Font Size

Insect Bites (cont.)

Insect Bites causes

Insects do not usually attack unless they are provoked. Most bites and stings are defensive. The insects sting to protect their hives or nests.

A sting or bite injects venom composed of proteins and other substances that may trigger an allergic reaction in the victim. The sting also causes redness and swelling at the site of the sting.

  • Bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and fire ants are members of the Hymenoptera family. Bites or stings from these species may cause serious reactions in people who are allergic to them. Death from bee stings is 3-4 times more common than death from snake bites (for more information, see stings of bees and wasps). Bees, wasps, and fire ants differ in how they inflict injury.

    • When a bee stings, it loses the entire injection apparatus (stinger) and actually dies in the process. A wasp can inflict multiple stings because it does not lose its injection apparatus after it stings.

    • Fire ants inject their venom by using their mandibles (the biting parts of their jaw) and rotating their bodies. They may inject venom many times.

  • In contrast, bites from mosquitoes typically do not cause significant illnesses, unless they convey "vectors," or microorganisms that actually live within these mosquitoes. For instance, malaria is caused by an organism that spends part of its life cycle in a particular species of mosquitoes. West Nile virus is another disease spread by a mosquito.

  • Other types of insects, bites, and diseases

    • Lice can transmit epidemic relapsing fever, caused by spirochetes.

    • Leishmaniasis, caused by the protozoan Leishmania, is carried by a sand fly.

    • Sleeping sickness in humans and a group of cattle diseases that are widespread in Africa, and known as nagana, are caused by protozoan trypanosomes transmitted by the bites of tsetse flies.

    • In unsanitary conditions, the common housefly can play an incidental role in the spread of human intestinal infections (such as typhoid and bacillary and amebic dysentery) by contamination of human food.

    • Tularemia can be spread by deer fly bites, the bubonic plague by fleas, and the epidemic typhus rickettsia by lice.

    • Various mosquitoes spread viral diseases (such as equine encephalitis; dengue and yellow fever in humans and other animals).

    • Ticks can transmit Lyme disease and other illnesses through their bites or stings.

    • Other insects such as chiggers and mites typically cause self-limited localized itchiness and swelling.

    • Serious bites from spiders, which are not insects, can be from the black widow or brown recluse.

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:
Medical Editor:
Medical Editor:

Must Read Articles Related to Insect Bites

Brown Recluse Spider Bite
Spider Bite: Brown Recluse Spider Bite The brown recluse spider is notable for it's characteristic violin pattern on the back of the body part to which the legs attach. Symptoms of a brown recluse sp...learn more >>
Tetanus Tetanus is an infectious disease caused by contamination of wounds from the bacteria Clostridium tetani, or the spores they produce that live in the soil, and a...learn more >>

Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Insect Bites:

Insect Bites - Symptoms

What symptoms did you experience with your insect bites?

Insect Bites - Experience

Please describe your experience with insect bites.

Insect Bites - Treatment

What was the treatment for your insect bites?

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Bites, Insect »

Insects comprise the most diverse and numerous class of the animal kingdom, Insecta.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

Medical Dictionary