With summertime comes humidity, and with humidity comes bugs—lots and lots of bugs. We’re not talking butterflies, either: We’re talking blood-sucking, biting, stinger-equipped day-ruiners like mosquitos, bees, spiders and ticks.
To help you deal with the aftermath of becoming a full-on bug buffet, Purdue University entomologist Tom Turpin gave us a lesson in bugs—both why their attacks are so annoying, and how to treat them. We’ve listed them in descending order on the pain scale, from “pretty itchy” to “take me to the hospital,” although if you’re currently experiencing the latter, you should probably stop reading this and call an ambulance.
Mosquito Bites: For just how tiny mosquitos and their needle-like mouths are, their bite manages to leave one hell of an itch. The gross part? That’s so they can eat more of you. “Mosquitoes want to suck as much blood as possible when they bite you, so they inject an anti-clotting compound,” Turpin explains. “Our bodies react to that compound in the form of an itchy, red bump.” If it weren’t for that make-it-flow chemical, we wouldn’t feel mosquito bites at all.
Make it Go Away: Turpin recommends an over-the-counter itch-reliever like Benadryl or cortisone cream. He also advises pregnant women, beer drinkers and people who wear dark clothing to avoid mosquito havens like the woods, ponds or lakes at all costs, as all three are at the top of the average hungry mozzie’s hit list.
Honey Bee Stings: There are over 20,000 species of bees on the planet, but it’s honey bees that have one of the most painful stings. Why? Blame it on that sweet golden booty. “Honey bees sting strictly in defense of their colony’s honey,” Turpin says. “So the poison they inject inflicts more immediate pain—and longer-lasting pain—than most other bee or wasp stings.” It’s to their hive’s benefit for predators to feel the sting immediately, and remember it for a long, long time.
Unfortunately for the honey bee, they’re the ones who suffer most from their sting. “When a honey bee stings, they’re performing the ultimate act of altruism,” Turpin explains. “The barb in their stingers catches on the skin and tears off the entire abdomen of the bee, leaving it to die.” All the while, the stinger continues to pump poison into the skin until you manage to take it out.
Make it Go Away: Turpin suggests a) getting the stinger out ASAP using a dragging motion rather than pinching and pulling it out to avoid being injected with more poison and b) taking an Ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling.
Spider Bites: If you wake up with a mysterious bump on your skin, you can be nearly certain it’s not a spider bite. “90% of the spider bites reported to me turn out not to be spider bites at all,” says Turpin. “Spiders almost never go looking to bite people unless you mess with them.” But if you’re still convinced you’re about to turn into Spider-Man, check for two fang marks near the affected area: “Most spiders have to get both fangs into the skin to inject their venom,” Turpin says.
Make it Go Away: Turpin claims your average spider bite isn’t any worse than a bee sting, so pop an Advil if you must. But if you notice an unusual amount of swelling or discoloration around the affected area, which could mean you’ve been bitten by a black widow or a brown recluse, it never hurts to check with your doctor.
Tick Bites: Much like mosquitoes, ticks bite for one reason: to feast on blood. Which explains why you probably won’t discover a tick bite without finding the tick still there sucking away. In that case, you’re going to want to remove the tick. If for whatever reason the tick has moved on, know that their bites often look like an unraised mosquito bite—red and with a single bite mark.
Make it Go Away: “If you’re going to remove the tick yourself, make sure to gently remove the entire tick using tweezers,” Turpin says. “If you leave part of it latching onto your skin, chances are you’ll end up with an infection.” Additionally, if you’re worried about contracting an illness, bring the tick to the doctor in a small plastic bag. That way, they can test it for things like lyme disease.
Rattlesnake Bites: Remember when we said the list included take-me-to-the-hospital bites? That’ll be this one. And yeah, we know they’re not bugs, but we couldn’t resist including this revolting video of what rattlesnake venom does to your blood: it basically turns it into lethal, cherry-flavored Jell-O.
Make it Go Away: Anti-itch medicine won’t help you out here, and neither will sucking on the bite. Go to the hospital and get yourself some anti-venom—please!