Texas is home to an abundant and diverse population of stinging insects. Some are merely nuisances, while others pose severe health risks. Wasps, bees and ants cause between 40 and 100 human deaths per year in the United States, according to Texas A&M University. Most of these deaths result from allergic reactions to proteins and enzymes in the venom. The hot, dry climate of Texas provides year-round shelter for many stinging insects, which nest everywhere from trees to foliage to buildings.
Stinging caterpillars, though small, can inflict intense pain on victims. The puss moth caterpillar, also called the asp, is the best-known stinging caterpillar in Texas and one of the most toxic caterpillars in North America, according to the Baylor College of Medicine. This caterpillar has venomous hairs that stick into the victim’s skin, causing a rash and severe burning sensations. Pain and throbbing starts within five minutes, and other symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, intestinal problems and possibly shock or respiratory distress.
Wasps usually only sting when they feel threatened, for example when their nests are disturbed or when they come into direct contact with a human or animal. Paper wasps are the ones typically encountered in homes and buildings, according to Texas A&M University. They prefer high structures, such as the eaves of houses, and frequently enter homes and buildings during the winter. The Mexican honey wasp is most common in southern portions of Texas, and is not as aggressive as many other wasp species, according to the Texas Entomology website. However, when provoked its sting can be brutal, leaving a barbed stinger in the wound.
Ant infestations are a common problem in many regions in Texas, affecting both households and businesses. Many species mainly create a nuisance and damage property, but the imported red fire ant often bites or stings. Some victims suffer an allergic reaction to the sting, but it’s more common for the site of the sting to become infected, leading to secondary infections in the body, according to the Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project.
The Africanized honeybee, also called the killer bee, is one of the deadliest species of bee. It was first sighted in the United States in Texas. More than 100 Texas counties have reported sightings of Africanized honeybees, according to Desert USA. Unlike many stinging insects, which attack only when threatened or provoked, Africanized honeybees will swarm unsuspecting humans or animals who enter their territory, often over something as seemingly harmless as a vibration or noise. Their venom is no more deadly than other bees, but they’re more dangerous because they attack in greater numbers. Once agitated, they’re more likely to attack for 24 hours, and may attack anything or anyone within a quarter of a mile.
- "Paper Wasps, Yellowjackets and Solitary Wasps"; AgriLife Extension, Texas A&M University; Glen C. Moore and Mike E. Merchant
- Texas Entomology: Mexican Honey Wasp
- Texas A&M University; Impact of the Red Imported Fire Ant
- Desert USA: Africanized Honey Bees
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