Biting and Stinging Pests
There are hundreds of insects, spiders, and other small creatures that can bite or sting or otherwise cause us discomfort or create a health risk. Here we will look at a few of the most common biting and stinging pests that occur in central California. (We will not discuss spiders or ants here as we have devoted entire pages on this site to these creatures.)
Bees and Wasps
Bees and wasps are closely related to ants. They all belong to an order of insects called the Hymenoptera. They are a very diverse group of insects. Many bees and wasps live in social groups as most ants do. Some wasps and bees live a very solitary life. There are wasps that so closely resemble ants or flies that mistaken identifications are common.
Most people think of bees as “stinging insects” because most of us have been stung by a bee at one time or another. Although serious complications from bee stings are very rare, some people are very allergic to the venom in a bee sting. For those who happen to be allergic, a single bee sting can present a serious, even life threatening, emergency.
Keeping bees for the honey they produce is one of the oldest agricultural professions. And fortunately, most domesticated honey bees are not aggressive. The picture at right clearly illustrates how docile most domesticated bees really are.
There are, however, species of honey bees that are extremely aggressive. The Africanized Honey Bee(sometimes referred to as “Killer Bees”) has become an extremely serious pest in those areas where it has become established. It is nearly impossible for an untrained person to discern between the two bees, and this has been made even more difficult by the cross-breeding of these bees with local domesticated bee colonies. Although the Africanized Honey Bee is not widely established in Fresno County as yet, they have been found in Kern County and seem to be moving northward.
Aside from these, bees aren’t a significant pest to people in our area. Most bee species are solitary insects that may do some damage to plants (usually insignificant) or, in the case of Carpenter Bees, damage unfinished woodwork.
Wasps are another large group of flying insects. Many wasps are capable of stinging. Some will bite. Some do both. Many wasps feed on pollen or other plant material. Many species of wasps cannot harm people.
Wasps are divided into several large groups. Theyellow-jackets and hornets are the species we most often encounter as stinging insects. Generally speaking, yellow-jackets are meat eaters and hornets feed on pollen.
These wasps will attack if they feel their nest is threatened. For this reason it is best to leave the nests alone unless they are in an area frequented by humans and where they really should be removed. Removal of wasp nests is best left to a professional.
Fleas are parasites. The adult female flea must ingest a blood meal before she can lay her eggs. The eggs fall from the host animal and collect on the surfaces below. This is usually where the animal spends most of it’s time, such as a bed or den. The waste material from the adult’s digested blood meals will also accumulate in the animal’s bed. There it becomes a ready food source for the developing larvae.
The larvae feed on the cast of dead skin from the animal as well as the dried blood-waste. When mature they enter a pupa (or cocoon) stage. When conditions are right the pupa may be ready to emerge in just over a week. The entire life cycle can be completed in about two weeks when conditions are optimal.
Flea control consists of a combination of sanitation and pesticide applications. Thorough shampooing of pets will remove the dried blood and much of the dead skin that will serve as a food source for the developing larvae. Shampooing the pet with flea shampoos can kill the adults on the animal. Removal and thorough cleaning of pet beds and resting areas will remove many of the eggs, larvae, and food sources for new populations. Pesticide applications to areas where the pets spend much of their time will provide immediate reduction in flea populations. It is usually good to apply an insect growth regulator to impede the development of new flea larvae.
Good sanitation is the key to long-term control of fleas. If you have more than one pet, sanitation becomes even more important. In fact, the more pets you have, the more effort must be given to sanitation and pet grooming if you want to keep your home “flea-free”.
Like fleas, ticks are parasites on warm blooded animals. The adult female tick must consume a blood meal to have the nutrients required for egg production. She may lay as many as 10,000 eggs in one big batch. The female tick dies shortly after laying her eggs.
Unlike fleas, ticks are not insects. Ticks belong to a group called the Arachnids. They are closely related to spiders, crabs, lobsters and other crustaceans. Ticks may have 8 legs or 6 legs depending on their stage of development. They are some of nature’s toughest creatures. Ticks have been know to live for well over a year without eating while they patiently wait for a host animal to come into contact so they can “hitch a ride” and find their meal.
Ticks can be a serious health-related pest. Ticks are capable of transmitting several serious conditions. Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, and some other lesser known conditions are directly related to tick bites.
Brown dog ticks are a fairly common pest problem in central California. These ticks rarely attack humans, but they can be a very serious problem for our pets. If you are dealing with a tick problem you would be wise to hire a good professional. Do-it-yourself tick control is a tough path to follow.
Long-term control requires excellent cooperation and communication between the pest control technician and the property owner. Pesticide applications by themselves will probably not deliver a satisfactory level of control.
Elimination of harborage areas is critical. By keeping the grass and weeds in the yard cut short any ticks will be exposed to more sunlight and desiccation will kill or discourage many of them. Elimination of stored firewood, brush-piles and clutter will reduce areas where ticks can hide safely from pesticide applications. General clean-up of the yard will also reduce the number of other mammals in the area, such as opossums, squirrels, rats, etc. These animals may introduce fresh populations of ticks and fleas into the yard. Keeping them at bay will reduce the number of ticks your pest control technician has to contend with.
Along with clean-up and mowing, it is essential that pets be treated to kill any ticks on them. We suggest you take your pets to a professional such as a veterinarian or professional groomer who is equipped and trained to treat your pets.
There are several very good materials available for the professional pest control operator to apply that will kill exposed stages of ticks and provide a reasonable degree of residual control. Periodic services of the yard and continued good sanitation practices will usually provide a very good level of tick control in the yard. You can help maintain control by restricting your pet’s access to areas where they may encounter new ticks and by using a good quality flea/tick collar. (Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.)
Most people think of bedbugs as a problem of the past. And, until a few years ago they were right. That is not the case today. Bedbugs have again become a problem and they seem to be gaining ground on us.
Bedbugs are small, flattened insects that, unlike fleas and ticks, do not require a blood meal to carry out their reproductive process. Instead, the bedbug’s food source is blood.
People tend to associate bedbugs with filth. That is usually not the case. Bedbugs can be introduced into some of the cleanest places. They tend to “hitch-hike” in the clothing or luggage of travelers while the person is completely unaware of their presence. In this way they spread, usually from motels or hotels, into homes.
Bedbugs are active at night. They tend to feed once every five to ten days. They tend to hide in the folds and seams of mattresses during the daylight hours. They are attracted by carbon dioxide in the breath of a sleeping host. After dark, when all is quiet, they crawl out, collect their meal, and return to their resting areas. The bite is completely painless because they have a small amount of a painkiller in their saliva. Although bedbugs have been shown to carry several pathogens, they have never been shown to transmit them to humans. For this reason bedbugs are not considered a medical threat.
Infestations of bedbugs are usually detected by small blood stains on light colored bedding. This appears when an engorged adult is inadvertently crushed by their sleeping host. Red stains in the folds of mattresses may also be a clue.
Control of bedbugs requires a combination of sanitation and pesticide applications. While vacuuming the mattress and cleaning of infested bedding will reduce populations, the insects will usually rebound quickly. Involvement of a pest management professional is usually necessary for complete long-term control.
Scorpions are nocturnal creatures that are common to the arid regions of the world. They may be found from the hottest and most arid deserts into the mountains. There are about 1,300 species of scorpions distributed over the world. About 90 species occur in the U.S. Most U.S. species are found west of the Mississippi River.
Scorpions belong to a group of creatures that are closely related to spiders, crabs, etc. They hunt for their prey and subdue it with a venomous stinger in the tip of the tail. Scorpions seem to be able to regulate the amount of venom they inject.
The scorpion’s venom attacks the nervous system, so the symptoms of the sting may affect the entire body. The venom of the scorpion can cause severe pain and swelling at the site of the sting, numbness, frothing at the mouth, respiratory difficulties, muscle twitching, and convulsions. The sting is more dangerous to infants, small children and the elderly. Death is rare, especially in more recent times.
There have been about 20 species of scorpions identified which are considered dangerous to man. Only one of those species (Centruroides exilicauda) occurs in the United States. This species does not occur in central California. None of our native scorpions are considered dangerous.
Control of scorpions involves elimination of harborage areas, exclusion from buildings and periodic pesticide applications.