and redness will follow. But unless you are allergic to the venom – which is typified by wheeziness, dizziness, nausea/vomiting, and/or difficulty swallowing – you shouldn’t need to seek medical help.
The worst that will normally happen will be multiple stings as the creature tries to fight its way of out the corner it’s found itself in, or a stinger lodged in your skin. In which case, tweezers will be necessary to extract it. Otherwise, simply wash the area and use a cold compress to combat any pain and swelling.
‘Swarming people and other mammals, black flies lacerate the skin and suck the blood of their victims,’ so says Sciencing.com. And don’t they simply just sound charming? Unfortunately, these nasty little beasts breed around all North Carolina waterways. And their bites are no pleasant.
Most black fly bites begin with two little puncture marks, but swelling can quickly occur. Often so you’re left with a sore, itchy lump the size of a golf ball. Headache, fever and nausea may also occur.
In most cases, black fly bites will heal by themselves. But if the itching and pain aren’t showing any sign of abatement, you may need medical treatment.
NOTE: There are other species of biting fly in the area, these include midges and sand flies, but the black fly is most prevalent.
Bed bugs are everywhere. These tiny parasitic critters can be found in all parts of America. And pretty much everywhere else too. Growing up to 0.18 inches, they’re not so small that you can’t see them, but they are generally shy and nocturnal, so you’re unlikely to see them when you’re awake. But if you find a round, brown bug in your home and you’re being bitten on a regular basis, you can be fairly confident that you have bed bugs.
Bed bug bites are generally small, red bumps with a clear center, and they usually appear in clusters. They are itchy and prone to inflammation, often producing a burning sensation. They will usually also produce small patches of blood on clothing. And will sometimes lead to hives.
In most cases, bed bug bites can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines and anti-itch creams. However, occasionally, an allergic reaction or bite infection will also occur, in which case you need to see a doctor as soon as possible. And, of course, contact pest management specialists to make sure that you’re not bitten again.
Chiggers are probably one of the most unpleasant biting insects. Largely because they don’t just bite, but burrow into the flesh to lay their eggs. Although, this is more likely to be the case with an animal host. Bright red in appearance, they would be easy to identify, if they weren’t just so darn tiny.
Chigger bites will leave your skin covered in small, reddish-brown bumps, which may develop to look like pimples, welts or blisters. The good news is that chiggers don’t carry any diseases or poisons. So, although annoying, unless your bites get infected, you shouldn’t need any medical treatment.
Flea bites are probably the most common insect bites in America. Because fleas are among the most common pests. These tiny brown/black insects can survive without a host for years and can live in practically any conditions. Luckily, their bites aren’t much to worry about.
Flea bites appear as itchy red lumps, surrounded by a red halo. They can occur anywhere, but are most common on legs and feet. The greatest risk they pose comes from infection. As with any infected wound, if not treated properly, infected flea bites can be a serious health risk. But most of the time they can be dealt with using calamine lotion and anesthetic creams to treat the itching. And then you might want to call a flea exterminator team in to help remove the problem.
Ticks are small greyish blood suckers that turn brown as they gorge on your blood. They live in long grass and will only come into a home attached to a host – commonly dogs, cats and yes, humans.
Because tick bites are initially painless, they can go undetected. After which, victims may experience a burning sensation around the bite site and notice blistering and a rash characterized by a red center surrounded by a larger, separate red ring. In many cases, tick bites will end there. But there is a danger of infection and ulceration if the insect’s mouth parts are left within the wound. And being blood-sucking parasites, ticks do carry a range of diseases. Among the most serious of these is Lyme Disease.
What can you do to prevent insect bites?
The best thing you can do to avoid insect bites is be aware.
- If you see signs of nests – ant hills, wasp nests – around your home, have them removed by pest control experts.
- When out in nature, use insect repellents and try to keep as much of your skin covered up as possible.
- Check your pets regularly for signs of parasites.
- And try not to make your home attractive to pests – often easier said than done.
As spring approaches, more and more biting insects will come out to play. They’re unavoidable. And some of them are even useful – wasps eat so many other pests. The best thing you can do is be vigilant. Be aware of the symptoms. And know what to do if you do happen to end up being a part of something’s lunch!