Insect bites and stings

Insect bites and stings

It’s common in summer to get insect bites and stings and, whilst most are harmless, some can cause a nasty allergic reaction. If you work outdoors, or take part in outdoor activities, you are more at risk. Always see a doctor if you develop symptoms of a serious allergic reaction. There are a number of ways you can reduce the risk of being bitten or stung:
  • Apply insect repellent
  • Cover exposed skin
  • Avoid using strongly perfumed products
  • Avoid flowers and compost heaps
  • Avoid outdoor eating places and rubbish bins
  • Clear up fallen fruit in your garden
  • Do not disturb insect nests
  • Keep away from stagnant water
  • Cover food and drink
  • Keep doors and windows closed, or use netting
  • Don’t panic – move away from the insect slowly
  • Wear white or neutral-coloured clothing, as most stinging insects love bright colours

Insects and arachnids that bite and sting include:

Wasps and hornets The wasp and hornet are related and, when they feel threatened, can give a nasty sting that leads to itching and swelling. Most allergic reactions in the UK are caused by wasp stings. Don’t try to swat wasps away. Keep calm and move away from them. If you find a wasps’ nest, contact a pest control expert to remove it.

Bees A bee sting feels similar to that of a wasp; however, the bee leaves its sting in you, so it’s important to remove it to stop infection setting in. Whilst painful, bee stings should not cause serious damage unless you are allergic to bees. Stay calm around bees and they should leave you alone.

Horseflies Horseflies are large and hairy and their bites can be extremely painful and take longer to heal. Whilst they don’t carry disease, they cut the skin rather than piercing it, which can easily cause infection.

Flower bugs The very name ‘flower bugs’ sounds pretty innocent, but these common predacious insects can take quite a bite out of human skin, leaving a wound that is very itchy and slow to heal. Flower bugs are good for your garden as they eat aphids, greenfly and red spider mites, so it’s best not to use insecticide to get rid of them.

Mosquitoes Mosquitoes are an annoyance whose bites cause intense itching and swelling. Whilst they are a nuisance, they don’t cause major harm in the UK, but can transmit deadly diseases in other parts of the world. Seek medical advice before travelling abroad.

Midges (gnats) Midges/gnats can be a menace and attack in swarms, especially on damp and cloudy summer days. Their bites don’t transmit illness, but can be painful and, like the mosquito, cause intense itching and can swell up quite dramatically.

Ladybirds All ladybirds can nip, but harlequin ladybirds, a recent prolific invader to the UK, seem to bite more than others. Harlequin ladybirds are bigger and rounder than native ladybirds; red or orange with many spots and a white head. All ladybirds are good for the garden, so it’s best not to kill them.

Ants The black garden ant, the UK’s most common ant, doesn’t sting, but we also have red ants, wood ants and flying ants that do. Unlike the wasp or bee, the ant has less toxin in its sting, so you’ll only feel a harmless nip and it will probably only leave a pale pink mark.

Caterpillars The biggest caterpillar pest is the oak processionary moth caterpillar. Moving in nose-to-tail procession, these caterpillars destroy oak trees and have thousands of toxic hairs that, on contact, can cause itchy skin rashes, sore throats, breathing difficulties and eye problems. Do not touch or go near these insects or their nests – contact a pest control expert and report sightings to the local council or Forestry Commission.

Ticks Although not strictly an insect, ticks are a very unpleasant feature of our countryside. They latch onto your skin and suck your blood. The bite is not painful, but certain ticks can transmit Lyme disease. Remove the tick as soon as you spot it and send it to Public Health England. If you get a circular rash around the bite site, or have any symptoms of Lyme disease, see a doctor. Spiders There are a number of spiders in the UK that can give a nasty nip, which leaves little puncture marks. False widow spiders, similar to the more poisonous black widow spider, are the main culprits and typically give a bite that causes pain, redness and swelling.

Remember to always see a doctor if you develop symptoms of a serious allergic reaction. For more in-depth information on insect bites and stings, and how to protect against them, visit the NHS website.