'Murder hornets'? These bugs are even deadlier and more common in the US

  • Animals
  • Tuesday, 05 May 2020

An invasive hornet species that slaughters honeybees and can be deadly to humans is sparking concern in the United States, but the country is home to some even deadlier and more common insects. Photo: AP

An invasive hornet species that slaughters honeybees and can be deadly to humans is sparking concern in the United States.

A small number of "Murder Hornets," an invasive species of Asian giant hornet, have been spotted in the Pacific Northwest. While experts have been tracking the invasive species in the US for months, a New York Times feature published Saturday raised alarm and brought the fittingly upsetting nickname to national consciousness.

There have been just two confirmed sightings of the dangerous insects, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture. But America is already home to some deadly insects and arachnids that are more common.

There is some good news though: you're probably not likely to be killed by an insect or spider unless you're allergic, according to Rick Vetter, a retired member of the entemology department at the University of California, Riverside who studies medically important spiders

"I would guess that fatal encounters with insects are almost solely restricted to anaphylactic response to one sting from a honey bee or yellowjacket," said Vetter in an email to USA Today. "Fatal encounters with spiders in North America are probably restricted to single digit events."

Bees: 'America's most lethal animal'

Photo: Pexels stock photoPhoto: Pexels stock photo

Officials are concerned about the damage Asian giant hornets may do to honeybees, which are also an invasive species. But bees can be dangerous in their own right.

Bees rank highly across animal-related death research, prompting an Indiana University professor to label them "America’s most lethal animal" in 2015.

"Yet among non-human animals, the creatures that cause more American deaths than any other are bees and wasps. In a typical year, nearly 100 American deaths are caused by bee stings," Richard Gunderman wrote.

That number is likely an underestimate, he said, claiming many bee-related deaths are often misattributed to other health conditions, like a heart attack or sun stroke.

Systemic allergic reactions to insect stings affect up to 5% of the population and up to 32% of beekeepers will be affected by systemic allergic reactions to insect stings, according to research published in the Journal of Asthma and Allergy. Although its rare, these reactions can be fatal.

Black Widow Spiders: A neurotoxic bite

A 2015 Washington Post analysis found that spiders kill about 7 people each year.

Black widow spiders are found throughout North America, but are most common in the southern and western areas of the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although fatal bites are rare, the spiders produce a neurotoxin which can be dangerous, especially to young children and elderly people. Hospital treatment is sometimes needed, according to Poison Control.

Their bite often is painful right away and if the bite is particularly bad, severe pain and muscle cramps can start in a couple of hours. Some black widow bites cause trouble breathing and such severe pain that it can be mistaken for appendicitis or a heart attack.

Brown Recluse Spiders: Human tissue destroyer

The brown recluse spider, which is found in the Southern and Midwestern states, is one of the few whose venom can cause serious wounds and poisoning, according to Poison Control.

Although you may not notice the bite at first, brown recluse venom can destroy human tissue. Necrosis or tissue death is identified when the tissue becomes black in colour and forms a crust that eventually falls off. The venom can penetrate deeper in the tissues, sometimes affecting the fat and muscles and can spread to the rest of the body, possibly becoming life threatening.

There is no antidote for the brown recluse venom and surgical intervention may be needed for deep or infected wounds.

Mosquitoes: 'Most dangerous creature on the planet'

Photo: AFPPhoto: AFP

Mosquitoes aren’t just a backyard nuisance; they can bring deadly diseases including West Nile virus and Zika.

“Mosquitoes are the most dangerous creature on the planet, ” said Joseph Conlon, technical advisor of the American Mosquito Control Association.

Mosquitoes can spread diseases such as malaria, dengue, West Nile, yellow fever, Zika, chikungunya, and lymphatic filariasis and kills more people than any other creature in the world, according to the CDC.

Arizona Bark Scorpions: A painful sting, unusual symptoms

The most dangerous species of scorpion in the United States is found in Arizona as well as parts of California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.

The bark scorpion causes a painful sting and abnormal muscle activity like muscle twitching, unusual eye movements, slurred speech, or difficulty swallowing and breathing, according to Poison Control. Other symptoms including agitation, high blood pressure, and changes in heart rate can develop quickly and last for several hours.

Death from a scorpion sting is very rare and serious symptoms are typically limited to young children.

Kissing Bugs: Blood-sucking disease transmitters

Kissing bugs are blood-sucking insects that bite humans on the face, particularly around the mouth and eyes, and transmit disease. Poison Control said the insects carry a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease.

The bite itself is not dangerous, but after feeding on the host, the Triatomine bugs defecates on the person or animal which can lead to transmission of the parasite.

Acute Chagas is diagnosed through a blood test.

A few weeks or months after infection, a person may have no or mild symptoms, including fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and vomiting, the CDC says.

Other symptoms can include mild enlargement of the liver or spleen, swollen glands, or swelling at the site of the bite. Romaña's sign, swelling of the eyelid, is also an indicator and occurs when the infected feces is rubbed into a person's eye.

Young children with Chagas can also get severe inflammation and heart muscle or brain infections, which can be fatal, though it is rare, the CDC says. People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV or undergoing chemotherapy, are also at an increased risk.

Chronic Chagas can last a lifetime and many don't have symptoms. However, cardiac and gastrointestinal complications, which can be fatal, can occur in around 20% to 30% of people, the CDC says.

Even ants can be deadly

Just because the small, creepy-crawly insect or spider isn't venomous doesn't necessarily mean it can't kill you. The Washington Post found that "Non-venomous arthropods" – including insects like ants – kill nine people each year. – N'Dea Yancey-Bragg/USA Today/Tribune News Service

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Hornets , invasive species , insects


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