Why Do Bugs Bite & Sting?
Covered in itchy bug bites or painful welts and wondering, “Why on earth did that bug have to bite (or sting) me?” And for that matter, why do some insects sting while other insects, as well as spiders and ticks, bite?
Professor Bugsbee here, and I’m excited to give you the inside scoop – a real bugs-eye view! – on bug bites versus stings. There are different purposes for each of these irritating interactions, and different chemistry is involved depending on the intent behind the bite or sting. The different chemical compounds and your immune system’s response to them affect how you react.
Mosquitoes and other flies, fleas, lice, ticks, and “kissing bugs” bite in order to feed on blood. The females need the protein in blood to manufacture their eggs. Most other insects bite to kill prey, but they will bite humans, too, if you grab them or trap them in clothing.
Blood-feeding insects inject a variety of enzymes and other chemicals before they withdraw a meal. These compounds may include anesthetics so you don’t feel the insect biting, and anticoagulants to prevent clotting so they can feed quickly before you notice them.
Bed bugs, mosquitoes, black flies, biting midges, kissing bugs, and ticks are typically stealthy biters. Horse flies and deer flies slice and dice and then lap up your blood, so you feel the pain immediately. Anticoagulants may cause the wounds they inflict to bleed long after the fly has departed.
Many predatory insects, especially assassin bugs, giant water bugs, backswimmers, and related true bugs, will bite in self-defense.
They normally bite to kill other insects and begin the digestive process. So, the enzymes they inject when they bite people cause pain and tissue damage. The effects last for hours, if not days or weeks.
Social insects such as honey bees, yellowjackets, paper wasps, and ants use their stings to defend nests full of defenseless eggs, larvae, and pupae. Disturb their nest, and you will pay the price!
Their venom is designed specifically to thwart skunks, bears, and other vertebrates that includes humans!). Solitary wasps like mud daubers sting to kill or paralyze their prey and will only sting people if they are grabbed or trapped in clothing.
“Back Off” Stings
Stings differ from bites in that bites are delivered by the mouthparts of an insect or arachnid (e.g. spider, tick), while stingers in bees and wasps are modified egg-laying organs called ovipositors, located at the tip of the abdomen opposite the insect’s head end. When not in use, stingers are retracted inside the abdomen; so, you will feel a stinger before you see it. Stingers deliver venom from glands inside the abdomen.
When used against a person, a sting is meant to repel a perceived attack. As anyone who’s been stung by a bee knows, the long-lasting pain ensures that the message of “back off!” is received loud and clear.
When the Bug Bites or the Bee Stings
Use After Bite® products as directed to relieve the itch and pain of bites and stings. Monitor the bite area to make sure symptoms do not get markedly worse. Reactions out of proportion to a bite or sting, such as shortness of breath, nausea, or profuse sweating, mean you should seek medical attention immediately.
Get Checked Out
Each person’s immune system reacts differently to different kinds of bites and stings. Have your physician or allergist test you and your family members for potential allergies to insect venoms and related insect antigens that could cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. You can then take precautions to avoid and treat stings and bites.