What are some common biting or stinging insects?


by Jacob L. Pinnas, M.D.

Arizona has its share of biting and stinging insects that can cause serious allergic reactions. Besides the common bees, wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets, we also have venomous stinging ants – large local harvester ants (Pogonomymex), and tiny local fire ants (Solenopsis). Imported fire ants may enter Arizona after crossing the southeastern United States and migrating across Texas the way killer bees have done.

A growing problem in the Tucson foothills, and to a lesser extent in other parts of Arizona including Phoenix, is the conenose bug, also known as the kissing bug (Triatoma). It normally feeds on desert mammals, usually pack rats or wood rats, and even house pets. As we invade their territory and displace their wild hosts, they enter our houses and bite sleeping victims. Their painless bites can lead to hives, generalized itching, throat swelling, flushing, or even shock, after several episodes. Kissing bugs are hard to eliminate, but sealing homes, sleeping in nets, and keeping injectable epinephrine and an antihistamine at the bedside can be lifesaving for sensitive individuals.

Kissing bugs are brown to black, one-quarter to one inch long, with pointed mouth parts. Adults have orange, red, or yellow stripes at the edge of their wings. They require a blood meal from a mammal for each of the five developmental stages. They can go two weeks to six months between feedings. They enter a house through cracks or fly, during the spring mating season, toward light or through open doors. They may hide in bedding, often in box springs.

In a manner similar to desensitization (immunotherapy) with stinging insect venoms, some victims may benefit from allergy injections of diluted ant venom or kissing bug saliva. Rarely, people become allergic to mosquito bites and get true allergic reactions. Some patients have been given immunotherapy for mosquito allergy, but this is rarely used and has not been studied as well as for the other insects.

Bites from spiders, tarantulas, scorpions, and centipedes usually produce irritating or toxic reactions that are treated differently or may not require treatment.

It is important to report any serious bite of sting reaction to a poison control center. For a life-threatening reaction, call 911 or proceed to the nearest emergency room.

Posted in: Insects

Allergy and the Environment