Before we roll out a list of the Hoosier state’s most dangerous insects, let’s remember that, like the vast majority of animals, insects are far more terrified of people than even our worst phobias can concoct.
To any insect, we are are a clumsy, fleshy mountain of heat and noise. Our stepping foot can destroy their entire home. Insects will do their best to run and hide from terrifying humans, with biting or stinging a desperate last resort.
Except for mosquitos. Mosquitos are just awful.
If you’re stepping into the Indiana outdoors this year, here’s what to watch out for…
A much greater hazard to horses, which may accidentally ingest the insect, the blister beetle’s secretions can cause contact dermatitis in humans. Like most poisonous insects, its striking colors act as a warning to would-be predators, although the black blister beetle is common in Indiana as well.
Several countries outside the US use the chemical the blister beetle secretes, cantharidin, to remove warts; it’s also known by a more familiar name in holistic circles: “Spanish fly”.
Blister beetles thrive in tall grass, alfalfa, weeds and among flowering plants; bees are among its favorite prey.
Brown recluse spider
Probably the most feared insect in Indiana, the brown recluse spider’s size makes it easy to overlook—it rarely grows more than 3/4″. Nonetheless, it sometimes injects a powerful necrotic venom when it bites.
As with most potential dangerous insects, our fears greatly outweigh the realities. Brown recluse bites are very rare, especially in Indiana. Those bitten typically report only a slight pain and mild swelling, not deep tissue necrosis.
Although they prefer the soft wood of rotting logs, they can sometimes be found in homes in dry, quiet areas: unused closets, dry basements, woodpiles and cardboard boxes.
Black widow spider
The potential danger of a North American black widow spider’s bite has made it the most recognizable spider in the United States. Its black body and the signature red hourglass shape on its belly signify the species, although this only describes the females.
Three-quarters of black widow bites have no lasting effect at all, with only brief and mild pain, even if the spider injects its powerful venom. But the neurotoxin it secretes can be dangerous to large animals, especially cats and dogs and, occasionally, people.
Black widows build nests at ground level, often around dark openings or holes, with the spider waiting for prey near the web’s center.
Listing each variety of wasp and hornet in Indiana would take several articles, so we’ll focus on the two most commonly confused…the yellow jacket and the honey bee. Unless protecting its queen or hive (which, in the mind of the honey bee, are the same thing), the essential honey bee will not sting. In most cases, a sting means death for the honey bee, since its barbed stinger literally causes the pollinator to eviscerate itself.
A honey bee has a shorter, rounder body covered in dense fur. Rather than yellow, it is best described as having a light brown body, a large abdomen and short wings.
Yellow jackets, on the other hand, have bright yellow, white, and black bodies with streamlined abdomens and long wings. Rotting fruit is a favorite food of these aggressive insects. A single yellow jacket sting is painful; several stings can be dangerous, even for a human.
Red velvet ant
How painful is a red velvet ant’s bite? Watch THIS video.
The red velvet ant is actually not an ant at all, but a wingless wasp. Its sting is so painful it has earned the nickname “the cow killer” for “reported” cases in which a sting has actually killed an adult bovine.
This ground-nesting insect has been studied extensively for its variety of evolutionary defenses: quick speed, hard exoskeleton, venomous bite and chemical defenses. They can be found across Indiana, but are elusive, and are easily identified by its large size (3/4″) and bright coloration.
Stay well away.
Assassin bugs are typically harmless, but when threatened, it’s a double-threat. Not only does it wield a massive, needle-like proboscis, but can also deliver a dose of necrotic venom and digestive juices. Usually used to paralyze and liquify the insides of another insect, this venom can be painful for humans or even dangerous, causing tissue necrosis.
A variety of the assassin bug is known as the kissing bug. It feeds on the blood of animals, and will typically seek the soft tissue in or around a (sleeping) human mouth to feed. South of the Equator, these bugs have been known to pass along Chagas disease, an infection that kills almost 10,000 people a year.
Oh, and it also likes to wear the bodies of its victims.
Every year, doctors and hospital report tens of thousands of cases of Lyme disease…and the deer tick remains its primary cause. They reside in wooded areas, although at only a quarter-inch when fully-grown, deer ticks are difficult to spot.
Although they are most active in the summer, they emerge in the early spring to feed and will continue feeding until autumn brings sustained cold temperatures. A single dusting of snow won’t kill them off.
Preventing deer tick bites is no joke, and neither is Lyme disease. Although there’s a spectrum of reactions to contracting the disease, in some humans it can cause joint pain and chronic exhaustion for up to six months. Old advice is sound advice: cover your exposed skin when trekking through densely wooded areas and wear DEET-containing bug spray.
The little old annoying mosquito is also the deadliest ANIMAL in human history. The effect of its inconvenient bite go far beyond simple scratching. It transmits hundreds of both bacterial and viral diseases, including malaria, West Nile virus, yellow fever and dengue fever, all dangerous and potentially fatal.
Most elusive is the insect’s ability to thrive in almost any warm, humid environment and reproduce in swarming abundance. Scientists have long studied a variety of methods in controlling large-scale mosquito populations, but still debate the most effective method. Some scientists even suggest extinguishing the entire species.
As with deer ticks, the standard advice is best: protective clothing and DEET-containing spray. Also be sure to dump any standing water source, which mosquito use for reproduction.