Insect and Spider Bites Information

ps_sc_insect_side.jpg While all insects can bite or sting, some bites can be more bothersome and dangerous than others. Flea, common housefly and mosquito bites can cause pain, itching and swelling at the site--an unpleasant experience, but not necessarily dangerous unless infection occurs. Ant, bee and scorpion stings and certain spider bites can cause serious allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

Treatment for all bites and stings

If breathing difficulties develop, or if the person appears to be having an adverse reaction, dial 9-1-1 or go immediately to the nearest hospital. Wash bite/sting area well with soap and water. If stung or bitten on the fingers or hand, remove any rings or jewelry in case of swelling. Apply a cold compress.


Fire ants and harvester ants first bite and then jab their stingers into the victim's wound. Because the stinger is not very sharp, it has difficulty puncturing moderately tough skin. Even so, as many as 20 separate stings may be produced by one ant. The sting causes swelling, bruising and blistering. The pain lasts for about 4-6 hours and the wounds may take days to heal. Watch for any sign of allergic reaction or infection.

Bees, Hornets, Wasps

Stings from bees, hornets and wasps cause more deaths than bites from all other insects and spiders. Death may result from an allergic reaction. If stung by a bee, check the wound to see if the stinger is still there. If it is, flick it out with something stiff, such as cardboard or a credit card. Usual symptoms include pain and swelling. Unusual symptoms can signal the onset of an allergic reaction. There are two types of allergic reactions. In the first type, swelling at the bite or sting site becomes excessive, and the patient may experience nausea, vomiting, dizziness and headache. The second type of allergic reaction can be life-threatening. A severe reaction can cause puffiness or swelling of the eyes, nose and lips. The tongue and throat can also swell. Breathing difficulties may develop. This kind of reaction presents a true medical emergency. Call 9-1-1 immediately.


Just touching a hairy or spiny caterpillar may cause skin irritation. Other reactions can include itching, redness, swelling and a raised rash.


Venom from a local centipede bite may cause immediate burning pain, redness and swelling. Watch for signs of infection.


Scorpions do not bite; they sting. There are several scorpion varieties. Scorpions native to the Southwestern U.S. deserts and Mexico are dangerous. Fortunately, scorpions native to Florida are not deadly under normal circumstances. Their sting resembles a bee sting. The victim may feel the wound hurt or burn at first, but unless symptoms of an allergic reaction appear, there is little more to be concerned about. As with any wound, watch for signs of infection. If there is any sign of an adverse or allergic reaction, dial 9-1-1.

Spider Bites

There are almost 20,000 spider species, and all of them have a venom. Some spider venoms are more powerful than others. Fortunately, most spiders are not dangerous because their fangs are either too short or too fragile to penetrate human skin. Spiders rarely bite more than once so multiple bites are usually caused by insects such as fleas, bedbugs, ticks, mites and biting flies.

Brown Recluse Spider

Named for its habit of hiding in dark corners, the brown recluse spider is also known as the violin or fiddleback spider because of a violin-shaped mark on its head Usually about a half-inch long (including legs), the brown recluse has no marking on the tail end section, which is solid light brown. The brown recluse has six eyes rather than the typical eight eyes. Spider experts agree that the true brown recluse is native only to Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Mississippi. When people are bitten by an unseen spider, they sometimes blame the brown recluse because their bite resembles a brown recluse bite. The brown recluse spider bite usually causes some pain or burning in the first 10 minutes, accompanied by itching. The wound takes on a bull's-eye appearance, with a center blister surrounded first by an angry red ring and then by a blanched (white) ring. This blister breaks open leaving an open ulcer that scabs over. The ulcer can enlarge and involve underlying skin and muscle tissue. Pain may be severe. A generalized red, itchy rash usually appears in the first 24-48 hours. Other symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches and hemolytic anemia. Treatment consists of washing the wound. In case of infection, an ulcer that does not heal or a rash, see a physician.

Black Widow Spider

The black widow is a shiny, inky black spider with a large round tail segment. Only the female is dangerous to humans. Including its legs, the black widow generally measures from one-half inch to one inch in length. Red to orange colored markings, usually in the shape of an hourglass, are always found on the underside of the belly. Black widow spiders generally live in trash, wood piles, garages and other dark places. A black widow spider bite gives the appearance of a target, with a pale area surrounded by a red ring. Severe muscle pain and cramps generally develop within the first two hours. Severe cramps are usually felt first in the back, shoulders, abdomen and thighs. Other symptoms include weakness, sweating, headache, anxiety, itching, nausea, vomiting, difficult breathing and increased blood pressure. Young children, the elderly and those with high blood pressure are at highest risk from a black widow spider bite. If a person is bitten by a black widow spider, do not panic. Wash the area well with soap and water. If muscle cramps develop, take the patient to the nearest hospital. A black widow spider bite is rarely life-threatening, although young children, especially, may be admitted to the hospital overnight for observation and treatment. Various medications are used to treat the muscle cramps, spasms and pain of a black widow spider bite.


Calm victim. If a poisonous snakebite is suspected, remove anything binding near the wound, such as rings, watches, etc. Wash the wound with soap and water. Dial 9-1-1 or transport victim to the nearest hospital.
Several Don'ts are also very important to remember:

  • Don't apply a tourniquet.
  • Don't pack the bite area in ice or ice water.
  • Don't cut the wound with a knife or razor.
  • Don't suck out the venom by mouth.
  • Don't let the victim drink alcohol.

These treatments will not help the victim, and actually can be dangerous. Applying a tourniquet can block circulation, which can result in gangrene or an eventual loss of the limb. Cutting can cause excessive bleeding, and sucking the venom from the wound can cause infection, making treatment more difficult.