A to Z List
They sting, you swat - How to survive when
summer brings out the bugs
- Article from the Salt Lake Tribune - July 27, 2004
As Utahns head outdoors to enjoy the last half of summer, there is
no shortage of biting critters to watch out for, ranging from
hobo spiders to wasps.
So, with the help of Knight Ridder News Service and Robert Elbel,
a University of Utah research professor of biology who specializes
in insects and spiders, here's a lineup of some common pests, with tips on how to defend yourself.
While many bites cause nothing more than itchy skin, some can lead to more
serious medical problems. Delayed reactions from certain bites can include
fever, painful joints, hives and swollen glands, according to the Mayo Clinic
- Seek medical assistance if you have develop any of the following
symptoms due to an insect or spider bite: difficulty breathing, swelling
of your lips or throat, faintness, confusion, rapid heartbeat, hives, nausea, cramps,
What it looks like: 1/2 inch to inch long, orange-brown to black.
Where it lives: Nests are usually found in trees, 6 to 12 feet off
the ground, but may also be built inside a house, sometimes inside
When it's most active: Daylight, from spring until late fall. Swarms
occur in spring.
Behavior: Not aggressive unless you get too close to the nest.
Best defense: RUN! Don't try to swat them. They emit an alarm pheromone
that agitates bees within 100 feet or more.
If you are in a wooded area, run through brush; branches swinging
back and forth can confuse them. If chased by a swarm, get to a sheltered
spot - a car or building - where you can close the door. Even if a few bees
get in with you, it's better than facing a whole swarm.
If you are near water, don't jump in! They will hover and wait for
you to surface. Some of the worst attacks have occurred this way.
What it looks like: About 1/4 inch to 1 inch long, roly-poly and
hairy; color ranges from black to black-and-orange or black-and-yellow.
Where it lives: Nests in the ground.
When it's most active: Daytime during summer and fall.
Behavior: A little less aggressive than the honeybee, but it will
defend its nest.
Best defense: Run, don't swat.
(Also called red wasp or umbrella wasp, because of nest's shape)
What it looks like: inch to 3/4 inch long, striped, with colors ranging
from brown to orange-and-black to brown-and-black.
Where it lives: Under a sheltered overhang, such as a tree or a house's
When it's most active: Daytime in mid- to late summer.
Behavior: Less aggressive than yellow jacket wasps, although they
can be dangerous if you disturb them. Try to stay at least 10 feet
Best defense: Run, don't swat.
Yellow jacket wasp
What it looks like: inch to 1/2 inch long, yellow- and black-striped.
Where it lives: Nests in the ground. May use old rodent burrow, or
nest inside rotted landscaping wood or other woodpiles near houses.
It preys on caterpillars and other insects, but it may also seek a sugar source - discarded
soda cans or bottles, or fruit in trash cans.
When it's most active: Daylight during the warm months, peaking in
late August and September. Yellow jackets are more sensitive to disturbance
when the nest grows large and has multiple queens.
Behavior: Will defend its nest and has the worst sting among wasps.
Can also sting more than once.
Best defense: Run, don't swat. (They usually won't follow you as
far as bees will.)
Mud dauber wasp
What it looks like: 1/2 inch to 1 inch long; colors range from shiny
blue-black to black stripes to black-and-brown.
Where it lives: On a vertical surface, such as an outdoor wall or
When it's most active: Daytime during summer and fall.
Behavior: Not aggressive; it would rather be eating spiders.
Best defense: Not a concern; it's very peaceful.
What it looks like: Reddish-brown; workers vary from 1/16 inch to
1/4 inch; queens are 1/4 inch or slightly larger.
Where it lives: Mounds of varying size.
When it's most active: When the ground temperature is between 70
degrees and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In summer, that's usually around
8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and around dusk. Found in southern Utah.
Behavior: Perpetual road rage - it reacts aggressively to any disturbance.
Best defense: Move to Alaska. But if fire ants get on you, don't
try to squish them! Brush them off quickly.
What it looks like: About 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch long; reddish, with
a couple of spines on the back.
Where it lives: Usually in rural areas, not urban, but can be found
in nature centers. Look for a bare spot on the ground with an ant
When it's most active: Mostly in daytime, especially mornings and
evenings; tends to stay underground in peak heat of summer.
Behavior: Not as aggressive as fire ants, but will defend the nest.
Best defense: Leave the nest alone.
Black widow spider
What it looks like: 1/2 inch long with large, round, black abdomen
with a red hourglass-shaped mark on its underside. (The mark may
also just be a red dot or two, but beware of any spider with a red mark on its belly.) There's
also a brown widow spider.
Where it lives: Any protected site - under a house's eaves or a picnic
table, behind a bush, in a shed, etc.
When it's most active: Day or night, summer and fall.
Behavior: Not aggressive - it'll try to stay out of your way. Bite
symptoms: fever, increase in blood pressure, sweating and nausea,
with the worst level within one to three hours after the bite. Rarely fatal, but
small children or older people are at added risk.
Best defense: Watch for a tangly cobweb (often in corners), not one
of those nice, neat circular cobwebs you see in the garden. A black
widow usually hangs upside down in its web, making it easier to spot the red marking
on its belly.
Black widow spider bite
A bite from this spider, which is rarely lethal, feels like a pinprick.
You may not even know you have been bitten. You may notice only
slight swelling and faint red marks at first. Within a few hours, though, intense
pain and stiffness begin. Other signs and symptoms include chills,
fever, nausea or severe abdominal pain.
If the bite is on an arm or a leg, tie a snug bandage above the
bite to help slow or halt the venom's spread; don't tie tight enough
to cut off circulation.Apply to the bite a cloth dampened with cold water
or filled with ice at the bite location. Seek immediate medical attention.
Treatment for a black widow bite may require an anti-venom medication.
- Source: Mayo Clinic
What it looks like: 3/4 -inch long. Thorax, behind eyes, has two
black stripes and the white area between the stripes has a fine black
line; abdomen is gray with three or four faint-white, crescent-shaped marks; underside
is white with irregular black dots.
Where it lives: Under stones or piles of debris; when indoors it is usually
found in the basement or ground-floor level;
builds funnel-shaped webs.
When it's most active: Can be active all day.
Behavior: Hobo spiders crawl on the ground or floor; they don't climb.
Best defense: Watch where you walk. In cases of bites, if untreated
for three days, red area around bite enlarges and turns black and
blue; can grow to size of baseball in 10 days and if untreated by a doctor then, can
leave an ugly scar.
Northern house mosquito
What it looks like: Brownish, up to 1/4 -inch long.
Where it lives: Breeds in stagnant water and rests in dark, shady
spots during day - bushes, shrubs, flower beds. Also under house
eaves, allowing it to sneak in an open door.
When it's most active: Evenings and nights in mid- to late summer
Behavior: Obnoxious. And it's suspected of carrying West Nile virus
and encephalitis; peak season for disease transmission is July and
Best defense: Use DEET repellent; avoid wearing scents. Eliminate
stagnant water on your property.
What it looks like: The striped bark scorpion is about 2 inches long,
brownish with two dark stripes on the back. It's an arachnid, not
an insect, with eight legs instead of six.
Where it lives: In new housing developments or recently built homes,
where the natural habitat was recently disturbed. Sometimes they're
attracted to lights (and the insects around them). They will come into back
yards in search of prey. In Utah, usually only found in the southern part of the
When it's most active: Nighttime, during the warmer months. It hides
under rocks and such during the day.
Behavior: It won't seek you out, but if you step on one or come up
next to one, it will nail you.
Best defense: Watch where you are walking and what you turn over.
Sting effects usually moderate, but people stung should be closely
What it looks like: Varies from pinhead size up to almost a half-inch
if fully engorged with blood. Brownish, reddish or grayish.
Where it lives: Same habitat as chigger, but will often dwell in
back yard if it has an animal host there.
When it's most active: Daytime in summer and fall.
Behavior: It will ''quest'' - clutch a blade of grass with rear legs
and extend its front legs out and up - for days on end. When a human
or animal passes, it grabs and cements itself to the body.
Best defense: In tick-infested areas, tuck your pants legs inside
your socks; you can also apply permethrin to your clothes. Also,
check yourself or have someone check you for ticks at least once a day.
What it looks like: About 3/16 inch long, oval, flat, brown or reddish
Where it lives: Hides in cracks and crevices during day; fairly rare
in Utah but has been causing problems for travelers in everything
from cheap motels to expensive hotels nationwide and abroad.
When it's most active: Year-round, feeding at night.
Behavior: Bites are painless. Symptoms: itching; little blood spots
on skin or bedding. Heavy infestation may produce an obnoxiously
sweet odor. Not believed to transmit disease.
Best defense: Cleaning your house thoroughly doesn't help, unfortunately.
Check around bed headboard - small dark spots (which might be blood)
could be a tip-off of infestation. If you have a significant problem, call a professional
Tribune staff writer Greg Lavine and The Dallas Morning News contributed
to this story.
For more information on spiders and
insects, see POISONOUS INSCETS/PLANTS in the A
to Z List
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