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  • Writer's pictureBaileigh Higgins

Coping with Creepy Crawlies out in the Wilderness.

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

While camping and hiking might be fun, the outdoors is filled with various types of insects. They range in all shapes and sizes, and while most are merely annoying, some are dangerous, and others are downright lethal. Here we will discuss how to deal with any creepy crawlies you might encounter and how to treat bites and stings.

Types of Insects:

Let’s typify poisonous and non-poisonous insects. (Though scorpions and spiders aren’t technically insects, we included them anyway.)

Poisonous Insects

It’s important to know when an insect is poisonous and poses a serious health risk. Here we list the most common venomous creatures.

Black Widow Spiders

These scary-looking ladies (and gents) are found on every continent except Antarctica. Not a comforting thought. But contrary to popular belief, they are not aggressive to humans and rarely kill people. Though small, they carry an unusually potent venom that contains larotoxin, a neurotoxin that can cause pain, muscle rigidity, vomiting, and sweating. Only the female bite is considered truly dangerous, and despite 2200 cases reported each year, no one has died since 1983.

Brown Recluse Spiders

Brown recluses are another highly poisonous spider that has a similar effect on the body as the black widow bite. The key difference between them is that a bite from a brown recluse causes necrosis of the tissues. While their reputations as killers are highly exaggerated (there are no documented deaths), you really don’t want to mess with these little guys. An untreated bite can create a gaping bloody hole in your flesh, which can lead to amputation. Not a fun way to end your day.

Brazilian Wandering Spider

With a leg span of up to 7 inches, these critters are hard to miss. Found in South America and parts of Central America, they’re also known as the banana spider. Though they rarely kill humans, their bite is incredibly toxic and can cause severe burning, sweating, and goose bumps followed by high or low blood pressure, nausea, hypothermia, blurred vision, vertigo, and convulsions.


There are roughly 1,500 species of scorpions worldwide of which only a few dozen are poisonous. They are generally shy and nocturnal but will sting when they feel threatened. They also tend to crawl into boots and shoes, an easy way for the unwary to get stung. Always shake out your footwear before putting it on, and the same applies to any clothing or bedding left on the ground.

The most lethal of this species is called the Red Indian scorpion and is found in India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. Less than 3 inches long, it packs a potent venom that results in severe pain, vomiting, sweating, breathlessness, alternating high and low blood pressure, and erratic heart rate. Up to 40% of all victims succumb with little in the way of treatment available.


Ants are more than just a nuisance. They can kill you, although it’s extremely unlikely. They can inflict painful bites, however, and are best avoided at all times. The nastiest of the bunch are fire ants, driver ants, and bullet ants.

Non-Poisonous Insects:

Though not poisonous, the following species are quite dangerous and often deadly.


The deadliest insect is also the most lethal creature in the entire world (except humans, perhaps). The teeny-tiny mosquito carries an array of diseases, including dengue, West Nile, yellow fever, Zika, chikungunya, lymphatic filariasis, and malaria, and kills more than 700 000 people per year. Roughly 435,000 of these die from malaria.

Fun fact: The higher your temperature, the easier it is for this little critter to find you. That meant that the bigger you are, the warmer you are, making you easy prey. The same goes for drinkers because alcohol raises your temperature. This goes double for beer drinkers since beer increases the amount of ethanol in your bloodstream, which is ambrosia to the local mozzie.

Bees, Wasps, and Hornets

The bee is commonly found across the world and has thousands of subspecies. The most common are honey bees and bumblebees. Wasps and hornets are also widespread, with the Japanese Giant Hornet being the largest, measuring 1 ⅝ inches long, with a wingspan of up to 3 inches, and a stinger of a ¼ inch.

Though they aren’t poisonous, they are still dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Because of their commonality, they account for the highest number of hospitalizations due to allergic reactions, and anaphylactic shock is a killer.

The most dangerous is the Africanized Honey Bee. While their sting is no worse than other bees, they are extremely aggressive and will attack without warning, even chasing a person or animal across a distance.


Ticks carry a variety of pathogens: bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Because they can infect you with a bunch of different pathogens, diagnosis and treatment can be challenging. Currently, 16 tick-borne diseases are known, but many more remain undiscovered. Among the known ones, the worst are Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever which can lead to death and/or lifelong complications.

Treatment of Bites and Stings

The best treatment is prevention. However, even with the utmost care, stings and bites will occur. Here are a few tips on how to treat them.

Bees, Wasps, & Hornet Stings

Bee stings aren’t specific to any part of the country, and when spring and summer roll around, you must be prepared to treat a bee sting. Here’s the step-by-step process:

Take tweezers and pull out the venom sac if it’s still on the skin. The stinger can continue to inject venom even after the bee has left it behind. Apply an ice pack, and consider taking over-the-counter pain medication. Because bee venom contains histamines, an antihistamine may decrease swelling. Be sure to take any medicines as directed. Watch for allergic reactions and seek medical help if it occurs.

For wasp and hornet stings, multiple stings are possible so it’s even more important to remove stingers and venom sacs. The removal should be done with a credit card carefully scraped along the skin. Apply an ice pack, use antihistamines, and watch for allergic reactions. Seek further help if needed.

Spider Bites

The overt danger of a spider bite increases over time if treatment isn’t promptly administered. Keep the affected limb elevated if possible for Brown Recluse spiders and Black Widows. Monitor the bite location and seek medical help immediately. Swelling will usually start and last for 30 to 60 minutes.

Scorpion Stings

Most scorpion stings don’t need medical treatment but seek help if symptoms worsen, or you got stung by an Indian Red. Basic at-home care includes: Cleaning the wound with mild soap and water, and applying a cool compress to the affected area. Don’t eat or drink if you have trouble swallowing. Ibuprofen will help with the pain.


If you visited a tick zone, inspect yourself for ticks. They especially like moist, dark areas such as the armpits and groin, the scalp, and between your toes and fingers. To remove a tick, use tweezers to grip it as near to the skin as possible. Ensure the mouthparts are gone and apply antiseptic cream. Don’t squash the tick, rather flush it or burn it. If you are not able to remove the head, see your doctor. If symptoms occur, such as a black mark around the bite, fever, headaches, nightmares, swollen lymph nodes, or general ill-health, seek medical help.


Be careful when you are outdoors (or indoors), and watch where you step and sit. Check your shoes, bedding, and clothing, and use insect repellant. If you are visiting a foreign country, be aware of the possible hazards and how to avoid them. Take preventative medicine if needed and watch for symptoms afterward. Always carry antihistamines in the event of an allergic reaction. Calamine lotion is known to soothe minor skin irritations, bites, and stings. Also, keep the affected areas clean and take ibuprofen for the swelling and pain.


These are just some of the small but scary creatures you might encounter in the wilderness (or your home). Many more abound, including fleas, the Tsetse fly, kissing bugs, and more, but try not to overthink it. Most insects are harmless and play an important role in the environment. There’s no point in exterminating them simply because they creep you out. Above all, keep a clear head and don’t panic.


A Blog Post by Baileigh Higgins

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